Category Archives: Interviews

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.

 

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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

HS in Cape Verde
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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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.”

A Survivor’s Advice: Listen to Your Body

“Know your body and don’t ignore when something seems wrong,” breast cancer survivor Raynette Cameron advises. “It could be a headache – it could be a pain in your pinky toe – don’t ignore it,” she warns. Raynette knows first-hand. She noticed a lump near her collar-bone just days after being declared healthy following her annual wellness exam. She went back to the doctor immediately. The lump was stage-three breast cancer. After successful treatment, Raynette is hoping her story can encourage others to better manage their health and perhaps save their own lives.

“We’re having too many people dying of breast cancer and when they look back they may have had a lump for two years and they just ignored it,” she says. “You don’t have to die from cancer. Early detection is the cure,” she says. But it’s not just for cancer, she says. People should pay attention to any sign of discomfort in their bodies and get it checked out.

The hesitation to go to the doctor may be cultural, Raynette notes. “Especially for West Indians – men and women – we don’t want to go to the doctor.” She says a lack of insurance or money should never be a deterrent from going to the doctor, because there are programs available to help with medical expenses. “And those that have insurance, why wouldn’t you go get a wellness exam? It’s free with your coverage!”

After six rounds of chemotherapy, a bilateral mastectomy and 24 radiation treatments, Raynette returned home to St. Thomas Virgin Islands in August 2013 from Louisiana where she was treated. Now she is adjusting to her “new normal.”

“These hot flashes are so rude,” Raynette says with a laugh. “They show up at any time, unannounced.”

Hot flashes are just one of the side effects that Raynette experiences. Her balance, eyesight and memory are some of the other things that have been affected. “To survive breast cancer you have so many things that come with survivorship,” she says, noting that she is now post-menopausal as a result. She also wears a compression sleeve on her left arm to prevent the swelling known as lymphedema. “I had 18 lymph nodes removed,” she says, explaining that it was required for the aggressive state of the cancer. On the bright side she says, “I got me some new boobies. And this time I got to choose exactly how I wanted them.”

Uncharacteristic of many people, Raynette was very open about every step of her ordeal.
“I was never quiet about my diagnoses. I posted my diagnoses three or four days after I found out,” she says. Facebook was where Raynette shared her highs and lows with family and friends.

That openness has drawn many to Raynette, both for advice and support. “I’ve been holding some hands,” she says, explaining that she has accompanied several women to mammogram appointments. Others she has had to force, she says jokingly. “I dragged my sister to get a mammogram as soon as she turned 40,” Raynette remembers. Three of Raynette’s aunts are breast cancer survivors. And her paternal grandfather died of colon cancer. So she took no chances with her sister.

“People are afraid that it (a mammogram) hurts,” she says. “But so what! It’s only for two seconds and it can save your life.” Raynette says four of her close friends and family have been diagnosed with breast cancer in the past year. She has since gotten genetic testing for “BRCA 1 and BRCA 2” also known as the breast cancer genes. The tests came back negative.

Now Raynette is focused on giving back, whether that means sharing her story, accompanying someone to a doctor’s visit or raising funds for the USVI chapter of the American Cancer Society (ACS). Proceeds from her “No Tears, Just Prayers, Cause God Got This,” branded products are donated to the ACS. What started as slogan that Raynette used to comfort her family following her diagnoses has turned into a noticeable brand. One day after undergoing a series of testing Raynette and her family were walking through a mall when her mother suggested that they inscribe the mantra on a baseball cap. Her father decided to make several of the caps so that his daughter could sport different colors after her chemo treatments. They were so cute that Raynette posted them on Facebook. The rest is history. She now sells branded hats, visors, head bands, t-shirts and other accessories.

This October, in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Raynette also hosted another fundraiser. “I needed to make this fun and bring awareness,” she says. “This year I wanted it to be all about giving back.” The result was “Paint the Porch Pink,” a party on her patio where all invited guests wore pink. Over 50 people attended, including eight breast cancer survivors. Vendors were invited to sell their products and a percentage of all sales were donated to the ACS. Next October, Raynette says, the event will be open to the public at a larger venue.

Her long-term goal is to establish the ‘Ray of Sunshine Foundation’ to bring about breast cancer awareness and to support people with the disease.

