All posts by Nanyamka Farrelly

I am a journalist and a communications, marketing and public relations professional. I've discovered that my passions are telling people's stories and motivating people to find their purpose and live their best life!

I Almost Ate a Live Fly!

I was recording some training videos at a place of business and I wasn’t sure if I should take a break to get something to eat, or if I should keep on going until I was finished recording. On one hand I needed a refresher – it was almost 3:30 p.m. and I had not eaten anything for the day. But if I pushed past my hunger, I would finish sooner and get home sooner. I decided to get something to eat and walked to a nearby café.

For some reason, that day was filled with indecision. At the café, I couldn’t decide if I wanted the black bean burger or a salad. I decided on the salad. The pecan salad was made to order – spring mix greens topped with pecans, dried cranberries, apple slices and grated cheddar cheese. It looked so good!

As I started to eat the salad I immediately felt that the salad wasn’t clean. I inspected the greens and I couldn’t find anything specifically wrong. I ate cautiously, while reasoning that it was the crumbled pecan pieces that gave the appearance that the salad wasn’t clean. I sat on the outside patio on this unusually warm February afternoon. Instead of enjoying the scenery, I couldn’t take my eyes off the salad. I kept rummaging through it with the fork, inspecting every bite.

I was about three bites in when I noticed something black. At first I though that it was a cranberry. But it couldn’t be. It was black not maroon. I looked closer and saw the black thing making its way upward through the spring mix. Soon a big black fly emerged! I felt like I was going to vomit. Quickly I covered the bowl and stared at it in disbelief. There was a live fly in my salad!

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I sat for a moment so my queasiness could subside, then gathered up everything to take back to the café. The lady at the counter, who had prepared the salad, seemed more amused than apologetic. “I’m sorry about that ma’am,” she said emotionless as though the offence was forgetting to put napkins in my bag. “Look, there’s a fly in there,” she said to her coworker, “come see it. It’s right in there alive!” Then she added, “I didn’t even see any flies in here today.” Still a bit nauseous, I couldn’t stop staring at the lady. She soon stopped her chatter and proceed to make me another salad, to which I responded: “I’d just like a refund please.”

I headed back to the office hungry and grossed out – plus I had just lost about 20 minutes of time.

My intuition was right. The spring mix clearly wasn’t rinsed. Live flies don’t stick around for baths. Had I not been paying attention, I probably would have eaten that fly.

Intuition is the subconscious processing of information that informs our decision-making or actions. All of our thoughts impress upon our subconscious, which then directs most of our actions. So sometimes it’s hard to pinpoint the reason for our actions, when they are guided by our subconscious.

This is somewhat like instinct. Instinct is our primal response system to “fight, flight or freeze” when we’re in danger or feel threatened. When our instincts kick in, we often get a distinct feeling in our core know as a “gut feeling” that guides our response.

Evidence supports more and more why we should rely on our intuition and instincts. In my “Live Empowered” membership, I train on how to understand these two and make them work in our favor.

“We need to respect the fact that it is possible to know without knowing why we know and accept that – sometimes – we’re better off that way,” author Malcolm Gladwell said in is best-seller “Blink.”

This fly-in-my-salad incident is mild compared what my intuition has saved me from. How has your intuition spared you from some danger? Did you ever overthink your intuition and choose a logical option instead, only to find that your intuition was right?

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Bend but Don’t Break: Become More Resilient

It was not too long ago on Sept. 6 that one of the most powerful hurricanes in modern history ravaged my hometown, the Virgin Islands. Hurricane Irma was a category five hurricane – the highest category. It was the largest hurricane scientists had seen in the Caribbean – packing winds at 183 miles per hour, torrential rain and mini tornadoes. Homes, businesses, infrastructure on St. Thomas and St. John were totally destroyed. St. Croix, which didn’t get a direct hit, fared a bit better. Then, as if the God’s were angry, came another category five hurricane – Hurricane Maria. This hurricane took out what Irma didn’t, making sure that St. Croix was equally as devastated as the other two islands. This hurricane two punch is unprecedented – two category five storms in less than two weeks!

