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HomeNewsLocal newsOn Island Profile: Community Activist Roots Spread Wide

On Island Profile: Community Activist Roots Spread Wide

Clyde G. de Jean Charles is a young man with a simple philosophy: “We have to decide what’s best for the world,” he says.  And by “we” he means every human being.  At the core, either we are motivated by making as much money as possible or by ensuring that as many people as possible have the money – and other resources – they need.

At just 31, de Jean Charles appears to have made that decision and is underscoring it with commitments to a number of community groups and causes.

Born in Dominica, he was 5 years old when he moved with his family to St. Thomas in 1989.  He grew up on the island, attended Ivanna Eudora Kean High School and graduated in 2002.

He went to Purdue University in Indiana where he says he earned a degree in history but so far has not worked in that field.  Instead, “I fell into sales” and “I’ve been doing that ever since,” he said.

For a few years de Jean Charles lived and worked on the Jersey shore.  Then in 2008 his maternal grandmother, who lived with his mother, became ill and he returned home to help out.

He said island youth tend to feel “land-locked.” They can’t wait to move away and begin a career.  “The place seems very small.” And de Jean Charles said he was no exception. 

But when he returned to the Virgin Islands, “I had a different perspective. (Now) I see it completely different.”

His is a close-up view.  He takes joy in serving food to the homeless and less fortunate at soup kitchens and at Bethlehem House shelter.  He helps with a project to get dictionaries and atlases into the hands of public school elementary students.  He’s treasurer and a board member of the Environmental Association of St. Thomas and vice chairman of the district Democratic Party.

When Tropical Storm Erika ripped through Dominica in late August, de Jean Charles joined others in the Virgin Islands in organizing relief efforts for his native island. He used his marketing and promotion experience in fundraising efforts that included an event cosponsored by St. Thomas Road Runners and an exhibit, Art for a Cause, for which local artists donated works. 

He served as the contact person between the emergency Dominica Relief Effort and the nonprofit entity that served to accept and handle donations, the Community Foundation of the Virgin Islands.

Building on that effort, de Jean Charles and several friends decided to establish a new nonprofit organization, to be called For a Cause.  He said they’ve submitted paperwork to the Corporate Division of the Lieutenant Governor’s Office to begin the process.  Other members are Ethlebert Bedminster, Sonia Taylor-Griffith, Marcus Browne and Zahra Spencer.

De Jean Charles said he envisions the organization helping to raise funds for a variety of grassroots causes in the territory, including sponsoring arts education in elementary schools, bolstering programs designed to help the homeless, and expanding the school book project.

The book sponsorship is actually the personal project of Gretta Moorhead. In what he dubbed a “weird story,” de Jean Charles recounted meeting her husband, financial advisor and a former V.I. budget director Justin Moorhead, a few years ago while both were sheltering from a sudden rain in the downtown post office.  They struck up a conversation and one thing led to another.  Soon the younger man was helping out in the book project, helping to raise donations and handling actual distribution.

It’s a good example of his openness to new ideas and readiness to act.

“I find great joy in doing those kinds of things,” De Jean Charles said.

One of his role models in President Barak Obama, who, he said, could easily have started a financially successful career when he finished school.  Instead, “he was a community organizer.”

De Jean Charles worked in Obama’s 2008 campaign, helping organize the youth vote at the University of North Carolina Charlotte.  Just two days before the election, Obama’s maternal grandmother died.  He was scheduled to give a speech in Charlotte and organizers feared he might cancel.

Not only did he give the speech, he stopped by the university earlier in the day to meet briefly with supporters there.

“He was able to see beyond himself and thank us,” de Jean Charles recalled. That night he gave his speech in an open-air arena.  “It started raining and nobody left the field.”

Despite his interest and involvement in politics, de Jean Charles says he’s happy working behind the scenes.

“I personally don’t have any interest in running for anything,” he said.

He is married to Lenehn Ricks, an attorney from Liberia, who he met a few years ago.  He was working at Marriott Frenchman’s Reef at the time, and she came to St. Thomas for a conference.

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