A traditional flambeau procession commenced the opening of the Rita Francis Festival, and also officially kicked off the 2016 Emancipation Celebrations.
During the opening ceremony Minister of Education and Culture, Hon. Myron Walwyn announced that the 2016 Emancipation Festival, despite a late start, is going well and is gearing up to be a good one.
“Even though we are off to a late start due to some things not under the control of the Virgin Islands Festival and Fairs Committee, I must say and I am sure you would agree that things have shaped up quite nicely in a very short space of time,” Hon. Walwyn said.
The Culture Minister also took a swipe at critics who were quite vocal in the days leading up to the event: “I want the public to understand the tremendous effort that the Virgin Islands Festival and Fairs Committee and the volunteers on sub-committees made to ensure that we have a good and enjoyable Festival. Very often they are criticized and not thanked enough for what they do,” he said.
“I would like to encourage those persons who might have concerns, ideas and thoughts as to how we can improve these celebrations to get off the sidelines and get involved. We need more hands on deck to help with the celebrations. So, I welcome members of the public to get involved with the organization,” Hon. Walwyn added.
Acting Premier, and Minister for Natural Resources and Labour, Dr. the Hon. Kedrick Pickering urged residents to support this year’s Festival: “I am encouraging everyone to come out in your numbers and support the events that are planned, and make this festival truly an exceptional one,” he said.
The Acting Premier also spoke fondly of the Road Town village honouree, Mrs. Rita Francis and announced that the decision to name this year’s Festival village in her name was a good one: “I must say we have made an exceptional choice in naming this year’s Festival village after Ms Rita, a lady of many words who is the true epitome of the Virgin Islanders; she is not afraid to say what’s on her mind,” Dr. Pickering said.
“She is hard-working and, to my knowledge, she never hesitated to contribute to the things of our culture including selling her delicious local dishes at the horse race, softball and in past times here in the Village,” Hon. Pickering added.
Mrs. Francis’ grandchild responded to the tribute, by reading a speech that was written by this year’s honouree. The speech among other things expressed appreciation for the naming of the village: “I wish to thank the entire British Virgin Islands who has supported me over the years as a booth operator during Festival in Road Town and Sea Cows Bay. Those days were very hard, having to deal with coals and coal pots, sometimes even the fire place and the three stones and wood but God saw me through,” she noted.
The night also saw the honour of Parade Marshall being bestowed on Mrs Violet ‘Letty’ Hodge, a pinnacle of the horse racing community. In her acceptance speech Mrs. Hodge urged all to support the Festival: “I want everybody else into Festival, do not give up. I know that some things are not the same but it’s something that we have to continue. Certain things we have to change and some things we have to keep.”
Other speakers included Chairperson of the Virgin Islands Festival and Fairs Committee, Mrs. Kishma Barronville, and Minister for Communications and Works and Fourth District Respresentative, Hon. Mark Vanterpool.