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:
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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.”
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.
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. Young 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.”
On April 21, while speaking to a cousin on my morning commute I mentioned frustration with one of my daughter’s teachers. The teacher just appears aloof and disinterested. She isn’t a bad teacher, per se. My daughter is learning well. But there is an emotional element simply missing from everything that she does. And I noticed it from the moment we met. But being new to the school and city, I betrayed my instincts that told me to to switch teachers and had my daughter remain in the class.
Our conversation took a turn when we both began praising a man, who had spent a year as our teacher but impacted our entire lives – Isborne Fredericks.
Isborne Fredericks is no ordinary teacher. He is a leader with the ability to touch students’ souls, see in them value that they never knew existed and get them to recognize that value – all while imparting stellar education. He has taught hundreds of students and I consider myself fortunate to have been one of his students when I was in sixth grade at the Joseph Gomez Elementary School on St. Thomas, Virgin Islands.
He was my homeroom and history teacher, and a true visionary. Long before Virgin Islands history was a requirement of the VI Department of Education, Mr. Fredericks created his own VI History curriculum. Our 11 and 12-year-old selves had to learn the executive leadership of the three branches of the VI Government. I still remember searching and calling people to complete my list of commissioners. Yes, we had to find the names ourselves, then still memorize them all. We often protested that we had too much work, but Mr. Fredericks always made us feel that we had the capacity to learn and produce even beyond his expectations.
He also imparted morals and values. Students were to treat each other with same respect as we treated him. He showed no favorites – the respect, grace and mercy that was extended to the best of us, were also extended to the worst of us.
Mr. Fredericks began preparing us sixth graders to be competitive in a global world. Azerbaijan, for example, is an Asian country that we learned about when many had not even ventured outside of the U.S. We also had to know how to spell it. Points were deducted for misspelled words, T’s left uncrossed, or I’s left un-dotted. Taking pride in our work, all the time, is something else that he stressed. He expected, rather demanded, our best always.
And then there was African history. We had to learn the countries on the continent and be able to identify a certain number of them on the map. We even began learning an African language!
In the true essence of developing the whole child, Mr. Fredericks taught the African Bamboula dance as an extra-curricular activity. I can hear him all now beating his drum and singing, “Whe Joycie gone, Joycie gone down the river. Whe Joycie gone, Joycie gone down the river….”
My all-time favorite teacher, I always thought that Mr. Fredericks was special to me. Until I reached high school and realized that many of us in my graduating class claimed him as their favorite also. What was shocking was a time, as an adult, when I was out with a cousin who is about 10 years my senior and we saw Mr. Fredericks. My cousin remarked that Mr. Fredericks was HIS favorite teacher. Unbelievable, I thought to myself, this man has been impacting generations of students!
As we wrapped up our conversation my cousin asked the whereabouts of Mr. Fredericks. I told her where he was and to look him up on Facebook. I encouraged her to share with him directly his impact on her life. Life is too short not to, I explained.
A few hours later I found out that Prince died. And so during this 2016 Teacher Appreciation week, I hope to honor Mr. Fredericks and all the teachers who have made a difference. Gomez Elementary School really set an unshakable foundation in my education and my life. Ms. Wilkes, Ms. Dominique, Ms. DeWindt, Mr. John, Ms. Christian, Ms. Freeman, Ms. Donastorg – if they shaped at least one life, they shaped mine.
But everyone at Gomez contributed. How could I say that Cheryl Potter, Joan Dawson, Sylvia Woods (God bless her soul) were not my teachers? They never graded my papers or signed my report cards, but they taught me just as well. And l can’t forget the special subject teachers like Mr. Robinson, Mr. Dallas, Mr. Shaw, Ms. Rhymer, Ms. Carson…. Or substitute teachers like Ms. Brooks (sleep in peace) and the two Ms. Benjamins. The support staff also kept us on the right track. I can hear Ms. Sadie saying, “manners will take you round the world and back!”
Throughout my years in the public education system I’ve had extraordinary teachers. Ms. Morton’s seventh grade English class at Bertha C. Boschulte Junior High made me love writing. Mr. Monti’s math class in high school taught me patience. Then it was Jack Beauvais whose class helped me to find what I now recognize as my purpose. I wasn’t even supposed to be in that journalism class he taught at Ivanna Eudora Kean High School. I was in 10th grade and the class, I was told, was for 11th graders. But because I was in advanced English courses, I was admitted with ease. After producing a news broadcast for a project in Mr. Beauvais’ class, I knew I wanted to be a journalist.
