Family, friends and loved ones came together Wednesday night to join in “a time for healing” with the Women’s Coalition of St. Croix and their community partners at the Sunny Isle Amphitheater.
Chairs were filled with individuals wearing the red and black colors that represent the National Day of Remembrance For Murder Victims, established by Congress in 2007 to honor victims and those left to mourn.
Some family members wore t-shirts with their loved ones’ pictures printed on them as a loving remembrance.
Earlier in the afternoon members of the Caribbean Center for Boys and Girls assisted young children via the healing arts. The children made river rock keepsakes to take home with them, and adults were also invited to take part and write the name of their loved ones or a message on the rocks.
WCSC Co-Director Carolyn Forno opened the gathering with welcoming words of comfort and support for families, the community and the loved ones and friends of victims.
Tahirah AbuBakr of the St. Croix Council of Elders offered an invocation to the ancestors for healing. “It is one of the oldest ceremonies in the lifetime of our ancestors,” she said. The crowd listened to her speak of “the elements of nature – the trees and plants, the rocks and minerals – and the four directions of east, south, west and north as pillars that inspire our growth as a remembrance of who we are in these to be present with us tonight.”
“The Earth Mother and Father Sky and the oldest grandmother and grandfather were included in our ancestors,” AbuBakr added.
Psychologist Dara Hamilton from the Lotus Center for Wellbeing spoke about the ways children cope with grief. “Children can grieve quietly or even loudly,” she said.
When a child is a part of a community that is wrestling with violence, they oftentimes show misbehavior as a reaction to trauma, Hamilton offered. She encouraged the audience to hug, cuddle and show constant support to those children. It is a time for healing, she said.
David Flemming, deacon of Calvary Baptist Church, spoke on behalf of Pastor Benjamin. Flemming spoke about the horrific murder of a 73-year-old church member who was brutally beaten to death by four young men in 2015.
No justice has been served, although the four men were arrested. There has been no trial or conviction. The widow has not been able to heal. “Not even grief counseling has been able to lift the dark cloud over her,” said Flemming. Without justice, there is no healing, he added.
WCSC Executive Director Clema Lewis made suggestions towards healing. She said grief is a change – a natural healing reaction. There can be denial, shock, anger, fatigue, sadness, anxiety and fear. “It’s ok to cry,” she said. “Ask for help, rest and eat properly. Do not turn to drugs or alcohol to self-medicate.”
Lewis also reminded the audience that WCSC works with families. “We have counselors,” she said. “Don’t be too proud to ask for help. We understand when court dates are changed and there is no justice. Justice is critical to healing.”
Sheelene Gumbs, crisis counselor at WCSC, lost her husband to violence 15 years ago. “You don’t really get over it,” she said. “This is a hard day. Every day is a hard day. And when justice is not served, grief is even harder.”
Gumbs introduced the video “Victory” by Pressure and Virgin Islands artists. “The message is timely and very clear,” she said. “We have to make the difference. We have to be the solution to the problem.”
The event’s open mic portion brought survivors to the front of the theater to reflect, share and find comfort and support in their remembrances. Emotions ran high during the evening and many tears were shed.
There was a common thread in the remembrances; survivors spoke of feeling broken and sad and often disappointed in the justice system. They spoke of the need for the government to work closer with the community to make changes.
One man reiterated that grief and loss have no gender. He came up to the mic wearing a t-shirt with a picture of his son and spoke about being notified early New Year’s Day 2019 that his son was murdered. He said women and mothers grieve and men grieve too.
The event’s “Wall of Remembrance” featured hundreds of names of the victims of murder in the Virgin Islands. There was a moment of silence in remembrance.
AbuBakr delivered a closing ceremony. Small vials of bubbles were given to participants to blow as a release for their loved ones.