On Island Profile: Abdul Ali

Feb. 24, 2008 — Abdul Ali is the most sought after person on St. Croix when students excel; when a lavish birthday bash is scheduled for a toddler; when couples head to the altar and just about any time ordinary people need their voices to be heard.
A man who wears many "press" hats, Ali currently hosts the talk show "Community Digest," on WSTX Radio and writes a weekly column, "Social Circles," for the St. Croix Avis — only the most recent of his stints on radio, TV and in newspapers for nearly three decades.
"I think it's a good mix of schedules that I have," Ali says of his busy agenda, one that he manages with imagination and fortitude.
"I use one skill from one area and use it in another area, and with a little bit of organizing of my time — since I do have 24 hours like everybody else — I manage to get a lot done," he says.
That includes his post as president of the Supervisors Union of Steelworkers of America, Local 9489, and a full-time job with the V.I. Department of Labor as manager for job services.
The various jobs mean plenty of time away from his family. Most would be surprised, he says, "that I have a family life because I'm out so much."
Ali and his wife, Beatrice, married in 1966. The couple has two adult children, both young women, and Ali says that he's fortunate all around because his family doesn't mind the time spent away from home, and he gets to give back the one ways he knows how.
In addition to his job at Labor, he says he easily spends 12 hours or more away from home on any given day, between work and using his non-working hours and weekends to attend events to fill his column.
"I pay attention," he says. "I've always paid attention to people or be concerned with issues that are of concern to them — and it has nothing to do with looking for any rewards. I do it because it's right and it doesn't take anything for me to offer the service that I do and that is giving voice to ordinary people who wouldn't otherwise have one."
Ali has also backed up more of his words with action as one of the founding members of the Men's Coalition, which celebrates 25 years this year. The coalition helps men deal with violence and domestic abuse issues and is recognized by the V.I. Superior Court as an agency to which it refers men to for court-mandated intervention.
Ali credits Mary Mingus, co-director of the Women's Coalition, for assigning him and other founding members to start up the program.
He says that he is saddened, however, that "this phenomenon of men helping men has not really caught on."
"Men have issues too but all these years later we are hard pressed to find intelligent men who are willing to be a part of a committee to help those who need it," he says. "They can't see a group of men providing support for other men."
Ali, who says he works with the Men's Coalition "from time to time," says that counselors are both male and female. These days, he says, much of his time revolves around happenings in the community.
"People come up to me and tell me about their weddings, a birthday party for a two-year-old or a beauty contest and I write it down on one of the many pieces of paper I have in my pocket," he says, adding that the information is later transferred to a calendar so that he doesn't miss any of the events. "You might be thinking, 'A party for a two-year-old? — but I write about it because it's important to that family. That's the ordinary voice that would otherwise go unheard."
A Nevis native, he was 20-something when he joined the Royal Navy and while on his 10-year tour of duty he says that he was amazed by how little his fellow sailors knew about the Caribbean. He eventually got some slides, depicting Caribbean scenes and culture, and developed what could be described as his first mini-documentary on the Caribbean. After leaving the Navy, he says, he wanted to do something in the community where he lived in England and so he approached a local BBC station.
"They said sure," Ali recalls, adding that he was given an hour per month, for seven years, to talk about matters of interest to the West Indian community living in England. The topics ranged from race relations to highlighting those of Caribbean descent who were making positive contributions in cities and towns around England.
A year after leaving the Royal Navy in England, Ali moved to St. Croix in 1983. He was assigned and quickly amassed a loyal listening audience for "Community Digest."
The four-hour show is now heard from 11:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Saturdays. It is common, on a Saturday, to enter a home, business or even a car to speakers blaring with opinions from guests on the show. And, though the time has changed, the format — a hefty dose of Caribbean politics and topics culled from news headlines, blossomed by public sentiment, remain a constant.
On Tuesdays, some residents can't wait to pick up the St. Croix Avis to read "Social Circles," the column that lists the names of hosts or hostesses and their guests in bold print. Ali says he began writing the column in 1998 and that it was an adaptation of a weekend column "Around St. Croix" that he wrote for 15 years for the V.I. Daily News.
Around that time, he also co-hosted a TV talk show "Straight Up" for WSVI TV, Channel 8 and later followed with a solo stint with "Straight Talk" on Channel 13, then the V.I. Government's education channel, he says.
Ali says he's had no formal training in journalism — just a natural desire to inform.
After moving to St. Croix, Ali says he began calling WSTX to air his opinions on a talk show hosted by Al Lynch. He would eventually co-host the show on a regular basis until he landed his very own show.
Ali says he's never forgotten what Lynch did for him and so he is always open to doing the same for others.
He says he became impressed, for example, with the community activism demonstrated by a group of young people, collectively known as Generation Now. After an initial appearance on his talk-show, which celebrates 25 years this year, Ali says he decided to devote an hour of the show to the group each Saturday so that "there would be people other than myself as regulars on the show."
That was seven years ago.
"They continue to impress me," he says.
To reach Ali, call 778-1593
Back Talk

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