I always tell people that in the Virgin Islands we have learned to make do without much. But we still achieve. We achieve in spite of – largely because of our dedicated teachers.
To everyone who has taught me, I say thank you. To all of my family and friends who have made teaching their profession, I say thank you. To all of the teachers that have taught my daughters, I say thank you. And to all of the aspiring teachers who have hopes of molding future generations, I say: “go for it. The world needs more Isborne Frederickses. The world needs you.”
Cramps. “It feels like really, really bad cramps.” That’s how my friend Debra described the labor pain that she experienced and what I should expect with my first child. Debra, one of my best friends, had given birth on August 13, 2000 to her first child. My due date was late August/early September 2000. I never really had a firm due date because I wasn’t sure of the exact date of my last menstrual period. It was coincidental and helpful that Debra and I were pregnant with our first child at the same time.
Debra’s description of labor didn’t help me one bit. I never got cramps. Growing up my mom would tell me that I’m lucky to never experience the painful abdominal contractions that many women endure monthly. So as childbirth neared, the expectant pain was nothing I could prepare for.
By early September, my obstetrician told me I was past due. Nothing I did helped to induce my labor. At a visit to Dr. Ronald Nimmo on Tuesday, Sept. 5, he said my cervix started dilating. A woman’s cervix must be dilated to 10 centimeters before active labor – the pushing – begins. We went over the stages of labor and he told me if I went into labor overnight to call him then go straight to the hospital; if I didn’t go into labor by morning, I should check into the hospital at 7 am.
I was scared. I didn’t know what to expect. Suppose I went into labor overnight? Suppose I didn’t? You mean I’d still have to interrupt my sleep for a 7 am check in!? There were no contractions during the night. In the morning I decided I wanted to go for one last swim. My boyfriend Vibes advised against it. We needed to check in at 7 am and we didn’t have the time, he said. I told him I needed to feel myself enveloped in the cool buoyancy of the Caribbean Sea. So we went to Magens Bay. The air was cool. The sun had risen over a dewy morning. It was so nice! Vibes kept reminding me that we needed to hurry up. Against better judgment I submersed my entire body in the water, saturating my newly-done box braids. We had to hustle back home so that I could shower before heading to the hospital.
When we reached the hospital, about 90 minutes late, the friendly intake staff told me they had been waiting on me and welcomed us. Vibes gave me an I-told-you-so look. The only thing I could think of at the moment was that my hair was wet and it was making me cold.
I followed the nurses’ instructions putting on the hospital gown, getting hooked up to the IV and those things. When the doctor did his rounds a few hours later and examined me, I was still the two centimeters I was the day before. When he said: “I can give you something to help you out,” I obliged.
The contractions started coming! The nurses kept offering me pain meds, but I was determined to have a natural childbirth. The contractions kept coming stronger. When I told the nurses I was ready to have my baby they said I was a private patient, so I had to wait until my doctor came back. What! I was ready to have the baby and they were telling me I had to wait! When the doctor finally came back for his afternoon rounds around 5 pm and examined me. I was still two centimeters! After five hours of contractions I was still dilated at two centimeters! Dr. Nimmo said he would give me something to stop the contractions. It was only then I realized my labor had been induced. Earlier when he offered to “give you something to help you out,” he meant an induction. I was totally upset. I never wanted to be induced. And I was hungry.
The contractions slowed within a few minutes and I was ready for dinner. When I told the doctor, he explained that once someone was admitted to the Labor and Deliver unit they couldn’t eat. Who the hell came up with that stupid rule! Now I was furious! “So I can’t eat anything,” I asked the doctor. He told me I could have as much ice chips that I wanted. If looks could kill, Dr. Nimmo would be dead.
The plan was that I would get my rest, and more than likely I would go into active labor overnight. The doctor allowed me to walk the halls while he was there. But as he was leaving he suggested that I rest. So I did. As soon as he left I told Vibes to go buy me some food. Vibes told me no. I was shocked. My wishes were his commands throughout my pregnancy. And now he tells me no? I asked him if he wanted me and the baby to starve. He still wouldn’t get the food. This was getting ridiculous. I was in labor all day and now I was starving. And my usually defiant boyfriend was on the doctor’s side.
I was totally frustrated! I decided to stop talking to Vibes. I buzzed the nurse and asked her to help me out of the bed so that I can walk. She said she couldn’t, Dr. Nimmo had ordered bed rest. I didn’t understand. The nurse explained that the doctor ordered me on bed rest so I had to remain in bed. This was beyond ridiculous! I reasoned with her that just a few moments ago I was walking up and down the halls. She didn’t budge.
