Delroy “Ital” Anthony, the 2016 St. John Festival Food Fair honoree, used the fair’s opening ceremony Sunday as a platform to air his frustrations about injustices on St. John, briefly creating a mild stir at what is typically an uncontroversial event.
Anthony, who was being honored for his knowledge as an herbalist and artisan, began his acceptance speech in a subdued manner, thanking various “core community members,” before mentioning that he “had a speech to make to the territory,” one that he had been asked not to make.
“We here in the Virgin Islands, ladies and gentlemen, have been for too long put down. I am frustrated. You are frustrated,” Anthony said to a crowd of local food aficionados, visitors and vendors in Franklin Powell Park.
“It ain’t right what’s happening to us. Right now in a couple days we are supposed to be recognizing emancipation. What does emancipation mean? Freedom,” he continued.
Many of the issues addressed by Anthony in his speech had to do with the relationship between St. Johnians and the U.S. National Park Service, which owns and manages over 60 percent of St. John and has frequently faced criticism from community activists over the last half-century.
“Are you telling me we can’t get to our land in the park? In the United States Virgin Islands we can’t get to our property in the park?” Anthony asked, referring to private inholdings within the park to which access is blocked.
Anthony offered further comment on issues from parking to beach regulations that he said create a perception that the National Park Service is more keen to cater to the interests of visitors than St. Johnians.
As Anthony spoke about increasing feelings of disenfranchisement on St. John, some directly related to land management by the NPS and others only loosely related, some food fair attendees shouted words of encouragement while others appeared to be growing impatient with his message.
“If you don’t want me up on the platform, tell me to get off. I’ll get off. Please,” Anthony said when it appeared that some community members wanted to silence his polemic.
“If ayo don’t want St. John to go down, please come together and let we stand together for the right thing,” said Anthony.
Sens. Myron Jackson and Almando “Rocky” Liburd, who were both scheduled to offer a few words at the fair’s opening, followed Anthony and attempted to give added context to his address.
“A lot of the things that Ital just spoke about, they’re real,” said Liburd.
Liburd said Anthony was saying aloud what many “indigenous persons of St. John feel, but don’t say.” He said more people need to speak out.
“There are a lot of issues now. St. John hasn’t always been as people want to call it just Love City,” he said. “It’s Love City with some issues and many of the things [Anthony] just spoke about, like the National Park, are important. Now don’t get me wrong folks the park has been good in some instances for the Virgin Islands, but in other instances it has not.”
Jackson said Anthony is someone he has gotten to know and respect over the years as “an advocate, community activist and artisan.”
“Today his words were as powerful as the words of our ancestors were for freedom,” Jackson said, urging audience members not to forget “the struggles of Virgin Islanders towards self-determination which continue to this day.”
In addition to words from Anthony, the senators and St. John Administrator Camille Paris the fair’s opening ceremony featured the coronation of 2016 St. John Festival royalty.
Steffi Nicholas was crowned Festival Queen and Akahi’ya Heywood was crowned Festival Princess, each by their predecessor.
“It’s by faith that we take chances. It’s by faith we face challenges. And it’s by faith that we rise to all occasions,” said Nicholas, who added that she planned use her reign to advocate for legislative solutions to gun violence in the territory.
Heywood said she will “take pride in preserving V.I. culture by looking towards the future.”
The 2016 St. John Festival Village, which has been dubbed Varlackville in honor of Delrise Varlack, opens on Tuesday evening.