Friends of Virgin Islands National Park Statement on Diversity, Equity and the Black Lives Matter Movement
Let us be explicit, we condemn all forms of racism. Black Lives Matter and we support Black Americans, Caribbean Islanders, Latinos and people of color everywhere. We recognize that environmental and conservation efforts have, at times, exacerbated inequities in our communities and failed to acknowledge the important cultural connections between Virgin Islanders and the lands and waters we seek to protect. Further, we acknowledge that the Friends organization, by its very association with the National Park Service and Virgin Islands National Park, has played a part in systemic racism.
The Board of Directors and staff at the Friends have been actively working to engage local people in the mission of the Friends for decades, and in many cases with great success, but we accept with humility that there is much work to be done. With the development of our most recent strategic plan, we have taken explicit steps to make changes within the organization, in the way that we communicate and how we operate. Specifically, we have established as guiding values, a commitment to transparency, diversity and community, and today we are taking that even further to denounce all racism.
Formed in 1988, its founding members – many native St. Johnians – had been meeting out of concern for the care and condition of Virgin Islands National Park. Today, we continue to be concerned over the care and condition of our national park. We believe that the continued preservation of the protected cultural and natural resources in Virgin Islands National Park in the year 2020 is in the best interest of all future generations, especially Virgin Islanders! Now, more than ever, we believe that our national park needs to be seen as a place of rest, healing, recreation and relaxation to be enjoyed by all responsibly and equally.
At the same time, we are listening to our community. Systemic racism – and the after effects of poverty and disenfranchisement – have visibly taken their toll on the most vulnerable of the US Virgin Islands citizens. The tourism-based economy that has fueled St. John in particular has led to greater disparity in wealth and access to critical resources like food and education among residents. Virgin Islands National Park is an integral part of that economy.
We can envision a St. John that has the bounty of its beauty and the preservation of its precious resources as a source of local pride – livelihood and sustenance. There are many steps that need to be followed and many more lessons to be learned before we get there. However, we want to say it loud and clear:
- We will help amplify the concerns of local community members within the National Park Service to the best of our ability.
- We will support assistance for VINP/NPS hiring processes with the intention of increasing the number of Virgin Islanders employed as park staff.
- We will continue to offer college scholarships and paid summer jobs to local youth, in order to continually expand the pool of local candidates for environmental and conservation positions.
- We will expand our focus on responsibly connecting visitors to our park and to our community, and more importantly, connecting our park back to our community.
In the coming weeks we will be working to share some important updates from Virgin Islands National Park with regard to: Caneel Bay, Cinnamon Bay Campgrounds, Lind Point Housing Project, and the Visitors Center Playground, to name a few. As part of the updates, we anticipate information on how the public engages at the critical times in the NEPA process (National Environmental Policy Act) for the future of Caneel Bay. Again, it is our commitment to the people of St. John that we will help your voice be heard to the best of our ability.
Despite our mission to support Virgin Islands National Park, we are a non-governmental organization. Right now, that means we have the benefit of free speech. So, on behalf of the Friends staff, board, and all of the wonderful Park employees that we work with, thank you for giving us a chance to do better. All Black Lives Matter.