On 31 July the Neil Melee Blyden Festival Village official opening marked the start of the 2017 Emancipation Festival nightly activities.
Chair of the Virgin Islands Festival and Fairs Committee Mr. Trefor Grant explained that this year’s opening was dubbed cultural night because it focuses on the reason for the celebration, and allows Virgin Islanders to remember from whence they came. “It’s a celebration of being free and tonight is a very special night,” Grant told the gathering.
Premier Dr. the Hon. D. Orlando Smith in his opening remarks explained that the season provides an opportunity for Virgin Islanders to rededicate themselves towards cherishing the Territory just as their ancestors did. “As we celebrate Emancipation let us reflect on the past for inspiration and look forward to the future with optimism that we will continue to make progress and evolution,” he said.
The Premier also announced that it is fitting that this year’s Festival Village is named after Neil Blyden who he said was passionate about uniting the various nationalities. “He was an avid promoter of our Emancipation celebrations… We remain grateful for his tremendous contribution to our annual cultural festivities,” Hon. Smith added.
The widow of the late Mr. Blyden Mrs. Janice Blyden reflected on her husband’s love for Festival and invited all to make the event grand in his honour: “I want that colorful kaleidoscope here in this village, I want to see everybody in here. I want them to come to the village.”
Mrs. Blyden urged the community to come out and support the events and make them the largest they have ever been: “That was Neil who liked to make everything larger than life. He is not here tonight, so I want us to make it feel like he is here and everything here is going to be so pulsating so invigorating,” she added.
This year’s Parade Honouree Hon. Alvera Maduro-Caines announced that there are few Festival activities that she has not been part of. In fact, Hon. Maduro-Caines said that she has been a part of the annual festival parade from since she was age 12 or 13.
She also noted that she has been a member of the Festival Committee numerous times. “My favorite part was being the Chairperson of the Prince and Princess show because I am very passionate about our youths, and helping them grow by helping them to overcome their shyness, and with this pageant I have seen transformations.”
Hon. Maduro-Caines also mentioned that the only activity in the annual festivities that she has not been involved with is owning a booth, and this has been by choice. However the popular Representative noted that almost all other areas she has been involved in.
Before declaring this year’s festival open Hon. Myron Walwyn gave a brief note on the transformation of Festival over the decades as he told the gathering: “We must recognize that Emancipation celebrations have evolved over the years.”
He also announced that it is fitting that the village is named in honour of Mr. Blyden: “This year’s Honouree the late Mr. Neil Melee Blyden was no stranger to understanding our Virgin Islands story, hence why it is fitting and well deserving to have him named this year as our honouree,” Hon. Walwyn stated.