April 1, 2005 The slavery reparation movement took a century and a half to get started, but now that it is on the ground in the Virgin Islands things have been moving quickly.
Shelley Moorhead formed the African-Caribbean Reparations and Resettlement Alliance in September of last year. In November of last year 30 supporters came together in a seminar at Hibiscus Beach Hotel to see where the Alliance should go. (See "V.I. Group Talks About Possible Slave Reparations").
In January the group announced plans to travel to Denmark to discuss reparations. Denmark ruled the islands of St. Thomas, St. Croix, and St. John, 1671 to 1917, and for more than 175 years was actively involved in the trade of enslaved Africans.
In the middle of last month the group met with officials in Washington, D.C. and announced that Terence Todman was coming on board. Todman, a career diplomat who spent six of his 40 years in the State Department serving in Denmark, is a native of the Virgin Islands. He has agreed to serve as policy advisor to the delegation.
The group called a press conference Wednesday to announce members of the delegation.
It will include Delegate Donna M. Christensen, Sen. Usie Richards, Sen. Terrence "Positive" Nelson, Dr. Etherero Akinshegun, Jamal Michael Anthony Baker, a sophomore at Complex High School, and Moorhead, the president of ACRRA.
Carlyle Corbin, minister of state for external affairs, Office of the Governor, will also participate in the capacity of an observer. Todman has not confirmed yet whether he will travel with the delegation.
Moorhead said, in an interview Friday, the delegates were picked based on their expertise and experience. He said that Christensen's experience, as a medical doctor will be helpful just as her experience in international affairs will be.
He cited Nelson's experience with agriculture and community activism. He said that Denmark exports a lot of agricultural technology and Nelson will be able to explore those areas.
Akinshegun is a clinical psychologist and will be able to speak about post-traumatic slavery syndrome.
While many around the Virgin Islands were celebrating Transfer Day in a positive light, Moorhead released a written statement at the press conference that took a different perspective. He wrote, "Some 88 years ago today, both Denmark and the United States gathered to finalize what would become the fate of more than 100,000 African men, women and children who had suffered systemic dehumanization and were brought in chains and in the bellies of ships as chattel to labor as slaves in the then-Danish West Indies. And, while the transfer of lands and territories had been common practice among nations, March 31, 1917, for the now "African Virgin Islander" represented yet another tormenting reminder that the power to define our existence and the right to chart our own destiny as a free people, had yet again managed to elude us."
His statement continued, " If there is to be the promise of a future for the people of the Virgin Islands, it will rest in our ability to redress our history. Until we are able to repair the damage of almost 250 years of slavery and colonization, there will be no future to speak of for Virgin Islanders. "
Moorhead said Friday that bringing Baker, the high school student, was done at the suggestion of Nelson, who wanted to see youth involved in the process. Moorhead said that Baker has a great interest in history, especially V.I. history.
Moorhead added that having Baker involved now might be good because the process of reparations might be a long one that crosses generations.
Moorhead said that Virgin Islands are still suffering the lingering effects of slavery. He said that problems in the government, the education system and with corruption are all after affects of slavery.
He said, "They stole everything from usour freedom, our dignity, our society, our religion, even our God."
He asked, "How do you give some one their humanity back?"
The delegation, hosted by the V.I. Danish Apprenticeship organization, will spend April 7 through 11 in Copenhagen and meet with representatives of the Danish Institute for Human Rights and several other organizations. The delegation will make a presentation to the Danish public. The trip will culminate with the creation of a joint V.I. Denmark task force.
Sessions are also planned at the University of Gotland, which has a special department dealing with tourism, and a high school that has a specialty program in organic farming.
Moorhead said, "I would like to come home with a couple of scholarships for V.I. students."
He put in his written statement the following: "Understand that we are not journeying to Copenhagen looking for handouts. It is important to know that reparations work two ways. Not only will we begin the process of repair in the Virgin Islands, but extended to Denmark is the opportunity to correct her past and to heal herself from the mentality which permitted for the dehumanization of a race and the elevation of one people above another."
He also described the mission as being motivated by a search for peace, not revenge.
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