Why I left the rotunda for the rock — The story of one reporter’s year-long journey living, working and embracing the culture of one of the United States’ lesser-known territories.
This was my home.
I think I spent more time in this rotunda than I did my own Washington D.C. apartment. (I should have gotten a cot like some of those Congressmembers did). I was a cub reporter with the gig of a lifetime; covering Congress and the White House during one of the most insane three years possible. From the end of the Obama administration in 2015 to the now infamous 2016 election and then to the beginnings of the Trump administration.
I was hungry and green. I made the most out of every story. Running the halls of Congress was second nature. People knew me from rolling along with my gear suitcase, being everywhere news was. I covered almost every member of the senate and probably well over a hundred representatives.
And I loved every minute of it.
Shortly after Donald Trump took office, the news was in overdrive. We found ourselves trying to keep up while keeping the focus on local news, which was our main goal serving local affiliates. Even that became challenging as everyone was following the ‘shiny ball’ so to speak, the ‘tweet’ of the day. The legislation that we were there to cover got hidden in the ever-changing news cycle.
Then the storm really hit.
September 6, 2017, and September 20, 2017, two massive Category 5 hurricanes hit the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico.
I was covering every update from Congress as I covered this region for our newsgroup. I reached out to local Puerto Rican groups in DC, talked with the representatives for the territories, and was at FEMA headquarters practically every week.
From all of the towns and cities, I covered for our bureau something about this region stood out. Maybe it was because I didn’t really know that much about the islands. Or maybe it was the lack of coverage they received compared to other places that made me feel somewhat ‘called’ to do more.
Whatever it was, covering the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico made me feel like I was doing some good in my time in Congress, staying away from the shiny ball. I was doing my duty as a journalist to shine a light on an area that was relatively uncovered.
So when the time came I said farewell to the halls I dwelled in so much, my home, to move to my new home in a much warmer, more tropical climate.
The company I had been working for shared my same passion for bringing more attention to the territories, through news reporting. They wanted to build up coverage on the islands and said I was just the girl to do it.
I moved to St. Thomas on June 24, 2018, with four suitcases and a smile as wide as my face. I had a camera, a computer, a tripod and my new Suzuki I lovingly named ‘Scotty’ to get me around my new island home.
I no longer was roaming the halls of Congress with my roller bag, instead, I drug it through the sandy beaches of St. Thomas and the rocky roads of the Cyril E. King parking lot ready to fly to St. Croix for a story. I did it all on my own, as the lone reporter for the CBS and ABC affiliate in the U.S. Virgin Islands.
But I wasn’t alone.
Since moving here, I had the constant support of people in the community. Cheering me on over Facebook messages, calling my phone with their concerns, and coming up to me at stories to tell me about the next one to cover that could help their family. It was beautiful. I have never seen a more engaged community in my time as a news reporter. I have a feeling I never will.
I moved here to cover the recovery of the people of the U.S. Virgin Islands. That has been the foundation of my coverage throughout my time. It has been the heart and soul of my reporting. But really, as I found, it was the people behind the recovery that were and still are the heart and soul.
Virgin Islanders showed me so much more than the recovery. They showed me how they live, how they work, how they cook. They inspired new segments, like ‘Virgin Islands Voices’ to focus on the unique people of the Virgin Islands doing things unlike anywhere else in the world. They inspired Music Mondays; where the talents and depths of genres go deeper than you can ever imagine. Soca, Calypso, Reggae. I learned them all and have a new appreciation for each form.
And the beauty. You cannot miss the beauty. I created ‘Kellie in the Caribbean’ a segment to focus on all the fun, exciting things to do in the U.S. Virgin Islands. I took viewers along scuba diving, sailing and more. Still, so many ideas I haven’t even touched on.
Through the year, I began to learn the U.S. Virgin Islands were changing me, more than I was changing it.
I learned about the mocko jumbies (and interviewed some of them!), I tried Kalaloo (and loved it! Gladys, can I have some more please?), I boxed Julius ‘The Chef’ Jackson (and won!), and I danced down the road with Infernos Carnival Troupe (I almost made it to the end!).
Virgin Islanders, opened their home and their culture to me. They taught me lessons in life that I can never begin to put into words. Virgin Islanders, I found, truly have it figured out.
They make time for the important things in life; family, friends, food, and partying. Boy, do they love a good party! It isn’t about the rum, the endless pot of conch stew smelling delicious on the stove, or the soca music flowing, it’s about being together. Simple, honest, raw happiness. Take a visit, it is contagious.
People may glance and think the Virgin Islands doesn’t have much going on beyond the cruise docks and beautiful beaches. I was one of them. I didn’t know anything about the U.S. Virgin Islands until I started covering the islands from Congress. Even then, Congresswoman Stacey Plaskett and her team had to explain to me what Charlotte Amalie was, what the territory was going through, but I had to see it in person to understand. You have to visit, truly visit (beyond the tourist shops) to know what the real U.S. Virgin Islands is like.
There is so much here still left to uncover. So much history, culture, and so much news. I barely put a dent in it and wish I could stay to see it through. But I know the two Crucians taking over from here will have it covered.
I also know that the Virgin Islands will be just fine because the territory has them looking out for it. They were my assignment editor when I was on my own down here. They looked out for me and welcomed me as the new on island. They helped me tell each and every story. We changed the community together. We got the legislature to listen, we got DPNR to put those cones on the crumbling hill up Mafolie Road, we got peoples’ attention. I was just the microphone, they were the voice.
A friend here said to me once you learn what’s behind the palm trees, it’s hard to just focus on the beaches. We were talking about the never-ending stories that lie behind the stunning beaches; from criminal investigations, to corruption and injustices.
I learned now, it so much more than that.
Once you meet the people behind the beaches and take the time to get to know them, you’re better for it.
I came here thinking I had to uncover something, that I had to help with the recovery. But the Virgin Islands helped me. They helped me just sit back, listen, learn, and write. They helped me grow and I will never be the same, in the best way possible.
I head back to that home I left one year ago as an entirely different person. I don’t know how I’ll quite put into words what just happened to me this last year. But I know I am going back with three islands full of new friends even family, a support system that is larger than life, and a lesson in life that can never quite be replicated.
I’ll greet the lawmakers with a ‘good morning’, check the time on my Cardow watch, and remember my days navigating the island with a smile. I hope to share with them a little bit of my time in a lesser-known territory called the U.S. Virgin Islands. A place I was lucky to call my home.
To the people of the Virgin Islands, thank you for allowing me to share a slice of paradise and reside here even just for a little while. I am forever grateful and I hope I was able to make an impact here as much as you made one on me.
Submitted August 8th, 2019: by Kellie Meyer, a reporter for CBS-USVI covering the territory’s disaster recovery. Kellie has worked in newsrooms in Washington, D.C. and is a skilled videographer. Your contributions to Virgin Islands media will be missed; stay minty, Kellie. 🤗🗞️