St. Thomas 𑁋 Congresswoman Stacey Plaskett has announced a territory-wide essay contest for middle school and junior high school students. The Delegate to Congress, who represents the U.S. Virgin Islands in Washington D.C. revealed the biennial Liberty Awards (a biennial event takes place every other year) in which her office hopes to engage students about the state of the free press in the Virgin Islands and the free press in the United States.
The award will not be bestowed on journalists during elections years — meaning there will not be any recipients in the year 2020, 2022, or 2024.
Promoting a Free Press
Plaskett’s office is leaning on the historic achievements of D. Hamilton Jackson, a well-renowned local figure who rose to prominence in the Caribbean and Denmark before the Virgin Islands came under American rule. The Liberty Awards recognize him as a trailblazer in print journalism as he tackled tough issues and pushed back on colonial rule and oppression.
“I’ve been concerned that Virgin Islanders have not been engaged in Liberty Day as they may have a generation ago,” Plaskett said in a statement to State of the Territory News. “The Grove Place Action Committee has done a tremendous job keeping the history and importance of D. Hamilton Jackson, his work and the importance of free press alive.”
Jackson was born in St. Croix on September 28th of 1884 and died in 1946. Before his death, the famed labor rights activist and skilled writer spent months in Denmark challenging and lobbying against the 1779 ordinance of censorship on all publications in the then Danish West Indies. Hamilton also successfully organized the islands’ first trade union and went on to empower the labor force on each island through grassroots campaigns.
Jackson was successful in his petition for a free press, and the censorship of the Danish West Indies was removed. He then returned home to St. Croix and published the first free press publication, the Herald — making history.
The Liberty Essay Contest
To breathe new life into journalism as the profession faces threats around the world, the Congresswoman’s office is inviting 7th and 8th-grade students to take part in a territory-wide essay contest.
Journalists around the world face increasing pressure from powerful and oppressive regimes, tech companies that absorb profits in the digital age and attacks from politicians seeking to influence and bend the truth while disregarding the facts.
“Believe it or not — and I know most people do not — violence has been in decline over long stretches of time…” Canadian-American cognitive psychologist, Steven Pinker said. “And we may be living in the most peaceful time in our species’ existence.”
Contrary to popular belief, the world is, in fact, facing one of the most peaceful periods in recorded human history. Universal access to real-time information (via the internet) has only amplified the perception of a crumbling world on the brink of collapse; for many who follow world events as they unfold.
Essay Requirements and Prize
Every year, students complete assignments, essays, and various projects in exchange for grades to show their academic progress — the Congresswoman’s office is essentially paying students to compete in as essay contest that they would normally complete for free. The grand prize is $250 and a winner will be chosen just one month before Black Friday sweeps the territory and the United States where excited consumers buy their favorite gadgets and toys before the decade ends.
Plaskett’s office is asking for students to write an insightful essay that answers this question — “What are the roles and responsibilities of the free press and what threats face it today?”
Essay must be:
- Typed in 12 pt Times New Roman font
- Two (2) pages single spaced
- No more than 1,000 words
- All sources used must be cited
- Written by the student, insightful and well researched
- Submit completed essays to firstname.lastname@example.org
- Deadline — Friday, October 25th, 2019
* Students may receive guidance from teachers to build a stronger essay
First Liberty Awards
The Congresswoman last week announced in a social media post that the first D. Hamilton Jackson Lifetime Award will be awarded to Rena Brobhurst, who is the owner of the St. Croix Avis — and the Ariel Melchoir Trailblazer Award will be awarded to Amaziah George, the founder, and product manager of State of the Territory News.
“I wanted to create an award, and hope that it will be expanded to be run by someone or groups other than me, as a way to celebrate our own local journalists,” Plaskett said. “There is an understanding on Capitol Hill that while we are not always in agreement, or happy with what the press may say, they serve an important part of our democracy.”
The St. Croix Avis is currently the longest-running print newspaper in the U.S. Virgin Islands — the publication was founded in the 1800s and has chronicled the territory’s history from Danish rule to the American transfer in the early 20th century.
Awards will be presented and on November 1st at Company Hotel located at 2 Company St. in Christiansted, St. Croix in celebration of Bread and Bull Day.