My mom said that during hurricane Maria, when the windows in the living room started to blow out she, her husband and my younger brother ran to the den, then to my brother’s bedroom – the safest room in the house. My brother threw his weight against a mattress that was holding up his bedroom door to keep it from blowing out and rendering the safe room unsafe. Mom said her prayer during the entire ordeal was “God please don’t let us die.” And thankfully her prayer was answered.

But we did lose some lives. I lost two classmates. Carlena was blown out of her home when her apartment walls blew out. Ishmel, the other, suffered a blow to his head that killed him.

Still despite everything, the people of the Virgin Islands are pressing on. Mother nature has restored her greenery, homes have been made livable – even if not comfortable, schools are in double session, cruise ships returned. And after about four months – electricity was restored to all homes and businesses.

The people of the Virgin Islands are resilient!

But just how do you develop resilience? I’ll share four strategies with you:

Sign up for my email and receive more empowerment tools and strategies. You’ll also get my e-workbook for free. Sign up here.

 

Thank You for Rocking with Me in 2017

As 2017 comes to an end, we’ll look back and marvel at this historic year. It was a year of fires, floods and hurricanes. A year of political scandals and upsets. It was also a year of accomplishments, triumphs and joys. Despite all, you made it through! Congratulations!

 

Vision

My purpose is to help you along your journey. I am rolling out three new programs in 2018:

  • Level Up – designed to equip supervisors and managers with the tools to lead and not just manage
  • Go-Get-Her – a female empowerment program designed to address the unique needs of women in leadership roles and to prepare girls with the mindset to take on leadership roles
  • The Youth Leadership Academy – designed to introduce young people to leadership principles and personal development

More details about these will be shared soon! (But you may comment if you can’t wait and I’ll fill you in!)

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Of course customized leadership, communications and teambuilding programs are also available for you, your organizations and businesses.

I’m also accepting new coaching clients for 2018. If you’re feeling stuck, ready to reach your next level or seeking clarity and balance – life coaching may be for you.

Let me know how I can serve you!

I look forward to a 2018 filled with love, abundance and endless possibilities.

What are your goals for 2018? How can I help you achieve them? I want to hear from you. Reply and let me know. Cheers to 2018!

King of Caribbean Comedy: The Rise of Majah Hype & the One Thing He Wants Caribbean People to Do

It’s almost 10 p.m. on a cool fall night in Charlotte. The best old-school reggae music is playing, the venue is almost packed to capacity and if this was a dancehall or party – they place would have been turned up already. But the crowd isn’t here to dance. Everyone is anticipating the start of this show to see Caribbean comedy sensation Majah Hype in his debut North Carolina performance. When he touches the stage, he lives up to all the hype and more. People pull out their cell phones to record the authentic, raw and hilarious performance that only Majah Hype can deliver.

“I don’t do jokes on Haitians no more,” Majah Hype begins his set, taking the crowd into his hilarious explanation. His stand-up comedy is different from the sketch comedy that catapulted him into the hearts of fans everywhere, but it remains the same in many ways – it is authentic, presented with passion and totally funny.

Majah Hype began his comedy career around 2012 after being laid off from the Metropolitan Transportation Authority of New York, where he was a licensed electrician. His sketches started simple enough. He would say, “Jamaicans be like….,” “Haitians be like…,” “Trinidadians be like…,” then go into full antics of someone from that particular country and post it to social media. His accents, dialects and mannerisms were so real for each impersonation, everyone wondered which Caribbean country Majah Hype was from and what was his background.

Majah Hype was born in the Caribbean and grew up in New York. We know that his first name is Nigel, but that’s about all he’ll reveal. Keeping his nationality private forces his sketches to remain original and allows him to connect with people throughout the Caribbean and the diaspora because he’s not pigeon-holed as one nationality, so everyone can identify with him.

His videos garner thousands of views and hundreds of shares within minutes of posting on social media. On those pages, people from all over the world connect through humor and culture. Many commenters remark of his ability to lift their moods. Some say they check his pages daily waiting for his videos.

In an interview after his Charlotte performance, Majah Hype said his goal is to unite Caribbean people throughout the world.

“We need to really support each other because strength is in numbers,” Majah Hype said of Caribbean people. With millions of people in the Caribbean and millions more of Caribbean people throughout the world, the levels that can be attained through mutual support is unlimited, he said.

