VOICC Tackles Self-Esteem Through Performing Arts


ST.CROIX – “Dare to be true. Dare to be you. Dare to be,”— the University of the Virgin Island’s Voices of Inspiration Community Choir left this message with their audience on Saturday, March 14 when they hosted their first of several community outreach initiatives this semester.

Through the performing arts, the VOICC delivered a lively performance in the Great Hall by combating low self-esteem, bullying and other issues plaguing young people ages 12 through 21.

VOICC Director Josephine Thomas-Lewis felt led to take on the venture because of a combination of inspiration.

“Because I am a teacher, I see kids in that age range being unsatisfied with the skin they are in,” Thomas-Lewis said.

She saw how low self-esteem affected her students’ academic performance and rendered them unwilling to focus.

“We wanted to dare our students to aim higher, stretch further, and to trust they can do more than they realize,” she said.

For a less intimidating setting, the UVI Great Hall resembled a poetry club, complete with a stage, runway, brick backdrop and two standing microphones. Two high, round tables with surrounding chairs stood on each end of the runway.

As the show began, a flurry of voices immediately filled the Great Hall.

These voices came from two large, yet separate groups of chatty choir members who entered the room through one a side door. This fictional class of 1995 walked down the aisles, greeted one another with hugs and engaged in small banter before finally making their way to the stage.

Scene One delivered a message on bullying as lead characters, Franciene and Cameron appeared at their 20th class reunion. Both were severely teased, but Franciene more so because of her weight.

Characters Franciene and Cameron share stories about being bullied in school. Photo Credit: Kyle Stevenson
Characters Franciene and Cameron share stories about being bullied in school.
Photo Credit: Kyle Stevenson

This led to the choir’s first musical selection and a motivational speech from Jaecena Howell.

Howell recounted her challenges raising $5,000 in three months, but was able to do so through her perseverance. She believed anyone could achieve the seemingly impossible if they took on the challenge.

In Scene 2, Liz Combie stepped on stage to discuss the importance of value.

In addition to her talk, Combie demonstrated how past relationships can affect future ones by calling three young men and women from the audience to participate.

In Scene 3, characters Tania and Crystal recounted their past self-esteem issues. They both made personal comparisons to others they thought “had it all,” but overtime learned to accept themselves.

Franciene re-entered the scene to remind Tania that she didn’t have to “try so hard” to have others accept her.

During the skit, some cast members found themselves in some of the characters. UVI alumni Wyndi Ambrose played Franciene, but related to Crystal. Crystal was a character who felt she was too skinny and needed to be shapely to garner attention.

“In some ways, I felt I identified the most with [Crystal],” Ambrose said.

Like Crystal, Ambrose once thought that having a certain physique would make her feel better about her slim frame, but Ambrose realized that beauty was not solely based on physical appearance.

“Over the years, I’ve come to realize it’s really what you have inside and giving to others. That is what makes you beautiful to other people” Ambrose said. “That’s why I really love singing the song [Try], because I really was moved by it.”

After intermission, the choir donned their “Dare to Be” T-shirts and returned to stage.

VOICC member Bianca Almonte delivered Savannah Brown’s “What Guys Look for in Girls.”

Jaecena Howell recounts her challenge of raising $5,000 in three months.
UVI Student Jaecena Howell encouraged audience members to persevere in the face of obstacles. Photo Credit: Kyle Stevenson

As Almonte recited the dramatic piece, she captured both attendees and performers alike.

Following Almonte’s presentation were VOICC singers Gregory Evans and Jahdel Jules, who utilized the runway in the segment, “Who You Are.”

This portion focused on how many young people continually made their insecurities visible to others.

“What do you see?” Evans rhetorically asked, as each young model slowly walked the stage annex.

After brief dialogue from Evans, the young women confidently returned to the catwalk. This time, each girl wore her smile and a stylish dress. Loud cheers and whistles filled the room as the models and brave young men alike strolled onto the runway.

