Aug. 31, 2006–A journalist, a former senator with cancer, a Carnival queen, a police officer stationed at the Pentagon during 9/11, a much-revered calypso singer and a teacher who turned down a professional baseball contract to work with V.I. children.
These were just a few of those publicly honored by senators Thursday during a special plaque ceremony held at Earle B. Ottley Legislative Hall on St. Thomas.
The chamber was packed for the event — filled with friends, family members and colleagues who came to support their loved ones, or to represent those honorees — like Trevor Nicholas "Nick" Friday — who have already passed away.
The building was also filled with the laughter, tears and memories of many generations — of daughters and granddaughters, sons and fathers, mothers and aunts, nieces and nephews — and the countless stories of individuals who have spent their lives contributing to the Virgin Islands, whether through the fields of music, art, politics, education or sports.
One such individual honored during the event was former Sen. Elmo Roebuck, who told the audience that he has been battling cancer for the past two years.
"I didn't think, two years ago that I would be able to stand before you today," Roebuck, a former Senate president, said. "But with the support and prayers of my friends and family, I have been successful in overcoming this deadly disease, which is now in remission."
Roebuck's speech was one of many that touched the hearts of the audience and brought people to their feet with loud cheers and bursts of applause.
Other honorees, such as Digna M. Wheatley, an alumnus of Ivanna Eudora Kean High School on St. Thomas, received a special introduction from senators, which usually included an anecdote about a specific experience.
"I remember that Ms. Wheatley was instrumental in organizing a march to protest conditions at Kean High School," Sen. Liston Davis, Wheatley's former principal, said. "Her actions resulted in Act 5231, a law which appropriated more than $600,000 to build new classrooms and a gym at the school. That's why, in addition to receiving a plaque, we will be naming the gym at Eudora Kean the Digna M. Wheatley Gymnasium."
When called to speak, Wheatley said she would be accepting the award on behalf of the more than 1,200 students at Eudora Kean that participated in the march and took the opportunity to send a message to the senators in attendance.
"Oftentimes, the youth in the community are seen as a pointless group one that's not given much of a voice," she said. "And it's up to us, up to you, to set an example. Because they don't need another politician. What they really need is a senator with a heart."
Wheatley, dressed in a bright yellow skirt suit, received a standing ovation for her speech and walked off the stage to the sound of many whistles, cheers and words of support from the audience.
The crowd also had a similar reaction to a speech made by Jose Enrique Rojas Jr., an officer who was stationed at the Pentagon during the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Rojas was crying as he recalled that day, when he was scheduled to be working on the fifth floor of one the Pentagon's main buildings.
"I heard from someone in the building that my sister was trying to get a hold of me and that it was important," he said. "So I went to another building to call her and stayed there to make sure I got a hold of her. She doesn't just call me for anything — so I knew it had to be important. After I got off the phone with her, I went outside and saw the plane hitting the Pentagon."
Rojas added that he would always be grateful to his sister, since she was the one who "saved [his] life" that day. "I'm sorry I'm so emotional," he said, after accepting his award.
Rojas wasn't the only one to cry during the event, however. After hearing countless heartfelt stories, tears filled the faces of many in attendance — especially after the parents of Trevor Nicholas "Nick" Friday took the stage to accept an award on behalf of their son.
"This year has been very hard for us," Friday's mother said. "And now that it's coming up on the one-year anniversary of our son's death, it has become even more difficult. But we would like to thank everyone in the community who has supported us."
The resolution to honor and commend Friday, sponsored by Sen. Celestino A. White Sr., also stipulates that the road leading from the armory in Red Hook to the Nadir intersection be named the Trevor Nicholas "Nick" Friday Drive.
Gov. Charles W. Turnbull has already signed the resolution into law.
Other individuals honored during Thursday's event were:
–Edmund L. Penn;
–Anne "Grandma Luge" Abernathy;
–Jo Sandra Jones James (a plaque bearing James' name will also be on display at Kean High School);
–Liston B. Monsanto;
–Dr. John Samuel Moorhead;
–Franklin A. Powell;
–Bettye Jean Hammond Parrot;
–Leonardo "Nardo" Trotman;
–Gerald E. Hodge;
–Daisy R. Bough; and
–The St. Thomas Federal Credit Union.
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