“There is no Caribbean celebrity that has a million followers that we created. We didn’t create Rihanna. We didn’t create Nicki Minaj. We didn’t create Foxy Brown. There’s no entertainer that has a million followers. I see a big problem with that because there’s more than a million Caribbean people in the states alone. We need to support each other more. We need to help each other rise as a people,” he said. “We need to big up each other. We need to big up every nationality. And that’s why I started this movement, because strength is in numbers.”

Majah Hype has evolved greatly, creating dozens of characters from all over the Caribbean – starting with the likes of Grandpa James and De Ras, to everyone’s favorite Mitzy with a Z and Petty-Ann. His sketches are full scenes with him starring as each character.  Majah Hype’s character development and story lines are so deep, you would think that he has writers on his team. On the contrary, everything comes from the mind of Nigel.

“Everything you see on social media is me,” Majah Hype said. There are no screen tests and nor rehearsals. “I don’t write any skits. I never pre-record any skits. I wake up in the morning and I just do what I do.”

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And if you thought that Majah Hype could only impersonate West Indians, you are wrong. He has created characters like Charlie and Mable, Bobby Bunz, and most recently Shawn and Tanya aka “Are You Dumb.” Majah Hype wants to keep his fans entertained. “I always think of reinventing myself. People nowadays, their attention span is real short, so we always have to bring something new to them,” he said.

Now selling out shows across the United States, United Kingdom, Caribbean and aboard specialty cruises, Majah Hype is a household name in the Caribbean and the diaspora. His first movie “Foreign Minds Think Alike,” was based on his characters. He has also starred in the web series, “Money and Violence.” He has gotten endorsement deals, most recently for Patti LaBelle’s sweet potato pie. Majah Hype said he’ll continue growing his brand and expanding his acting career. He didn’t know what to expect when he began in 2012, but he’s putting in the work to become successful.

“Whatever is for you is for you,” Majah Hype said. “God gave me a talent and I shared it with the world and we are where we are today.”

Tips for the ladies: when attending a Majah Hype show, be sure to wear waterproof makeup. You will laugh until you cry!

For more information on Majah Hype and his shows visit the website www.majahhype.com.

 

Keep Your Skeptics in the Stands, Then Jump In

I wasn’t ready!

My seven-year-old daughter tested into level three of the youth swimming program at the local aquatic center. She can swim, but needs to learn technique. On the first day of her swimming lessons, we met on the same deck of the four-foot pool where she tested. She got into the water and practiced some moves. Then an employee came to me and said they are moving to another pool and parents should proceed to the stands.

As I looked at the employee confused, two other mothers came to me assuring me that everything would be alright. “Don’t worry. We were scared the first time too. It’s deep, but she can do it.” I was even more confused. What were they talking about? They continued, “17-feet sounds like a lot, but it’s okay.”

“You mean 7-feet of water!” I exclaimed. “No, 17-feet,” the mom, who I later learned is DeeDee, said. I was in disbelief as I headed to the stands with these women. I usually don’t allow my daughter to swim in more than 5-feet.

By the time we got to the stands my baby had just jumped into the water and was swimming from one end of the pool to the other. I sat with my eyes bulging, heart palpitating and stomach churning. I just wasn’t ready for that! I thought that she would have gotten a prior pep talk. I wished that I was close enough to whisper some affirmations before she jumped in.

My daughter swam with all her might. When she reached the other side, she looked up to the stands where I smiled and gave her thumbs up. But I was still very scared. I wondered if she knew she was in 17-feet of water. I wondered if she would have the urge for her feet to touch solid ground. I wondered how skilled the lifeguard on duty was at rescuing children. I wondered about the expertise of the young instructors to recognize if she had lost confidence and needed to leave the pool.

When she motioned to me that her goggles had fallen to the bottom and that she was going to get it, I almost lost it. I stood immediately, wildly motioning “NO!” with my mouth, head and hands. An instructor soon got it for her.

After they had done some swimming, they came on the deck to practice diving. I could see her little face. She was so excited. I kept clapping, giving thumbs up and blowing kisses. She was really having a great time. And I had to go along with it for her benefit. But I was an emotional wreck for the entire 50 minutes.