In this case, Ambrose felt this segment encouraged crowd interaction.

“Before it was like, ‘let’s tell you how to be confident; now let’s see you act it out,” Ambrose said. “It was really nice to see them come up on stage and be themselves and have fun.”

Before closing with their high-spirited number “Get Up,” different VOICC members recited a line from the poem, “Dare to Be.”

Overall, attendees enjoyed the program.

Dare to Be model wears a smile as she walks down the runway. Photo Credit: Media One Productions
Dare to Be model wears a smile as she walks down the runway.
Photo Credit: Media One Productions

For UVI student Gary Papin, the program theme “Dare To Be” challenged individuals not to place limitations on themselves.

The last presentation that really impacted Papin was the speech given by Gregory Evans.

“He said that statistically, at least one male in this room might be going to jail. It was a surprising realization as to how many young men, or men in general are incarcerated. But in spite of that, he also said that if you were living a lifestyle that could lead to that outcome, it’s not too late to make a change, and that is a message that needs to be heard by the men who still have a chance,” Papin concluded.

“You are your own obstacle in this situation,” Papin said. “If you can overcome yourself, then there is no limit to what you can achieve.”

In addition to the overall message, Papin saw it play out in an interpretive dance during intermission.

“It was basically a girl dancing with mirrors around her and she’s basically trying to find out who she is and not be molded by the reflections of society and people and what-not,” said Papin.

Aside from audience members, choir participants found certain elements touching.

For 20-year-old national student exchange student, Shermaine Blake, Almonte’s spoken word performance was empowering.

“Her energy and heart was all in it,” Blake said.

In addition to Almonte’s presentation, Blake also enjoyed Liz Combie’s demonstration.

“Even for me, everything she had to say resonated with me,” Blake said. “How you value yourself is how the world will treat you. “I think that’s the strongest messages kids in middle school and high school really need to hear, internalize, and focus on.”

Lastly, VOICC offered to serve as big brothers and sisters to the children who attended and contact the children if they ever needed assistance with schoolwork.

The VOICC will be hosting their spring concert on Saturday, April 25.

Anyone wishing to receive more information about the event can call or email Josephine Thomas-Lewis at 690-5269 or voistx@myuvi.net.

UVI Anticipates Successful Afternoon On The Green 2015

Patrice Harris |

ST. THOMAS — The University of the Virgin Islands is set to host the 26th edition of Afternoon on the Green on Sunday March 15, on the Herman E. Moore Golf Course, St. Thomas Campus. UVI is inviting the community to partake in food, family fun and live entertainment. The event commences at noon to 5 p.m. and will be held under the theme “It’s a Cultural Scene at Afternoon on the Green.”
atogLiza Margolis, UVI senior coordinator of donor relations and special events said that Afternoon on the Green is a one-of-a-kind fun event that changes every year. Proceeds from the annual event fund scholarships for UVI students.

Prizes for this year’s cook-off competition include round-trip tickets to Puerto Rico, dinner for four provided by Passion Fruit Chefs and two round-trip tickets to St. Croix. Prizes will also be awarded to cooks in each category, which include pastries and sweets, soups, native drinks, vegetables/casseroles, main dishes/meats/poultry, seafood, and breads.

Entertainment will be provided by Cool Session, Flip Switch, Flambo Combo, the EBO Steel Owls, the Mungo Niles Cultural Dancers and the Cherubim Wesleyan Methodist Dancers. In the Kid’s Village, there will be fun games, relay races, kick ball, hula hoops, tug of war and bounce houses. There will also be a mini parade of 25 vintage Volkswagens and Mustangs that will make a grand entrance on the green.

The Afternoon on the Green is sponsored by West Indian Company Limited, First Bank, St. Thomas Federal Credit Union, the VI Housing Authority – Youth Build, VI Waste Management Authority, Thrive Chiropractic, Pro Solar, VI Auto Club, MSI, Merchants Bank, Paint Depot, the West Indies Company, Choice Communications, Seaborne Airlines and 104.3 The Buzz.

