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Virgin Islands Spirit Alive at Washington Carnival Parade

July 29, 2007 — The Virgin Islands Carnival Troupe Inc. is keeping Virgin Islands’ tradition alive in the Washington D.C. metro area.
Since its initiation in 2003, founders Renaldo Raymo and Ivah Chesterfield Jr. have worked tirelessly portraying Virgin Islands’ culture with spectacular performances in carnivals along the east coast. Troupes with 75-100 members of former and current Virgin Islanders celebrate in carnival parades with V.I. flags in hand while dancing to local music including V.I. traditional music, quelbe.
“We learn about carnival in the V.I. and it’s our responsibility to carry it where we go,” VICT co-founder Renaldo Raymo said.
After moving to Maryland five years ago, Raymo was disheartened to see that the V.I. was not represented in the DC Metro Caribbean Carnival, which is held annually in June. He had been an avid participant in past carnivals on St. Thomas for more than 10 years, as a member of the Fun Lovers troupe and the Carnival Committee.
Raymo and Chesterfield, who are cousins, decided to represent the Virgin Islands in the upcoming carnival. They presented the idea to the DC Metro Virgin Islands Association, who readily accepted and provided their plans to Virgin Islanders who lived in the area. With his experience of participating in carnivals back home, Raymo said he and Chesterfield already had ideas of what they wanted to depict.
The newly formed VICT went forth hard to fundraise for the next carnival. They held cake sales and raffles to collect funds for band music and costumes. Raymo admits that he was a bit nervous that first carnival in 2003, “making sure everything went off well.” The organization had signed up the Virgin Islands very own Image Band to play for the troupe. The theme for their first year was, “What the world needs now love, hope, peace and unity.” Raymo and Chesterfield designed the costumes themselves and picked red to represent love, white to represent peace, blue to represent hope and green for unity. Just like they did it back home, the troupe came together and danced up the carnival route. The presentation was good enough to grab the title of “Spirit of Carnival,” for that year and second place in the best troupe category.
After a one-year hiatus in 2004, the troupe came back full force in 2005, this time with popular local celebrities, Jam Band. Because of the bands popularity, people came from far and wide to celebrate with VICT, Inc. Having a live band in the parade brought “a different vibe” because most troupes use DJs. Raymo said that year was “a bit more difficult” in terms of preparation for the parade, but equally as thrilling. He recounted that by the end of the parade the revelers had turned the scene into a mini j’ouvert.
“Discovering the Elements of a Caribbean Oceanic Mix,” was the theme for the 2006 carnival parade. And an oceanic mix it was with revelers wearing different shades of blue and green to match the colors of the Caribbean Sea. Troupe members also held sticks with glittered sea dwellers on them, such as sharks, dolphins and fishes. Raymo and Chesterfield came up with the idea while thinking about the plane ride home looking down at the ocean. Once again, VICT won “Spirit of Carnival,” and this time, “Best Troupe,” for their excellent depiction of what is signature in the Caribbean, the water.
The biggest hurdle is keeping to a V.I. centered theme and music, Raymo said. Trinidad is best known for their over-the-top carnival parades and it’s hard to move out from under their shadow, Raymo noted. Because DJs are used most commonly in Trinidad, the parades use them as well, which differs from the Virgin Islands where live bands are used. During the 2007 DC Caribbean Carnival, when the troupe first participated in the King and Queen of the Band competition, VICT brought along quelbe music to dance and show off their elaborate costumes. But the judges said that in Trinidad, revelers dance to soca and calypso music that is played for them and, therefore, their music could not be used. Nevertheless, the troupe members rose to the occasion and placed 3rd in the individual category, with a "rainbow" designed costume worn by Raquel Joseph. Carmen Georges placed 3rd in the Queen of the Band segment with her brightly colored costume, which depicted "the first sun after the rain."
The 2007 DC carnival proved to be another successful year for VICT. Their theme “Rain Don’t Stop de Carnival” won yet again “Spirit of Carnival” and “Best Troupe.” Several past V.I Carnival celebrations on St. Thomas saw a bit of rain, but revelers continued to dance on until sunset. Raymo and Chesterfield took this idea for their 2007 theme that although it rained, “carnival still went on.” Troupe members traveled from Florida, Georgia, Philadelphia, New York and the V.I. to celebrate and wore costumes that depicted drizzle, pouring rain, thunderbolts, rainstorm and the rainbow.
“It feels good to have your island recognized,” Raymo said. "The DC Caribbean Carnival parade have more than 300,000 spectators and after seeing the VICT spectacular costumes and the energy of the masqueraders people might want to visit the V.I. to see what our carnival is like.” This could have a positive effect on the Virgin Islands economy, Raymo said.
Many times people can’t return to the V.I. for carnival for reasons of work and school. The VICT presence in DC Caribbean Carnival gives parade goers an opportunity to still enjoy carnival, Chesterfield said.
In other efforts to expose mainlanders to Virgin Islands’ culture, the organization also participated in the Ft. Lauderdale Caribbean Carnival and the Baltimore Maryland Caribbean Carnival. They also volunteer for homeless people, perform Christmas caroling V.I. style and donate used costumes to Caribbean Student Government Associations at local colleges and universities.
Since 2003, Sen. Shawn Michael-Malone has sponsored VICT. In 2005, 2006 and 2007, the USVI Department of Tourism sponsored VICT. Ackley Media Group and Sen. Basil Ottley signed on as sponsors in 2007.
VICT officers are President Reynaldo Raymo, Vice-President Ivah Chesterfield Jr. Treasurer Raquel Joseph, Secretary LeVelle Hedrington and Public Relations Team Jacquelyn Miller, Cherise Thomas, Carmen Georges and Devin Arnold.
For more information check out their website at www.vicarnivaltroupe.net.
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