Though the celebrations will look notably different from typical years, the August Emancipation Festival will still happen in the coming weeks despite the complications of the Covid-19 pandemic, according to Education, Culture, Youth Affairs, Fisheries and Agriculture Minister Dr. Natalio “Sowande” Wheatley.
The occasion will include a variety of in-person and virtual elements designed to avoid large crowds, Dr. Wheatley said July 21 in the House of Assembly.
“Our ancestors worked too hard for too long and went through too much to be ignored,” he said of the decision to proceed with a scaled-back version of Festival.
This year’s events will place a greater focus on history and culture, the minister said, adding that 2020 marks 70 years since the restoration of the Virgin Islands’ Legislative Council, now called the House of Assembly.
“Every advancement and gain that we successfully struggle for builds upon the foundation our ancestors laid in their fight against slavery,” Dr. Wheatley said. “Emancipation must be ever present on our minds as we seek to wipe clean any remnants of colonialism existing within our society regardless of how covert they may be.”
The festivities will kick off with a cultural food fair on July 31. Then, a virtual ceremony modelled after the one celebrating Territory Day will mark the official start. That Friday will close with a virtual poetry slam.
On Aug. 1, the Carrot Bay farmers market will feature some VI cultural highlights, including fungi music and popular foods. Dr. Wheatley said organisers are asking all churches in the territory to host morning services based on emancipation on Aug. 2. Virtual services on emancipation will be broadcast, and the day will conclude with a “virtual gospel explosion” featuring vocals by Kendra, Jovan Cline, Dwight Hutchinson, Brent Hoyte and more.
On Aug. 3 there will be a virtual soca showcase, on Aug. 4 there will be a calypso review, and Aug. 5 will feature a festival of culture and praise hosted at Long Look and East End.
There will not be a Rise and Shine Tramp or parade due to restrictions on mass gatherings, he said.
The overall budget was reduced drastically given the economic climate of the pandemic, the minister said, though he did not provide numbers.
Dr. Wheatley asks this year that businesses, government agencies and individuals get in the spirit with decorations, T-shirts, themed events, and any other creative outlets.
Attendees must observe social distancing guidelines, the minister said. Organisers will keep a keen eye on developments related to potential active cases, and the current plan is subject to further review, he added.
“I am excited about the celebrations this year,” he said. “We cannot allow Covid-19 to rob us of our pride as a people.”