Hugging one another tightly with tiny smiles, Jamilya Christopher and Tamri Cannonier each cast a single red rose into the Charlotte Amalie Harbor late Thursday afternoon, a tribute to Shantee Seivewright, a friend they lost earlier this year to domestic violence.
They were two of the 27 roses tossed into the harbor in memory of the territory’s 27 murder victims so far this year. The ceremony was part of the National Day of Remembrance for Murder Victims sponsored locally by the Family Resource Center and the Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Council.
The ceremony, on the waterfront across from the Greenhouse, attracted a slowly gathering crowd, assembling around a palm tree adorned with teddy bears, small pink ribbons bearing the name of the victims, and the roses.
Jennifer Olivacce, FRC administrative assistant, said this is the first year they have held the ceremony on the waterfront. Normally, it is in Emancipation Garden.
"We thought tossing the roses in the harbor would be a fitting tribute," Olivacce said.
Counselor Karen Blyden, Shelter Manager Anya Suart and FRC Development Director Vernon Araujo waved at the passing cars, many of whom honked in support. The gathering took its time assembling. "They will be here," Araugjo announced. "Look, here comes Jamal.”
Jamal Carroll did indeed arrive, along with his father Judge James Carroll, and many others, forming a tight group.
The Carrolls paid tribute to Jason Carroll, shot and killed 14 years ago in downtown Charlotte Amalie. The Carroll family, headed by Celia Carroll, initiated Mothers Against Guns, which sponsors an annual run in Jason’s memory and that of other gun victims.
The event raises money for University of the Virgin Islands scholarships for St. Thomas high school students, who must submit an essay on the impact of gun violence.
Judge Carroll pointed out Jamilya Christopher, one of the scholarship recipients. Christopher said she won the scholarship in 2007. She brightened while describing her college career.
"I graduated in 2011," she said. "And I’m studying for a masters in psychology online at Walden Online University.”
Christopher and Cannonier, with their youth and affection for one another, symbolized the sadness felt by all. "We really miss Shantee," Christopher said.
Before tossing the roses in the harbor, the group formed a semicircle, each holding a single red rose. They joined in a spirited rendition of "Amazing Grace.”
Olivacce then tossed a final white rose, she said, "In the hopes that we in our territory will soon see peace and not increase our victim numbers this year.”
Karen Blyden is the children’s counselor. When asked how many clients they see each year, neither Blyden nor Suart could give a definite answer.
"We have four counselors, and we each see a different group of people," Blyden said. "It must be between 300 to 400 a year. We have lots of families.”
Blyden said they see mostly women, divorce cases, custody battles, immigration problems and the homeless. She said the children are referred by the school system, ministries, the Human Services Department or Kidscope.
"We see children from two and a half to 18, under which they must be accompanied by an adult,” she said.
On St. Croix, Sheelene Gumbs, Woman’s Coalition crisis manager, said they would observe the Day of Remembrance at the Children’s Center where children will create picture frames for people lost to violence.
"It will be therapeutic, a kind of healing process," she said.
October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. According to the FRC, it evolved from the "Day of Unity" held in October 1981 and was conceived by the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. The intent was to connect advocates across the nation who were working to end violence against women and their children. The Day of Unity soon became an entire week devoted to a range of activities conducted at the local, state and national levels. The activities conducted were as varied and diverse as the program sponsors but had common themes: mourning those who have died because of domestic violence, celebrating those who have survived, and connecting those who work to end violence.
These three themes remain a key focus of DVAM events today. In October 1987, the first Domestic Violence Awareness Month was observed. That same year marks the initiation of the first national domestic violence toll-free hotline. Each year, the Day of Unity is celebrated the first Monday of Domestic Violence Awareness Month.