ST. CROIX – The 35th Legislature of the Virgin Islands’ Committee on Government Operations, Veterans Affairs, and Consumer Protection, led by Senator Carla J. Joseph convened at the Fritz E. Lawetz Legislative Conference Room on St. Croix. Lawmakers considered acts and resolutions honoring Virgin Islanders. All items on the agenda were approved and will be sent to the Committee on Rules and Judiciary for further action and consideration.
In Block one, the Committee received testimony concerning Bill No. 35-0029, an act honoring and commending Donna Marie Christian-Christiansen M.D., for her tireless contributions to the people of the Virgin Islands in the medical field and representation in the United States Congress. This bill also renames the Charles Harwood Memorial Complex on St. Croix as the “Donna M. Christian-Christiansen Virgin Islands Department of Public Health” in her honor. The measure was sponsored by Senators Novelle E. Francis, Jr., Angel L. Bolques, Jr and Franklin D. Johnson, and cosponsored by Carla J. Joseph.
The Honorable Justa Encarnacion, Commissioner, Virgin Islands Department of Health delivered testimony in favor of the proposed measure. Encarnacion called Christian-Christiansen a mentor, a college, and a friend. She also stated that many health professionals in the territory owed their careers the guidance of Christian-Christiansen. During her tenue as assistant Commissioner at the Department of Health, Christian-Christiansen implemented an innovative program aimed at nurturing high school students with aspirations of pursuing medical or healthcare professionals. Additionally, another participant became a practicing pharmacist. Encarnacion sang the laurels of Christian-Christiansen, stating that her impact cannot be understated, stating that it has shaped the trajectory of her career over the past 28 years.
Monique Clendenin Watson, who served as Chief of Staff to Donna Christian-Christiansen for fourteen for the 18 years she served as Delegate to Congress, representing the United States Virgin Islands in the Congress. During this time, she was recognized for her leadership in healthcare on local, national, and international stages for accomplishments which impacted millions. Clendenin Watson stated that Christian-Christiansen, while operating as a family physician often treated senior citizens, young people, and others who were uninsured or underinsured. She attested to the fact that these individuals would be charged no more than 10-20 dollars per visit. She also said that she was one of the few physicians who would treat HIV/AIDS patients when other physicians would not. Christian-Christiansen’s youth advocacy also resulted in the building of a second high school on the island of St. Croix, known as the St. Croix Educational Complex.
James O’Bryan, a former senator, spoke in support of the proposed measure. O’Bryan served as the political director of the organization that elected her to Congress in 1996. He served as District and Communication Director during her first term in Congress. O’Bryan stated he needed not restate the obvious, saying that this would “honor one of the great political and generational leaders in Virgin Islands’ History.” He stated that she brought competence, dedication, commitment, and passion to improve the quality of life for her constituents, she played a significant role in the passage of the Affordable Health Care Act during the Obama administration.
In Block two, the Committee received testimony concerning Bill No. 35-0041, an act awarding the Virgin Islands Medal of Honor posthumously to former Senator Edgar Milton Iles for his commendable public service and contributions to the people of the Virgin Islands. The measure was sponsored by Senator Kenneth L. Gittens and cosponsored by Carla J. Joseph.
The Honorable Iver Stridiron, former senator delivered brief statements on behalf of the measure. Stridiron served with Iles in the Legislature. Isles served in the 14th, 15th, 17th, and 18th Legislatures. Stridiron lauded Iles for his professionalism, stating that Iles often joined for the purpose of helping, and not seeing leadership roles. Keisha Iles, the daughter of Edgar Iles delivered testimony in support of the proposed measure. Iles had a passion and dedication for the advancement of sports and collaborating with young athletes and fellow sports enthusiasts in the territory. This allowed him to become the assistant director of Sports within the Division of Parks and Recreation in the 1970s. He served in various capacities in the boxing, softball, track & field, and volleyball federations. He became the President of the Virgin Islands Olympic Committee and served for twenty years.
In Block three, the Committee received testimony concerning Bill No. 35-0100, a resolution honoring and commending Music in Motion School of Higher Dance Education and its founder, Charlita Schuster, on the occasion of the 40th Anniversary of the establishment of the Music in Motion Dance Academy. The measure was sponsored by Samuel Carriо́n.