This was torture. Starving. Bed rest. And I had to lie on my left side only. I don’t remember much about the rest of that night. I made up my mind I wasn’t talking to anybody!
Second Day of Labor
By morning I felt a bit of calm because I knew my mom would be flying in first thing from St. Croix. I wasn’t sure what to expect from my mom. She initially felt I was young to have a baby. But I already had a degree, a full-time job, some savings, no debt and lived on my own. I was overjoyed when she arrived. Surely she would be compassionate. Surely she would tell my doctor and nurses I needed to eat and to walk. Seeing her brought a smile to my face. I filled her in on everything that had happened. My mom brought an unbelievable comfort when I needed it the most. Then it happened:
“Betty!” Dr. Nimmo exclaimed when he saw my mom. She had been a nurse at the Roy Schneider Hospital on St. Thomas, where I was in labor, for about 15 years before moving to St. Croix. Everyone loves my mom. And I would soon find out just how much. Dr. Nimmo hugged my mom and they chatted a bit. Soon Vibes, who the nurses sent home for some rest the night before, showed up. That was a perfect time to voice my complaints. I was starving and wanted to get out of bed. The doctor agreed that I could get out of bed. Food, he said, I couldn’t have. My mom agreed. What! I began my protest. Vibes just watched as I argued with the doctor and my mom that I was pregnant had not eaten for a day. Finally Dr. Nimmo said I could have some sports drinks and hard candy. The sugars would provide energy for the labor, he said. Vibes headed out to get them.
And so it started. One by one all of my mom’s friends heard that she was at the hospital and began showing up to see her. One of the first was Denise. “Bettttyyyy!” Denise exclaimed when she saw my mom. The hugs, kisses and laughter ensued. Then Denise turned to me:
Denise: Nanyamka, how are you doing?
Me: *groaning* I’m in pain
Denise: Yea, that’s how it is with your first child. Just hang in there. We’re here for you.
Then she was back to the giggling catching up with mom. And that’s how it went all morning with my mom and her friends. Because I had to lie on my left side, my back was turned to the door. So many of her friends’ faces I saw only briefly when they came around to see me. While it seemed like the entire nursing staff at the hospital came to see my mom, I wasn’t allowed to have visitors in Labor and Delivery. But my friends kept calling. They kept demanding: did she have the baby? Was it a boy or girl? After a while the nurses seemed to be annoyed with their phone calls. “Can you take this call,” one of the nurses said to my mom. “I keep telling them I can’t give out patient information.” The contractions kept coming. Against what I had planned, I accepted pain medication when the nurses offered.
It was after 1 p.m. Dr. Nimmo was getting concerned. He told me if the labor didn’t progress, he would have to do a cesarean section. I protested. He explained that the baby’s vitals were fine, but I was in labor for over a day, partially dilated, couldn’t eat and if I remained in that state I could put both the baby and myself at risk. I signed the surgery consent forms and he allowed me to walk the halls. Both my mom and Vibes felt a cesarean section was an option. I didn’t! Nor did my dad, who was on St. Croix, but had been calling regularly. Vibes didn’t want to put me or his first child at risk with a prolonged labor. I could sense the fear in my mother as we weighed the options. She too had rough childbirths and had a cesarean section to deliver me.
I told everyone that could listen that I was not having a cesarean section. Ms. Maria Rivera, the mid-wife on duty sympathized with me. At the time I was dilated about five centimeters and the contractions were regular – as they had been all day. She told me that she’s not my doctor, but if I allowed her, she could help me. I had heard that line before. The induction didn’t work, I reminded her. She said no, she would massage my cervix so that it could dilate. I agreed. She said relax, suck on your lollipop (one of the hard candies I was allowed to eat), and by the time you are finished with the lollipop you’ll be ready to have your baby. I was unsure, but my options were few.
Ms. Rivera went to work while I sucked on my lollipop. Sure enough, as I had finished my lollipop Ms. Rivera announced that her work was done. When the doctor checked me, alas, I was dilated to 10 centimeters. It was time to push!
Dr. Nimmo assembled the team. It was a tight fit in my room with the doctor, nurses, Vibes, and my mom. Just as I had learned in Lamaze class, I pushed on the doctor’s counts. Vibes held one leg and my mother held the other. The doctor was down the middle. I pushed for about 30 minutes. But the baby didn’t come. The doctor gave me a 15 minutes break and I resumed pushing. I was annoyed with Vibes who was all up in my face screaming “push, push!” After about 30 more minutes of pushing – still no baby. The pain was excruciating and my back felt like it was splitting down the middle.