I couldn’t wait until it was all over – for my own nerves and so that she could share her experience with me. The first thing I wanted to ask was, “Weren’t you afraid?” But I resisted. Instead I asked, “How was it?” The water was cold at first, it was tiring, it was fun – that’s how she described it. Afraid, scared, frightened – the words that expressed my emotions, did not enter her mind. When we made it to the car I cautiously asked, “did you realize the pool is 17-feet deep?” At first she didn’t, she said, but when they went on the deck to dive, she noticed. “That’s the deepest water I’ve ever swam in mommy!” she said excitedly, assured of her skills. She was never fearful.

As I thought over everything on the drive home, I realized that my position in the stands was the best thing for my daughter’s progress. I am my children’s biggest supporter. I love them with all my heart. Yet, I almost became my daughter’s main skeptic. I was cautious, fearful, doubtful and worried. Had I been closer to her, it’s likely that I would have unintentionally transferred these same feelings to her.

Thank God they sent us parents to the stands!

Here it was that I invested my time and money in swimming lessons, yet, had it not been for the distance from her, I could have sabotaged my daughter’s entire learning with my uncontained emotions.

So imagine your skeptics. The ones who have no vested interest in your development or growth.  Imagine if you allow those people close proximity to you, how their own cynicism, fears and negative energy can influence your progress. Imagine if you allow any and everyone access to your life, how their perceptions, based on their personal baggage, can slow your growth. Imagine that even the people who you love and mean well, may have unchecked emotions that stunt your growth.

I ask you to examine your life. Identify your skeptics. And place them in the stands. Let them watch you swim from afar, but never close enough to negatively affect you. Surround yourself with instructors, coaches and lifeguards – people who are already experts in your field – and let them guide you.

After you have properly prepared yourself for something, placed your skeptics in the stands, and surrounded yourself with the best – don’t look back, don’t hesitate, don’t doubt yourself – JUMP IN!

All Invitations Aren’t Created Equal… Henry Smith said “Yes” to an Invite to Sail the Atlantic

 

WW at Dock in Las Palmas
The 49-foot Wind Walker, center blue, crossed the Atlantic Ocean in a round-trip voyage from the U.S. Virgin Islands in the Fall of 2016.

Henry Smith doesn’t have a boat captain’s license. But when he was asked by a former co-worker to help sail a boat back from Spain to the U.S. Virgin Islands (USVI), Smith said yes. “Since I’m retired I have the time,” reasoned the self-taught sailor. The thought of spending days at sea crossing the world’s second largest ocean didn’t intimidate Smith. Instead his first thoughts were on the fitness of the vessel, the competence of the others who would be sailing and how he would fare in small, confined space with people he didn’t know closely. Soon he told himself, “I want to have this experience. I’m going to have fun.”

Smith’s wife Peggy had no apprehensions about the trip. “I’ve seen him sail, so I know what he is capable of,” she said. He has sailed before to Anguilla, St. Martin and Antigua.

“He’s been sailing so long that I have confidence

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Henry Smith in Cape Verde prior to sailing the Atlantic.

in him that he’s not going to put himself in danger,” she said. “I was not afraid.” With Peggy’s support and his experience, Smith was ready for the adventure.

“To sail across the Atlantic was new, but I wasn’t at all a stranger to sailing,” Smith said. He has been on, around and in the water most of his life. Smith was born in Tortola, British Virgin Islands (BVI) to a father who was a carpenter and built boats. The younger Smith got his first boat when he was a child.

“We always lived close to the sea,” Smith said. When the family moved to St. Thomas, USVI, he had access to a bay in Bovoni on the eastern end of the island. Smith observed that his parents never objected to him and his brothers spending time in the water. But the children needed express permission to romp through the neighborhood.

“I could go by the shore and spend all day and they didn’t have a problem with it,” Smith remembered with a laugh. He would take his row boat along the coastline. “I got to know the east (coast) of the island really good,” Smith said. “I’ve always found a way to be around boats.” Smith pursued a career in water resources management, earning a Ph.D. in civil engineering with specialties in water resources planning and management and hydrology, and Juris Doctorate with a concentration in environmental law.