Chris Gardner Urges Students to Stick to Plan ‘A’


THOMAS, V.I. – A hush fell over the University of the Virgin Islands’ Sports and Fitness Center when Chris Gardner’s deep, baritone voice resonated across the room.

Gardner, a noted author and philanthropist, was the featured guest speaker on Tuesday at this year’s 5th annual Man-Up Conference held under the theme, “Awakening the Leader Within.”  The Chris Gardner at Tuesday’s event was a far cry from his former self 20 years ago.

Dressed in a champagne-colored jacket, light blue shirt and black pants, Gardner stood tall and statuesque at the podium ready to address the scores of schoolboys gathered inside the auditorium.

Gardner, 61, rose to prominence in 2006 after the publication of his Book, “The Pursuit of Happyness,” in May of that year. The autobiography became a New York Times and Washington Post #1 bestseller. It has since been translated into more than 40 languages.

“When I wrote The Pursuit of Happyness, it was not my idea because I had to relive a whole lot of stuff I didn’t want to think about,” Gardner said.

He said that as a result of the book, he has been frequently asked if he could do it again and if he would change anything from the past; His answer to each question is ‘yes’ and ‘no,’ respectively.

Chris Garder addresses scores of male-students at UVI's 2015 Man-Up Male Empowerment Conference. (via: UVI.edu facebook)
Chris Garder addresses scores of male-students at UVI’s 2015 Man-Up Male Empowerment Conference.
(via: UVI.edu facebook)

Seven months after his book was published, Columbia Pictures released a film with the same name with Will Smith starring as Gardner.

“The film is often referred to as a ‘Rags-to-Riches’ story. For me, it was not about money; it was about a man giving his son something he never had: a father,” Gardner said.

Addressing the group of middle and high school boys from across St. Thomas, Gardner began his presentation recounting experiences from his childhood, which was marked by poverty, domestic violence, alcoholism, sexual abuse and family illiteracy, and telling how he suffered at the hands of his stepfather.  Gardner never knew his father and he made the decision not to follow in his father’s footsteps.

“Every day my stepfather would remind me that he isn’t my stepfather and he would put a shotgun to my chest to remind me,” Gardner said. “I could have become my stepfather – an alcoholic, wife-beating, child-abusing, illiterate loser – but I chose to go the other way.”

In the brief account of his life, Gardner recalled that he was penniless and homeless, and had to raise his son on his own. He said it was during the early ‘80s when the U.S. was going through a recession and unemployment was at 29 percent, and that homelessness was becoming a major issue in America.

“I made the decision that if I had to sleep in a public washroom with my child tied to my back at 28 years, I would because I made that decision as a five-year-old boy,” Gardner said.

Gardner’s luck began to turn around in 1982 after he earned a spot in the Dean Witter Reynolds training program, an American Stock Brokerage and Securities firm. The program offered no salary and he remained homeless but with determination and perseverance, Gardner eventually became a fulltime employee of the firm.  Five years later, he moved on establish his own brokerage firm, Gardner Rich & Co., in Chicago, Illinois.

Gardner credited his willpower and determination to his mother, Betty Jean Triplett and his “spiritual genetics,” a term which he coined.

“My mother said, ‘Son, you can do or be anything you want to be.’ That’s the transferal of the American Dream,” he said, as a picture of his mother flashed on two large projector screens erected at the front. As for the term “spiritual genetics,” Gardner explained that the concept simply means “that which makes you, you.”

Punctuating his speech with two scenes from the movie, The Pursuit of Happyness, Gardner sought to explain how those scenes accurately depicted his life.

Gardner ended his 30-minute presentation by urging his audience to develop a plan and stick to it. “Our plan has to have five C’s: it must be clear, concise, compelling, consistent and committed,” he said.