I kept telling everyone that I needed to squat. Or I needed to be on my knees. The doctor gave me another break from pushing. The baby had already crowned. Everyone could see a tiny bit of the head, but the baby won’t come down. As I was taking this second break from pushing I overheard a nurse telling my mom. “She ain’t really pushing. It’s the Demerol, it has her drowsy.” And my mother nodded in agreement. I was so pissed off! I had pushed with all my might! But I didn’t have the strength to respond with anything else but the rollong of my eyes.
The doctor told me we would try the pushing again and if the baby didn’t come we would go into surgery. I begged him: I need to go on my knees in a squatting position! He gave a command. The next thing I know the nurses had transformed the bed, putting up rails around the head of the bed. They helped me to a kneeling position on the bed, using the rails for support. I felt relief in my back immediately! Then I started pushing without the doctor’s count – and Vibes noticed. He started telling me I needed to wait on the doctor. Schupees! Whatever! Soon Dr. Nimmo’s commands to push caught up with me. After this third round of pushing, the doctor checked me and said it was time.
“The baby is coming. Let’s get her in delivery,” Dr. Nimmo said. I was confused. The baby was coming and I had to be moved? They put me to lay on my back and wheeled me out of my room into the most sterile-looking room I had ever seen – there was stainless steel and white tiles everywhere. Someone explained that it was the delivery room. In the delivery room I got a strange urge – I needed to vomit. Before I could fully explain it, the nurses had a basin to my mouth. I felt like I had lost all control of my body. The contractions kept coming.
The doctor instructed me not to push. Again, I was confused. I had waited two days to deliver this baby and now he was telling me not to push? Dr. Nimmo said that it was important for me to follow his instructions so that I didn’t hurt the baby or me. He said he was going to make a small incision to help the baby come out, but first I would feel a little pinch as he numbed the area. I wanted to push so badly, but Vibes gave me that look. Dr. Nimmo made the incision quickly and I was back to pushing.
“Push with all your strength!” Dr. Nimmo said. And I did, screaming at the same time. I glimpsed at Vibes for a split second and he looked like he would faint. The head came out! Instant relief! I stopped pushing. Then Dr. Nimmo started the count again. With a few more pushes I had given birth to my first child!
“It’s a girl!” everyone screamed. “Congratulations!” were ringing in from everyone in the room. And I exhaled. It was 5:25 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 7.
As Vibes cut the umbilical cord, I was worried that he would pass out. They brought me my baby girl and I took her into my arms. At that moment I felt a love like I had never before felt toward another human being. Then they pulled her away. “We have to clean her up,” a nurse said. “We were only showing her to you.”
At that time I wanted to tell Vibes to keep a close eye on our daughter. I didn’t want any switched-at-birth mishaps. But no one could find Vibes. Dr. Nimmo told me I wasn’t done yet. I had to deliver the placenta. A few moments later I pushed it out. Dr. Nimmo began the process of stitching me back up. I could feel every stitch! I tried to close my legs and pull away from the doctor. A nurse told me “you want the doctor to do a good job, right? You need to open your legs.” I obeyed. The entire lower half of my body felt numb with pain.
Everyone was asking for Vibes so a nurse left the room to find him. “He out there crying,” the nurse said when she returned. “Give him a chance to catch himself.” The nurses all laughed.
Shortly after delivery I got a burst of energy. I started telling my mom of all the people she needed to call to tell them the baby was born. I started telling Vibes to look for distinct marks or features on the baby so we could always know she was ours.
“Rest,” my mom had told me. “You did good. Now rest yourself.” The nurse told me they would wheel me into a recovery room where I should rest for a while. I told her I wanted my daughter.
“She is fine,” the nurse assured. “She has her father and grandmother watching her.” All of a sudden I felt very cold. I started to shiver. The nurse covered me up. I was still cold. She told me she would get some warm blankets that just came out of the dryer. That did the trick. Being the daughter of a well-loved nursed served me well then and throughout my stay in the hospital.
Then, as if a switch inside of me had been flipped, I instantly felt tired – totally exhausted and drained actually. And I fell asleep to recover.
Editor’s note: As I fulfill my life’s purpose to “tell the story” I’ll soon be writing biographies, memoirs and other pieces that will require people to be open and honest with me about very personal aspects of their lives. I decided to share a very intimate part of one of my biggest transformational experiences – childbirth. If you have enjoyed this personal part of my story, I hope that you will trust me to share the story of others with you. No part of this story may be reused, reproduced, or otherwise copied without direct written approval of the author Nanyamka Farrelly.
“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.”
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
“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!
