The bill states the Department of Education, Office of Veterans Affairs and the Department of Tourism should develop ceremonies and activities to celebrate the occasion. The Legislature will hold its own ceremonies on the grounds of the Capitol Building in Charlotte Amalie, which will include the raising of the Virgin Islands flag.
“Over the decades we have seen the decline of national pride, but we have also seen an increase in national pride as it relates to the identity of Virgin Islanders at home and abroad,” Sen. Myron Jackson said. “Today the icon or imagery of the Virgin Islands flag is used on paraphernalia … and that says a lot in reference to how people perceive themselves and their nationality.”
A video clip shown during the meeting told the story of Percival Sparks, who was commissioned to draw a design for the flag and who afterwards asked his wife, Grace Sparks, and her sister Blanche Joseph to embroider the design.
Jackson said the idea of the V.I. flag started with Rear Admiral Sumner Ely Wetmore Kittelle, who was sworn in as governor of the territory on April 26, 1921. He was the first to approach Sparks and ask for suggestions for a flag design. Being a cartoonist, Sparks was able to draw a rough draft on paper, then transferred it to cotton, and finally asked his wife and sister-in-law to embroider it.
“So, what we are talking about here in addition to the purpose of the Flag Day legislation, is oral history that has not necessarily been codified or in the history books as far as how the evolution of the flag came … even though it has been flying over the Virgin Islands since 1921,” Jackson said.
Assistant Commissioner for the Department of Education Maria Encarnacion said the department supports the measure and saw it as an opportunity to educate students and the community about the flag. Encarnacion said the department could help with the celebrations in many ways, including ceremonies, art and essay contests and flag parades.
What is most important about the bill is “that it will help the Virgin Island Department of Education accomplish its goal of instilling in our students a sense of love and pride for the United States Virgin Islands, our home,” Encarnacion said.
Valrica Bryson, director of the Education’s Division of Virgin Islands Cultural Education, said that as a proud Virgin Islander she has already sat down with her department and come up with dates and activities to celebrate the holiday that have already been placed on their calendar.
The first activity that will take place is on April 30, where Bryson said a poetry competition will occur and students will be asked to submit a poem about the flag and their pride about being Virgin Islanders.
The second activity Bryson noted was “Rep Your Flag Day” on May 4, on which students will be permitted to dress in outfits using the insignia of the flag. Best dressed will be given a prize along with a spotlight appearance on all the department’s social media pages.
On May 6 a song competition will take place, in which students come up with a melody and lyrics about the flag, Bryson said. The winner or winners will have their song recorded and it will be played at all the local schools.
Bryson said on May 10, in conjunction with the V.I. National Guard, there will be educational courses given to students about the importance of how to respect a flag and fold one properly. In honor of the flag on May 14, she added, every public school in the territory will pledge allegiance to the flag at the same time.
Events will culminate with a Flag Day celebration on May 18, because May 17 is a Sunday.
Alani Henneman-Todman with Tourism said the department also supported the bill and saw it as a way to preserve the Virgin Islands history and culture.
“Our flag represents our unique history, strength and resilience as a people. We will continue to incorporate it in marketing and promoting the destination, including our work across digital platforms,” Henneman-Todman said.
Because the Division of Festivals is now established, Henneman-Todman said the department will also consider developing an event around the holiday on or around May 17 of each year.
The bill passed and was voted favorably by Sens. Jackson, Alicia Barnes, Oakland Benta, Dwayne DeGraff, Athneil Thomas and Javan James. Sen. Steven Payne Sr. was absent for the vote.
The bill is now sent to the Rules and Judiciary Committee for further review.