As the first fully in-person August Emancipation Festival in three years gets under way, we encourage everyone to celebrate while also remembering the reason for the annual observance.

On Aug. 1, 1834, Britain abolished slavery in the Virgin Islands and most of its other colonies. This anniversary is certainly cause for jubilation here. But it is also a time for sober reflection on historical wrongs that continue to manifest up to the present day.

During a 300-year period starting in the 16th Century, an estimated 10 to 12 million Africans were kidnapped from their homes and transported across the Atlantic Ocean to be sold into slavery in one of the most despicable episodes in human history.

Emancipation didn’t end the wrongs. In the VI and elsewhere, an apprenticeship system closely akin to slavery continued for years afterwards. Other evils persisted for generations through a colonial system that oppressed the ancestors of enslaved Africans in ways that are not fully understood even today.

To recognise how such complex forces continue to play out here in the VI, one need only consider the community’s mixed responses to the recent Commission of Inquiry and ongoing threat of temporary direct United Kingdom rule.

Moving forward, the territory must never cease to commemorate the ancestors who suffered under slavery and worked locally to oppose it and to lay the groundwork for the society we know today.

Much progress has been made. VI researchers, for instance, have worked tirelessly to reclaim the territory’s obscure history by learning more about its forebears.

Other important measures include the recent renaming of next week’s public holidays from Festival Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday to Emancipation Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday — a change that highlights the real reason for the observance.

And as the territory has weathered controversy in recent months, we have been greatly encouraged by the resurgence of dialogue surrounding its political future and possible eventual independence. In our view, such discussions are one of the best ways to honour the legacy of the ancestors who suffered under slavery.

But despite such progress, four centuries of colonialism will not untangle easily. Indeed, the work will never end. The coming days present an opportunity to recognise this fact and to recommit to continued progress.

With such considerations in mind, we wish everyone a joyous, safe and meaningful August Emancipation Festival 2022.