As a child growing upon the Virgin Islands when we wouldn’t listen to and obey adults, we were accused of being “harden.'” The word was used often to describe defiant, disobedient children who would not take instructions from adults, no matter what. It was synonymous with unruly children. I think that all of my peers were told by an adult “yo too harden,'” at some point in our childhoods. Surely if adults called you “harden'” it was not a good thing. It wasn’t until, I got older that I really understood the word – which is actually hardened, with a “d” at the end (that we in the VI never pronounced). The real word – hardened – is an adjective that can be used to describe anyone, not only a child, who is so set in their ways that nothing can change them. While it’s not usual to hear the term used towards adults, it very well can be. As adults sometimes we make up our minds – and because we have declared a stance on a particular subject, or because we have always been doing things in a certain way – nothing can change us; we become hardened. It’s ok to change. It’s ok to change your opinion. It’s ok to change your lifestyle. It’s ok to change your plans. It’s ok to change your feelings. It’s ok. None of us should become so hardened that we are unwilling to change. But even worse, none of us should become so hardened that we do not listen to God. Lots of times the Most High shows us that we should do things differently. That we should behave differently. That we should think differently. That we should live differently. But we don’t; and we remain hardened. In reality we are no different from an unruly child who refuses counsel from someone wiser. The thing about hardenedness is that deep down we know that we should change. Sometimes everything and everyone in our lives show us that we should change. We know that we are being defiant for no reason, or that we are being defiant against good reason. Listen to your inside voice. Listen to God. Suffering from “harden’ness” is a choice. Let’s choose not to suffer.
I never cared to visit London until the 2012 Olympics. Of course after the country was put it in an international spotlight, I wasn’t the only one interested in going. (Now I can’t wait to go to Brazil! But Brazil has always been on my travel wish list.) My first impression after landing in London was “why is it so cold.” We traveled from France to London via Easy Jet to London Luton Airport. It felt like 60 degrees when we got off the plane. London Luton is like the airports in the Virgin Islands. We walked off the plane, down the stairs, unto apron, then into the airport. When the cold morning air hit my face, for a second I wondered if it was summer in this part of the world. Then I remembered that France was a hot 90 something degrees. Putting the chill aside, it felt good being in an English-speaking country. We were able to negotiate our cab fares! (The little things we usually take for granted.) After reaching to the hotel we set out to find something to eat.
On our first stroll through the Marble Arch area in Westminster, England we were startled by the loud horn blowing on a delivery truck as we crossed the road. The group hurried across the street but the horn blowing continued. We looked back to see a Dominica flag in the truck, driven by two men – one wearing a visible Gucci chain. For those who may not know, a gold puffed Gucci chain is a trademark piece of Caribbean people, specifically Virgin Islanders. It’s a surefire way to identify a Caribbean person; it’s right up there with the hibiscus earrings. We started waving and shouting “ehhhhyyy” at the guys. It turns out that we were not being run out of the London street, but instead given a real island-styled “hail up” – and it felt really good. The truck kept on its way, and we kept on ours – wondering if and how the drivers recognized us as island people.
The guys in our group wanted to go to Brixton in southern London, where we were told has a large Caribbean population, for some island food. But we were too hungry to venture all the way down there at the time. We ate at Giraffe’s then headed out to sightsee.
While we had found many historical marvels in Paris, I found the Eye of London to be a modern marvel. It’s described as a revolving observatory. In essence, it looks like a gigantic ferris wheel. A misunderstanding with my boyfriend had dampened my spirit a bit as I rode on the Eye. But the 360 degree views of London from aboard the eye were a must see. I had been looking forward to seeing Big Ben. But after I did, the Eye stole all of Ben’s glory.
As we were leaving the Eye it started to rain. And I was unprepared. One couple in the group was equipped with a complimentary umbrella provided by the Marriott Marble Arch where we were staying. As she said, “If a hotel offers a complimentary umbrella, that mean it rains a lot.” We waited out the rain a bit, then decided to go ahead with the rest of our sightseeing. Passing by several double decked sightseeing busses, we came across the iconic London phone booths, then headed for Buckingham Palace.
It started to rain on the way to the palace. Then it started to pour. The group had to decide if it made sense to continue or to head back to the hotel. Since we were nearly there we continued. The experience was pretty cool, as my boyfriend and I walked and talked – in the rain. The palace wasn’t too much fun in the rain. We plotted our way back to the hotel.
Luckily for us, the wifi at the Marble Arch Marriott Hotel was pretty good. We used our extra time to check in with family and friends back home.
For the first time in days, I got a full night’s rest!