In the meanwhile, Raynette continues to thank God, her family and her doctors. As part of her continued monitoring she must undergo screening every three months that includes chest x-rays, sonograms and lab work.

“At my check up in September my doctors said, ‘You are a walking miracle.’ I never take that for granted,” she says, tears streaming down her face.

“I am a survivor first and foremost,” Raynette says, “a woman of faith, perseverance and a fighter.”

“If I can do this (beat cancer), anyone can too.”

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Breast Cancer: A Survivor’s Story

She found a lump near her left collar-bone on Aug. 28, 2012 – just days after her annual check-up. On Aug. 29, she went back to her doctor, who said the lump looked like a muscle strain but ordered a sonogram to be sure. The sonogram came back inconclusive and she took an MRI. The MRI revealed a mass, so she took a biopsy.

Raynette A. Cameron has always been meticulous about her health. As an adult she never missed a dentist appointment or her annual women’s wellness check-up. She even got her first mammogram when she turned 40 years old, as recommended. So imagine her utter shock when she was diagnosed with aggressive stage three breast cancer – a few days after she had been given a clean bill-of-health following her annual wellness exam.

“The doctor said, ‘It’s not good news Raynette. It’s cancer,’” Raynette recalls of the day her physician of 12 years gave her that life-changing news. Shock! It’s the only thing Raynette said that she felt after receiving the diagnoses.

The National Cancer Institute defines cancer as diseases in which abnormal cells divide without control and are able to invade other tissues. Cancer cells can spread to other parts of the body through the blood and lymph systems. According to the institute, there are more than 100 different types of cancer and breast cancer is the second most prevalent in the United States – prostate cancer is the first. Breast cancer represents 14 percent of all new cancer cases in the U.S. Breast Cancer Awareness Month is observed nation-wide in October.

“I’m an advocate for getting yourself checked out – doctors’ visits, those annual stuff, the dental appointments every six months,” Raynette said. So even with all of the testing, cancer was the last thing on her mind. “The shock was like: Me? I’m on top of my health…I go walking off and on….I watch what I eat,” she says. “It was like ‘what do you mean,’” she recalls. “The shock was just tremendous.”
The first few days after the diagnoses were hard.

“I cried for two days,” Raynette says. “Then I felt a calm that said ‘stop crying and get to work.’ With that I just put all my energy into what I needed to do to live.” Soon she was on a plane, from St. Thomas Virgin Islands where she lives, to Florida.

Raynette comes from a large extended family who took her diagnoses hard. She notes that her family is also a prayerful family. While Raynette had dried up her tears, her family’s gloom continued.

“I had to tell them ‘look, if you can’t call me without crying, don’t call me – text me, send me an e-mail, but let’s not have these crying fests,” she remembers. “I would say to them, no more tears, let’s just pray.” Out of that came Raynette’s mantra, which took her through chemotherapy, radiation, three surgeries, a near-death experience and recovery: “No More Tears, Just Prayers, Cause God Got This.”

Raynette decided to seek treatment in Louisiana, where her father and step-mother live. On Nov. 30, she spent her 41st birthday in surgery receiving her chemo port. The lump that was four centimeters when it was discovered, was 12 centimeters by the time she began chemotherapy. For Raynette, chemo was not the nightmare that some other cancer patients experience. She lost all of her hair four days after she began chemo. Her appetite followed. But she took her medication “religiously” and never experienced nausea or vomiting. She continued chemo every three weeks to complete her six treatments.

After completing chemo came another shocker. Raynette’s doctors told her they had to remove her left breast. “I told them they would have to take both,” Raynette says, without skipping a beat. In May 2013 she had a bilateral mastectomy. During the surgery she remembers waking up to a team of doctors hovering over her. They asked how she was doing. When she replied she was fine, they told her they were taking her back into surgery. It was only after the bilateral mastectomy was completed and she recovered did Raynette learn that massive hemorrhaging caused her to “slip away,” during the surgery. “They had called a code blue,” Raynette says.

After recovering post-operation, Raynette started radiation. “Radiation took more out of me than chemo,” she remembers. Still she found the energy to return to St. Thomas for the annual Relay for Life – twice; in June, but the event was postponed, and then in July for the event. She did 24 of the initially scheduled radiation treatments because third-degree burns to the treatment area caused her doctors to cancel the last two.

