About 50 of St. Croix’s brightest and most self-assured teens gathered at the University of the Virgin Islands St. Croix campus to address their generation’s issues for the next 100 years at the V.I. Centennial Youth Conference Friday.
According to Chenzira Kahina, event organizer and director of the V.I. Caribbean Culture Center, the purpose of the event was to encourage students to be more proactive, especially about the direction of the territory over the next 100 years.
Kahina led the discussions in her typically energetic and positive manner. There was a lot of clapping and cheering for comments made by audience members.
“We need to hear what you’re thinking,” she said, encouraging students to speak up and voice their opinions loudly.
After watching a video about a youth council in New York discussing how to improve literacy and decrease drop out rates, each student was asked to stand and speak about what they took away from the film. They were challenged not to repeat what someone else said. The St. Croix teens rose to the challenge and, among other things, picked up on the diversity of the group and its ability to communicate. They also heard that the students valued each opinion and as a unified group they could solve problems.
Anumaat Davis Kahina, the director’s daughter and former Miss St. Croix, shared her own brand of enthusiasm as the keynote speaker. She challenged the students to “control your space,” “protect your peace,” and be the “fire starters of our generation.”
“Where there is air, you belong,” she told the audience.
Genevieve Whitaker, attorney and founder of the V.I. Youth Advocacy Coalition, talked about being a participant in former President Barak Obama’s recent youth summit in Chicago that “was a clarion call to young people around the world.”
Kevin Jackson, chairman of the V.I. Transfer Centennial Commission, also spoke to the group about local history and said the commission soon will publish a history book to replace what is currently being used in the schools. He answered questions and commended the students for their enthusiasm and intelligence.
The other speakers during the morning-long workshop were UVI counseors Edward Browne and Bettina LaRocque, who spoke about branding. They asked each student to name a trait that makes them unique. The students’ answers included qualities such as height, sense of humor, personality, smile and athleticism.
“People younger than you believe in me because of my brand,” Browne said.
Browne is also a voting rights advocate remembered for his hunger strike in 2004 that resulted in an invitation to speak at the Republican National Convention that year.
Kahina said the conference originally was scheduled to include youth from all four islands but after the hurricanes, sponsors dropped out and there were not enough resources. However, the event will be presented in the St. Thomas/St. John district soon and she hopes to hold workshops and other activities for the groups every quarter.