Published: Jul 1, 2024

ST. CROIX – The Committee on Government Operations, Veterans Affairs and Consumer Protection, under the leadership of Senator Carla J. Joseph met in the Frits E. Lawaetz Legislative Conference Room. Lawmakers received testimony concerning various measures to honor outstanding Virgin Islanders. Approved items on today’s agenda will be forwarded to the Committee on Rules and Judiciary for further consideration.

Lawmakers considered Bill No. 35-0239, An Act honoring and commending Mrs. Claire Lorraine Brown Roker for her dedicated service to the Virgin Islands community by naming the visitors center at the Ann E. Abramson Marine Facility, St. Croix, Virgin Islands, the “Claire L. Roker Visitors Center”. The measure was sponsored by Senators Novelle E. Francis, Jr., Javan E. James, Sr., Angel L. Bolques, Jr., and Donna A. Frett-Gregory.

The measure received dedicated support from various members of the Virgin Islands community. Donna Christian-Christiansen, Former Delegate to Congress, praised Roker as an industrious worker and trailblazer, noting her deep love for the Virgin Islands, especially Frederiksted. Roker served as Director, Assistant Commissioner, and then the Commissioner of the Virgin Islands Department of Tourism. Christian-Christiansen’s testimony stated that Roker “always has a genuine, welcoming smile that radiates the love and pride she has for the VI and her people, although St. Croix is her first love.”  According to Christiansen, she freely gave of herself without cost or seeking acclaim or fame. Clema Lewis, Executive Director of the Women’s Coalition of St. Croix, described Roker as a daughter of the soul and a trailblazer, emphasizing her advocacy against domestic violence and mentoring of young women. Roker joined the organization as a volunteer and served as a member of the Board of Directors from 2006 to 2023. Roker also served as a Victim’s Advocate of domestic violence at the organization. Melody Rames spoke of Roker’s impactful collaborations in community events and projects in Frederiksted, highlighting Roker’s ability to command attention and drive action through events such as the Harbor Night, the Blue Bay Jazz Festival, Sunset Jazz, the July Emancipation and Independence Day fireworks and concert and the Frederiksted Food Truck festivals. Rupert Ross, retired educator, praised Roker’s extensive volunteerism and leadership roles spanning decades, including her significant contributions to pageantry and public service. Ross called her “the Queen Mother of Pageants.”  

Chris Richardson, owner of Sandcastle on the Beach, shared anecdotes illustrating Roker’s hospitality and generosity during challenging times like Hurricane Maria. Richardson said that because of how generous Roker is, she has created an ability to make people want to do anything she asks of them. He stated that she always promoted things for worthy causes. Jose Raul Carrillo, Chairman of the Board for the Virgin Islands Council of the Arts, called her a pillar of strength and an exemplary role model. Carrillo reminded the body that Roker had volunteered countless hours, spearheaded numerous projects and provided mentorship to many. Bridget Dawson reflected on her 30-year friendship with Roker and their collaborative efforts in community initiatives, emphasizing Roker’s unwavering support for the Virgin Islands. As a part of FEDA, The Frederiksted Economic Development Association, she lobbied the Office of Delegate to Congress Donna Christian-Christiansen in the goal of obtaining Enterprise Zone Status for the town of Frederiksted. Aimee Griles-Carino, Executive Director of Our Town Frederiksted, highlighted Roker’s lasting impact on the cultural fabric of Frederiksted. She stated that when she thinks about Frederiksted, she thinks about Roker. Roker was instrumental in bringing the Smithsonian’s Festival of American Folklife to St. Croix in 1990. Ronald Russell, former Senator, praised Roker as a culture bearer and advocate for preserving Virgin Islands cultural heritage. He stated that her knowledge and her preservation of our cultural heritage have been invaluable to the people of the Virgin Islands. The measure was voted upon favorably.