Since retiring from the University of the Virgin Islands (UVI) in 2015 as director of the Virgin Islands Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (VI-EPSCoR), Smith adopted an even healthier lifestyle than he practiced before – walking four miles daily, eating better and getting regular medical check-us. He was physically and mentally prepared for the voyage.

Glenn Metts is owner of the 49-foot offshore cruising boat Wind Walker and had made the north Atlantic crossing months earlier. He asked Smith to help captain the boat back to the Virgin Islands because one of his crew members was not returning to the Caribbean. The two had also previously raced together in a Rolex Regatta competition. Metts, who has a master boat captain’s license, said that preparation is the single most important aspect of an Atlantic crossing.

“Going off shore is extremely strategic,” explained Metts, who had begun planning the trip since 2014.

“Strategically speaking, it was one of the most complicated things,” the UVI professor of Management and Entrepreneurship said. “The preparation is so tough.”  It required multiple redundancy plans for mechanics, power, water, food and first aid. “If you get hurt, even for a simple thing, you can die,” Metts noted.

Metts also has been sailing since he was a child growing up in Florida. Always up for a new adventure, he planned this trip because, “I wanted to go across the ocean on my boat,” he said. He was on sabbatical when he set sail, and used the opportunity to collect data for his case studies.

Smith met the crew of Metts and his friend in Spain in November 2016.  From there they sailed to the Gran Canaria in the Canary Islands then to Mindelo in the Cape Verde Islands before they began the south Atlantic voyage. The three each had different “watches” where each person would have full responsibility for sailing the boat safely and on course. Smith’s watch was 2-7 p.m. and 2-6 a.m.

The morning watch was the hardest, Smith said. “At times it would be totally black.” He made sure to get plenty rest prior to his watch and to plan activities. Often he would journal or read on his Nook to ensure he wouldn’t fall asleep, ever aware that although it seemed they were alone in the wide ocean, they could come upon a tanker, meet drifting shipping containers or other debris, encounter bad weather or stray off course.

He soon fell into a routine. “Get up in the morning, there’s ocean. Go to sleep, there’s more ocean,” Smith said. Each morning the crew planned for the day ahead and each member briefed the other before handing off shifts.  “I didn’t pay much attention to what the days were,” Smith said. “That probably would have driven me crazy.” His idyllic free-time at sea was a departure from his hectic schedule at UVI where he held several senior leadership roles – sometimes simultaneously – during his 26-year career at the institution where he also earned his undergraduate degree in marine and environmental science. At UVI Smith had secured the institution’s largest grant – a $20 million National Science Foundation grant – to support VI-EPSCoR.

Sunset
The sun sets over the Atlantic Ocean.

Across the Atlantic on Tortola, Smith’s brother Bennett –  also an avid sailor – tracked his coordinates and monitored the weather. Smith sent his wife and daughter regular e-mails, accessible via the satellite internet. There were a few weather squalls and gear failures. “We dealt with them like they were routine matters,” Smith said. “Sailing for that length of time and in those conditions, the weather will change and equipment will break.”

One of the highlights for Metts was experiencing a whale breach.  The two men were on the deck one morning when Metts noticed something. “An eight-story whale comes straight up from the water and crashes down,” Metts said. Smith’s back was turned to the action but the expression on Metts’ face alarmed him. “Glenn’s eyes got big, wide, and his mouth dropped open,” Smith recalled. By the time he turned around the only evidence was a huge splash. “It was unbelievable,” Metts said of the sight. Other highpoints included seeing pods of dolphins.

Although there are challenges every day while sailing, Metts said that south Atlantic crossing back to the Virgin Islands was much smoother than the north Atlantic crossing to Portugal.  On the first crossing, they came upon a storm with 30 foot waves and 40 knot winds with 4.6 seconds between waves. “They (the waves) were very close together,” he said. The wind was behind the boat and there was a danger that the boat could broach, Metts said. They needed to change direction. “Doing this in that type of wind was very difficult,” he said. The crew battled the waves for hours. “That was the most stressful time,” Metts said. “I was very uncomfortable.” Eventually they changed direction and sailed out of the storm. Nothing on the south Atlantic crossing could compare to that, Metts said.