“By July I was convinced I needed to come home,” she says. And on Aug. 28, 2013, exactly one year after she discovered the lump, Raynette returned back home to St. Thomas – cancer free.

After successfully completing treatment, Raynette’s oncologist had a stark confession. “She said ‘we didn’t think you would make it,’” says Raynette. “It’s miraculous as aggressive as it was, it didn’t spread,” she notes. “That shocked the crap out of my doctors.” Because of the severity of her condition, she was also a case study at the hospital in Louisiana.

“I’ve always been a fighter,” Raynette says from her St. Thomas office at Bellows International where she is the director of Human Resources. So she treated breast cancer as any other opponent that wanted to take her down – she fought it.

“I couldn’t think of having my mother, father and siblings having to bury me,” Raynette says. “I had to give it my best shot. I never asked why me,” she said. “Because why not me. Breast cancer doesn’t discriminate.”

Part II, “Breast Cancer: A Survivor’s Advice” coming

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From Donoe to Doctorate, “Beep” Returns to Home Court

“I just wanted to teach math.”
Bertrum Foster, Jr. says, those words with such indifference that it belies his major accomplishment. Just wanting to teach math led Foster to a Ph.D. in mathematics.
The statistics for black males excelling in the sciences are dismal. They are even more grim on the doctoral level. His intent was never to bolster the statistics for black males, even though he did. Dr. Foster simply wanted to teach mathematics on the collegiate level. In order to accomplish that goal, he needed a Ph.D.
“I like math because it’s a challenge,” says Dr. Foster, also known to many as “Beep.” His passion for math began with 9th grade algebra. But his first passion was for basketball.
Like many young boys, Dr. Foster imagined himself playing professional basketball. But by high school he was 5’9″ and realized that his dreams of playing professional basketball were slim. But his love for the game continued. In 1995 he lead “Jah Youths” the basketball team founded in his Donoe neighborhood on St. Thomas to the Thanksgiving Tournament championship.
During that same time period, in 1994-95, he lead his Ivanna Eudora Kean High School Devil Rays boys basketball team to consecutive inter scholastic basketball championships.
After graduating high school, Dr. Foster took a break. He held several jobs in Oklahoma for four years before returning home and enrolling at the University of the Virgin Islands to take a shot at the men’s basketball team.
For him, getting a college degree was imperative. He remembers his first real job while in high school – stacking shelves at the Plaza Extra grocery store. “I would just watch the clock,” he recalls, mindlessly working until his shift ended. He would also watch the boss and think to himself, “I need his job.”
“The people who had the kinds of jobs I liked all had degrees,” Dr. Foster says. At UVI he remained a boss on the courts and in the books. In 2003 he earned a Bachelor of Science in Mathematics from UVI.
After undergrad Dr. Foster again took a break from academics, this time working in New York.
As time passed he got serious about his career, returning to grad school at Howard University. In 2013 he earned a Ph.D. in mathematics from Howard.
Being totally honest, Dr. Foster confesses that his carer choice first came about for the wrong reason: when as a university student he walked into the office of a mathematics professor who was playing solitaire on the computer. “I wanted to play solitaire at work too,” Dr. Foster says with a laugh.
But Dr. Foster learned that being a professor is no game. In addition to lecturing he has to mentor and advise students, grade papers, conduct research, get his research published, make presentations to academic groups, serve on committees and be at the forefront of curriculum development. “It’s definitely more work than meets the eye,” Dr. Foster says.
After serving as a professor at Montgomery College in Maryland and a lecturer at Howard University, Dr. Foster was recruited as an assistant professor of mathematics at UVI. Although it was challenging readjusting to the facts of life in the islands – high electricity bills, high cost of living and high crime: “Corned beef is $12 a can,” he notes as an example – Dr. Foster is happy for his circle of experiences.
His next goal is to become a tenured professor. And he still plays basketball – four days a week. Soon he will start coaching and training young men in the game. At 30-something years old, Dr. Foster is at the top of his game – a mentor in the classroom and on the courts. Sounds like a slam dunk!

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