The Committee considered Bill No. 35-0195, A Resolution honoring and commending Mr. Willard John for his many contributions to the youth and the culture of the Virgin Islands. The measure was sponsored by Senator Marise C. James. Amina Saleem called John not just a friend, but an honorary family member. Saleem, first encountered John when her late son Amir and friend wanted to become mocko jumbies. Saleem’s sister, Anna Thompson, a counselor at the Ricardo Richards School was then inspired to start a group. She then called Willard John to assist. John was considered to be one of the best moko jumbies since 1974. This group would later become the Guardians of Culture Moko Jumbies. John was an educator in the US Virgin Islands for more than 30 years. Saleem commended him for his work ethic. Samuel Sanes, former Senator and current St. Croix Administrator called John a man of integrity, a mentor, and a dear friend. Dr. Whitman Browne stated that he met John 40 years ago, and that he has blossomed as a competent VI Culture bearer, especially as a mokojumbie dancer, since he began in 1975. Over four hundred men and women have since learned to become mokojumbies due to his efforts. The Guardians of Culture Mokojumbies began in 1993. Brown said that John is very humble, not calling attention to himself, only becoming theatrical during performances.

Testimony was read into the record from Vargrave Richards, former Senator and Former Lieutenant Governor of the Virgin Islands. He expressed his full support of the measure, stating that John’s dedication to the Virgin Islands is reflected in his accomplishments, promoting Carnival culture of the Virgin Islands, especially mokojumbies. Richards’ testimony stated that today that he has an impact on the Virgin Islands would be diminishing the breadth of his reach and influence in promoting the Virgin Islands. He called John the “Dean of mokojumbie promotion,” Alscess Lewis-Brown, who has known John most of his life stated that John has always been engaged in some form of community service, from his service as a Department of Education Coordinator of Cultural Education to a School administrator. He stated that his life’s work has been with the Guardians of Culture Moko Jumbies, which has given many the opportunity to engage in culture and to be paid for talent. The proposed measure was voted upon favorably.

Finally, lawmakers considered Bill No. 35-0242, A Resolution honoring and commending Miguel Santos, Jr., aka “DJ Poppy Pops” for his contributions in the field of music and in radio broadcasting of musical events and local social musical events and specifically contributing to the art of deejaying and the teaching of deejaying. The measure was sponsored by Senator Angel L. Bolques, Jr., and Ray Fonseca.

Delvin Duggins, a professional DJ, personality and Event Promoter stated that Santos was more than deserving of the honor. In 2003, Duggins and Santos launched the “Remember the Times” Radio show, which had an old school format, and would have conversations about clubs and the party scene back in the day. Duggins remined the body that deejaying is an art form, which requires timing, music theory, and music structure. He stated that Santos mastered it all. Melvin Forbes, a promoter, stated that he met Santos while working at Hondo’s Night Club in St. Croix, which played top forty hits. Forbes said he witnessed the growth of his radio show on Isle 95, which was called the “Reggae Jam Session.” The success of this show brought him offers to play all throughout the Caribbean and the United States mainland. Forbes also spoke of Santos’ dedication to his children, which he called his number one priority.

Juanita Boneque, Santos’ sister stated that Santos would play melodies that would mesmerize audiences that played for audiences everywhere. She called him not just a DJ, but a beacon of inspiration to all. Boneque spoke of his commitment to his craft, even after suffering a stroke, which she said was his boundless devotion to his fans. Maricela Santos, Santos’ wife called her husband a legend. She stated that her husband had been in the DJ industry for over 35 years and was grateful for the time they have had together. Additionally, she has said he has extended his arms to help out new artists, stating he said that “you have to recognize your own.” She thanked the body for acknowledging her husband. The proposed measure was voted upon favorably.

Senators Present at today’s Committee hearing included Carla J. Joseph, Javan E. James, Sr., Angel L. Bolques, Jr., Diane T. Capehart, Samuel Carrión, Novelle E. Francis, Jr., Alma Francis Heyliger, Ray Fonseca, Kenneth L. Gittens, Marise C. James, Franklin D. Johnson, and Milton E. Potter.

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