When they reached halfway across the ocean, each made a note-in-a-bottle that they released to the waves. The notes contained their contact information, so if recovered, the locator can contact them and report where it was found. As they got farther across, they bet on who would spot land first. “That happened on my watch,” Smith said with a laugh. “I just kept peeping and looking and staring,” Smith said. Often high waves were mistaken for land. “I then saw this wave that never went away,” Smith said. It was the hills of St. Maarten. As they continued to sail, they spotted lights from the BVI. “It was really very nice to see land,” he said. “It was nice to pick up the phone and call somebody,” as they got within cell phone range. But instead of celebrating then, Smith maintained his composure to sail the boat toward their goal.

It was rainy as Smith took the boat through the waters near St. John on Dec. 20. 2016. The weather cleared up by the time they approached Mangrove Lagoon on St. Thomas. There they were met by a small welcoming party with one member blowing a conch shell to greet them. Among the crowd was Peggy’s smiling face. “Everything just went perfectly,” Smith said. “It felt really good.”

Crossing the Atlantic was a big accomplishment for Smith, whose first significant solo sailing adventure was as a high schooler sailing his 12-foot boat with a 14-horse power engine from the eastern end of St. Thomas to West End, Tortola –  and back.

Smith noted the irony of accumulating an additional 3,000 miles crossing the Atlantic. “If I were to go to a charter boat company, they would not rent me a boat,” he said, because he doesn’t have boat captain’s license. So, about that license. Smith has no desire to obtain one right now. But he is looking forward to new sailing adventures.

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What’s Love Got To Do With It?

“Show me you love me and you don’t have to say a word.” -Charlie Wilson

Love is an action. Today and every day, commit to taking action to show your loved ones that you love them. How do you show love? Here’s a video with some actionable tips for showing love! Join me for a year of Intentional Acts of Love.

 

 

Show Love! Live Love! Be Love!

For more inspirational videos subscribe to my YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCVjd4ic45rrVu2XqBa-jo5A

 

Welcome February! How is Your 2017 Going?

Welcome to February! February is known as the month of love because of the Valentine’s Day holiday and the month that African Americans celebrate our heritage nationally. It’s also the month that many New Year resolutions fall to the wayside.

How is 2017 going for you so far? Are you living your purpose? Are you being intentional about your dreams and goals? It’s never too late to start living your purpose. It’s never too late to start living your passion. It’s never too late to start achieving your potential. And it’s never too early. Are you taking daily action to achieve those dreams and goals? Do you need help in working through your goals?

Your dreams won’t be realized unless you put in the work. And that work can’t be sporadic, haphazard or periodic. You must work on your dreams daily. That doesn’t mean that you’ll accomplish everything in a day. But small consistent actions have a compounding effect that allow you to realize your goals eventually.

This is only the second month of the year. If you’re still fired up about what you will accomplish in 2017, keep the fire blazing! If your fire has been dampened, take the time to reignite it. This is your life! You’ll only get out of if what you put in. So give it your all.

My gift to you is this free e-workbook, “Get Your Life: 9 Steps for Living Your Purpose.” Download your copy now to help you along the way of fulfilling your purpose! Download here: “Get Your Life: 9 Steps for Living Your Purpose:” https://nanyamkacom.files.wordpress.com/2017/01/get-your-life-9-steps-for-living-your-purpose.pdf

 

Vicious Cycle of Gun Violence Consumes the Virgin Islands; Psychologists say use Emotions to Activate Change

It was one gunshot. Lenora Rochester was in her Contant Knolls apartment on St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands when she heard the sound on that Thursday evening of Dec. 10, 2015. She was not very alarmed, as gunshots are heard in the neighborhood from time to time. But a few moments later came knocks to her front door – and her life changed forever. The news was devastating. Her son Kadeem John Sr. was shot. Rochester woke her daughter and they hurried to find John.

“When I walked out (the apartment) I didn’t have any emotions or feelings,” Rochester says. Her only thought was “I can’t believe he got shot.”