Dr. ChenziRa Davis Kahina, immediate past president of the Caribbean Association delivered testimony in support of the proposed measure. Per testimony delivered by Davis Kahina, Charlita Schuster exemplifies and shares her skills, talents and expertise as a seasoned prima ballerina, master dance educator, professional etiquette consultant, and dance performing production artistic director and producer extraordinaire. Davis Kahina stated that Schuster has remained consistent throughout the 40-year history of the Music in Motion School of Higher Dance Education.
Afrilasia Joseph-Phipps, a resident of St. Croix also delivered testimony in support. Joseph-Phipps first met Schuster at the St. Croix School of the arts when Schuster was employed as a dance teacher. Eventually, Schuster left the school of the arts and established the Music in Motion Dance Academy in 1983. Joseph-Phipps was the first student enrolled at the academy, learning various genres of dance, mentioning that dance training taught her how to be more graceful, poised, and disciplined, and encouraged her natural creativity. Joseph-Phipps stated that training under Ms. Schuster gave her the self-confidence she needed to perform amongst the best in the dance world. She mentioned that this has also carried over to her professional life. She further added that Schuster has demonstrated a true commitment to her students and the Virgin Islands Community.
Emmanuella Perez Cassius, a resident of St. Croix, as well as a board member of the Music in Motion School of Higher Dance Education delivered supporting testimony. Perez-Cassisus voiced how grateful she was for the opportunity that the school has given her youngest daughter, Marley, to develop her love of dance. She stated that Schuster has consistently provided dance skill development, instilled discipline, and cultivated a professional approach to training her daughter. Additionally, through her dance training, she has given her daughter the confidence to embrace challengers, learn from failures and persevere through difficulties. Perez Cassius stated that her support of Schuster and the school grew significantly when she joined the St. Croix foundation non-profit consortium. She mentioned the positive impact that the school had on St. Croix’s art education.
Finally, in Bloc four, the Committee received testimony concerning Bill No. 35-0101, a resolution honoring and commending Dr. Olaf “Bronco” Hendricks for his tireless years of remarkable and invaluable contributions to the people of the Virgin Islands in the field of psychiatry, his advocacy for social justice for individuals with behavioral health and substance use issues, and for his music. The measure was sponsored by Senator Franklin D. Johnson.
Kai A. Hendricks, the son of Olaf Hendricks delivered testimony on behalf of the measure. He mentioned that his father’s service to the medical community, particularly within psychiatry, has been nothing short of extraordinary. Across hospitals, prisons, and practice practices, he reached out to those on the margins, offering assistance and compassion to those who struggled with behavioral health and substance issues. He is known for his foundation of humility. He has also been known to be a gifted saxophonist with the Ten Sleepless Knights, using music to touch hearts and uplift spirits.
Bodil Simmonds, a classmate, delivered additional testimony. Simmonds, who attended St. Mary’s Catholic School in St. Croix with Hendricks spoke in support of the measure, saying that it is appropriate that he is being honored for his professional achievements. Olaf Hendricks is one of the first local psychiatrists on the island of St. Croix. Simmonds stated that “Bronco” as he is affectionally called, takes the time to talk with anyone who seeks his advice, not looking down on anyone.
Dr. Donna Christian-Christensen, M.D., Former Delegate to Congress delivered testimony in support of the measure. Christian-Christensen who stated that she was not sure when she met Bronco but does remember that he was her classmate from kindergarten. She mentioned that his legacy continues to morph to respond to the many needs of the Virgin Islands. For a while, he served as the Chief Territorial Psychiatrist at the Department of Health and the Hospital, the prison psychiatrist, the forensic psychiatrist at the Courts, a private practitioner of psychiatry and the one who all of them turned to for consultation for their own patients.
Senators present at today’s Committee meeting included Carla J. Joseph, Samuel Carriо́n, Diane T. Capehart, Ray Fonseca, Novelle E. Francis, Jr., Alma Francis Heyliger, Kenneth L. Gittens, Franklin D. Johnson, and Milton Potter.