With the use of visual aid, Gardner presented pictures of Michael Jordan, Oprah Winfrey, Will Smith, U.S. President Barack Obama and Nelson Mandela.

“They all had a Plan A and stuck to it. They had no Plan B. Plan B sucks; give Plan B to someone you don’t like for Christmas,” Gardner said, leading the boys to chant, “Plan B sucks, Plan B sucks.”

Among the other speakers for the day were UVI’s President Dr. David Hall and Gerlinder Cheri-Difo.  “The message we’re sending to you today is that each one of you is destined to be a leader,” Hall said. “We want to remind you of that and not lose sight of that. You determine what happens to your life and not the person next to you.”

Gerlinder Cheri-Difo,  a senior at the Charlotte Amalie High School, told his peers “Reach deep down and pull yourself up. Join me in the pursuit of happiness. It’s not elusive anymore.”

Musical entertainment was provided by the group, Rock City. The musical duo, Timothy and Theron Thomas, are St. Thomas natives who now live in Atlanta. They told the schoolboys about their lives growing up in the projects and how their family managed to eke out a living, and about their struggles in Atlanta to get to where they are today. The two have written hit singles for several recording artistes, including Rihanna, Justin Bieber, Jennifer Hudson and Chris Brown. This year, they received two Grammy nominations for “Best Pop Vocal Albums.”

The Man-Up conference was sponsored by UVI, the Department of Human Services, the Department of Education and UVI Brothers With a Cause. The program was presented Wednesday on St. Croix.

Safety and Security Measures at UVI

Karine Cox |

ST.CROIX- The University of the Virgin Islands has implemented new safety and security measures such as the electronic gate and parking plan to improve the day-to-day operations on campus.

The safety and security of UVI students, faculty and staff is a fundamental concern. The Security Department on the UVI campus works around the clock to ensure the safety of everyone.

“When it comes to security, we have to take it as priority. It means the safety of people and buildings so we have to make sure the people who come here are safe whether they come by vehicle or foot,” Security office, Leonard Nero said.

However, Cheddi Rogers, a male residential student, expressed his views on the safety measures on campus.

“I feel safe to an extent, it’s not 100 percent safe because it is an open campus,” Rogers said. “As far as the gates and swipe cards, I feel that the campus is so small all of this is not necessary, someone could still get on campus easily.”

Surveillance cameras and emergency phones have been installed around the campus as a safety measure; however, in 2013, the installation of the electronic gate and parking plan came into effect as another safety measure on campus.

The electronic gate is of one UVI’s recent projects. The operation hours of the gate are from 11 p.m. to 6 a.m. on Mondays to Fridays and 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. on Saturday, Sundays and holidays. The electronic gate helps control, grant access and keep track of who goes in and out of the campus. Upon entry into the campus, everyone is required press the button to call the Security Department and then give their name, license plate number or student ID if they are a student or the reason for entry onto the campus. There have been reports about the gate in terms of lack of privacy and giving fake names or license plate numbers.

“I won’t say the gate ridiculous, it kind of makes sense, for instance when someone is coming to me and I don’t know, security won’t let them in unless I call them and let them know someone is coming to me,” Rogers said.

The parking plan is another safety measure. It serves as a means for improved parking safety on campus, effective utilization of parking spaces and to keep a record and distinguish between faculty, students and visitors.

“It is knowing who park where, we might not know where a particular student park but if it’s a student we know he or she is supposed to be parked in a student parking lot,” Nero said.

Every faculty and student on campus is required to register his or her vehicle online via Ban Web. After completion of this, faculty and students may obtain a sticker for his or her vehicle in the Security Department on campus.

In addition to all these measure being put in place, the UV I Security Department restricts the use, selling or possession of marijuana, alcohol and other drugs. The UVI campus is a drug and alcohol free campus. UVI also has a hotline with VIPD, therefore in case of an emergency they call 911.

The safety of everyone at UVI is of importance to the UVI Security Department.