When Rochester arrived at the scene and saw someone holding pressure to her son’s bleeding chest it became real. “He looked lifeless,” she remembers. “I started to cry.” Between her uncontrollable tears while making calls to notify family members, a police officer put her in his patrol car. “I kept asking ‘is he ok, is he ok,’” she recalls. The only response was “stay in the car,” she says. She stayed put then the ambulance arrived. But instead of driving behind of the ambulance to the hospital as Rochester imagined, she heard something over the police scanner. “They (the EMTs) radioed for the medical examiner,” Rochester says. “I realized that he was gone.” She jumped out of the car to see her son. “I was trying to go to the body, they (police officers) were pulling me back. They said it was a crime scene.”

In that moment Rochester says she felt a rush of emotions – the most dominant being anger. “I was angry,” she recalls. “I was totally angry.”

Rochester describes her third son as a “fun child” who was always smiling – so much so that his friends gave him the nickname “Smiley.” He never got into trouble and had no apparent enemies, Rochester says, so she couldn’t imagine why anyone would kill him. A mariner with the Merchant Marines, John lived mostly on a ship at sea. He had come back to St. Thomas for holiday break. The family spent Thanksgiving in Puerto Rico. John returned to St. Thomas on a Tuesday. He spent the next Thursday at his aunt’s home and was returning to his mom’s home the evening when he was killed.

With support from family and friends, Rochester made it through to Dec. 23, when she laid John to rest – just a day before he would have made 24 years old. “It was just sad,” Rochester says of burring her son. “It was terrible. I was just crying a lot.” On Dec. 24, members of John’s 2009 graduating class of Ivanna Eudora Kean High School held a candlelight vigil at the spot where he was killed. It was then that Rochester began her fight for justice for John.

As homicides continue to rock the territory, Virgin Islands Police Department Commissioner Delroy Richards held a press briefing to address the issue following the July 30, killing of Bria Evans. At the Aug. 1, briefing Richards confirmed 36 homicides in the American territory. The number continues to grow: two police officers were discovered shot to death on Aug. 11 and a firefighter was shot to death on Aug. 19.  The national murder rate is 4.5 killings per 100,000 people per year.  At 39 homicides so far, the U.S. Virgin Islands – home to about 103,000 residents, is one of the most murderous places in the United States.

The homicide problem in the territory is multilayered. Many people point to the infiltration of guns into the territory along with the retaliatory nature of gun crimes.

Psychologist Anissa Moody says the problem in the Virgin Islands rests on two major issues: poverty and a distorted view of masculinity. KadeemYoung men are not given a healthy understanding of masculinity, says Dr. Moody, a professor of psychology at the City University of New York.

Often Caribbean and West Indian masculinity don’t allow men to experience and express a range of emotions, she explains. The males are “angry and aggressive or not,” she says, and emotions are not largely communicated. The community has no rituals around the development of young men, where they are taught a sense of self and expectations are set, she continues. Toughness – and in extreme cases violence –  is seen as the foundation of manhood. Many young men are ill equipped to handle conflict and manage their emotions. That, coupled with easy access to firearms, results in a vicious cycle of violence that cripples the entire community.

At the briefing Commissioner Richards confirmed the “retaliatory trend that exists in the territory” asserting that, “someone that the victim is close to will retaliate.”

In the minds of many young men “death doesn’t seem that bad. Your masculinity means that you fight to the end,” says Dr. Moody, who is also columnist for Ebony magazine and BlackDoctor.com. “Adults glorify these deaths by how we respond,” she says, noting that along with the rest in peace hashtags on social media victims are often remembered as “soldiers.”

“The violence is not experienced as loss,” Dr. Moody explains. “There is no ritual around it. The ritual becomes revenge,” she says. “Each death triggers another death and reaffirms this feeling of helplessness. Because of how often it happens, the more likely it is to happen,” she explains. “The worst part is that this is part of the community behavior. It’s part of the ritual of development for many boys in our community. It’s what we do. It’s part of our life rituals. It’s a cycle.”

The more killings happen, the more the community becomes numb and less likely to take action, Dr. Moody says. “People think that repeated experiences (of violence) will sensitize you. It doesn’t. It does the opposite. It desensitizes you,” asserts Dr. Moody who was born on St. Thomas and raised on St. Croix.

The parents, children, spouses, siblings, and friends who are left to bury the victims of gun violence often deal with their pain by hiding their emotions. Trauma after trauma has created a collective “emotional grave yard” in the Virgin Islands, Dr. Moody says. Not to mention the cumulative loss of potential that dies each time someone is killed.

Psychologist Carla Hunter says that the grief response is individual – the stages and length of time are different for each person. The stages of grief are denial and isolation, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. Studies show that the grief response to violent death has an added component. The study “Trauma and bereavement: examining the impact of sudden and violent deaths” by Stacy Kaltman and George A. Bonanno, reveals a correlation between violent death and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). According to the study “violent death results in the development of PTSD symptoms over and above the normal grief response and thus may contribute to a more severe grief response.”

According to the National Center for PTSD, symptoms of the disorder include reliving the event, avoiding situations that remind you of the event, negative changes in beliefs and feelings, and feeling keyed up (hyperarousal).

As Virgin Islanders deal with trauma at home, they are also confronted with trauma on the mainland. Recent killings of African-Americans by police officers, many of the scenes caught on camera and shared on social media, is dealing a double whammy on the psyche of many.

Watching these acts repeatedly on the television and social media “can take over you,” and induce anger says Dr. Kia Fisher, a clinical therapist at Potter’s House Treatment Center in Atlanta. “We have to take a break from it (watching traumatic videos),” Dr. Fisher adds. She points out that she is not suggesting that the community ignores the problem. Dr. Fisher suggests people who feel anger should redirect their emotions to empowerment by taking positive action. “Take baby steps toward change,” she says.

Dr. Moody says too many people in the territory are stuck at the individual level when it comes to problem solving. “This is a community sickness, this type of development in our young men,” she says, suggesting that the community unites to bring about healing. “You know what we can do about it,” she asks. “Take action,” she says. Do not accept things as how they are, she says. The shift in masculinity should start at home and extend into the schools. Children, especially boys, should be reaffirmed with a sense of identity and purpose.

“We tend to reaffirm overt talents,” in sports, academics and music, Dr. Moody notes, but all children should be reaffirmed for their potential. While constantly being reaffirmed, children must be provided with positive opportunities for development and growth. Leaders must emerge for the community organizing necessary to connect resources.

Regarding poverty –  the other main contributor to violence – elected officials must work to bring about economic prosperity in the territory. The correlation between poverty and crime is proven. The higher the poverty level, the more crime. Additionally, youth programs need to be funded, expanded and duplicated throughout the territory Dr. Moody says. Resources must be provided to parents, especially single parents. Parents should also be vocal about what the community needs, she adds.

Drs. Moody, Hunter and Fisher all suggest that people feeling overwhelmed by traumatic events should seek professional help.

“People don’t have to be in crisis to seek help,” says Dr. Hunter, a professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. “When you realize that you’re behaving in a way or thinking in a way that’s not typical for you, you should seek help.”

Dr. Moody takes it a step further, encouraging everyone to practice “good mental hygiene.” Just like most people have a primary physician, “everyone should have a mental health provider,” Dr. Moody says.

Rochester says her coping mechanisms have been prayer, support from family and friends, and “taking it one day at a time.” While she’s returning to a new normal, the loss of her son is still hard to process. “I’m still in disbelief,” she says.

From the day of John’s candlelight vigil, Rochester launched a personal campaign to bring “Justice for Kadeem.” On the 10th and 23rd of each month –  the day John was killed and buried, respectively – Rochester takes to social media. Some of her posts are in remembrance, but most have been asking witnesses of the crime to step forward.

In recent movement of the case, the Governor of the Virgin Islands signed documents to have the suspect in John’s killing extradited from New York to stand trial. Part of the shock for Rochester was learning that the suspect knew her son. “It hurts. Everything was hurtful,” she says.

Because extradition is just the first step, Rochester continues to “hold the faith” that justice will eventually be served.  In the meanwhile, she tries her best to “keep it together” for her other children and John’s son – Kadeem John Jr.

Rochester says she is no longer angry, but the pain of losing a child to senseless gun violence hasn’t gone away. “I’m still sad,” she says. “I don’t know if I’ll ever get over it.”