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There's hope: The Digna Wheatley Impact
Posted On:
Tuesday, February 21, 2012
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by Nanymka Farrelly (Opinions, The Virgin Islands Daily News, February 21, 2012, p.18)



There's hope.

Tired of their needs being ignored, in 1988, the students at Ivanna Eudora Kean High Shool led a march to Government House and the V.I. Legislature demanding better conditions at the school.  The students were fed up with one particular condition-there was no gymnasium.

Back then, students ate meals and took physical education classes in the same room.  This one large room functioned as a cafeteria, gymnasium, and auditorium - the "cafegymtorium" as it was called.

Seventeen-year-old Digna Wheatley, the newly elected Student Council president, was approached by two students who asked the council to organize a student protest.

"Ms. Digna Wheatley saw we had a problem and did something about it," said former Kean faculty member Dagmar Greenaway.

Digna lead the student body in what was called " the utmost well-organized and respectful marches for educational equality" in the Virgin Islands.  Less than a year later, $600,000 was appropriated to build the school's first gymnasium.  Last week, in an emotional and motivational ceremony, the gymnasium  at Kean High School was named in Digna's honor.

"I can still see her standing up in front of us with her feet planted firmly in the ground and her hand in the air saying, 'we are going to march," recalled classmate Lisa Williams.

"She declared we are going to march. The response she always got was 'yes,'" Lisa Williams said . "We always wanted to join her.  It was necessary.  We felt like we are being ignored by the leadership of this community."

There's hope.

When Digna was approached by the two students to lead a march, Digna had decided to run for Student Council president at the urging of a tacher just two days before the election.  Now, she was being asked to do something that had not been done before. Before agreeing to that significant request, Digna prayed, and God responded with a "yes"  Digna made it clear to the students that they had to represent the school and themselves with the utmost dignity.

In the following weeks, Digna organized the march, secured the necessary permits and rallied the student body. all unbeknown to the school's administration and faculty.  When the leaders at the school found out, they decided to join the effort.

"She had not only the vision to see what needed to be done," said  former Kean faculty member James Kerr, "but also to motivate others to do the same."

He noted the elected officials say that they work in the interest of the children, but in this case it was a child who had to take the lead to advocate for a gymnasium for her schoolmates.

"It's ironic. It's amazing.  It's wonderful," Kerr said.

There's hope

Digna led more than 1,200 Kean High School students to the Legislature and Government House in a march that has been sealed in Virgin Islands history.  They were joined by Kean administrators and faculty members of the community.

While elected officials tried to placate the teenager, she held fast to her goal.  Passionately and respectfully, Digna told the  Virgin Islands of the conditions at Kean High and demanded better.  And for the first time, they listened.

"We demanded respect as students from an educational system that was unjust," digna said.

'It was the vision that burned in us-afire that couldn't be extinguished," she said.  "I'm very grateful that God decided to use me many years ago."

There's hope.

The Kean gymnasium was built in the early 1990s.  In 2004, the V.I. Legislature passed a bill to name the gym in Digna's honor.

As a Virgin Islander, I am so proud of what Digna Wheatley represents for all of us.  As a Kean alumna, I am even more proud.

"It is so fitting that we are doing this in the morning," Kean principal Sharon McCollum said at the renaming ceremony,

"Morning  signals a new beginning.  Digna represented a new beginning.  Today, we celebrate you and how far we have come," she said.  "Digna, you have been a blessing to Ivanna Eudora Kean High School.   It is with great sense of pride and honor that we will name this building after you."

There's hope.

Today, Digna, a nurse and public health administrator, works at Johns Hopkins Hosital; and the students at Kean High School have a gym.

"Everything we've ever wanted every accomplishment we've ever made, we've had to fight for," said Tulip Fleming, former Kean faculty member and one of Digna's teachers.

As long as there are other Digna Wheatley in our community who have the courage and vision to organize, strategize and lead - there's hope!

(-Nanymka Farrelly is a member of the Ivanna Eudora Kean High School Class of 1996.  She lives on St. Thomas) 


Related links :

Kean Honors Exceptional Alumnus Digna Marie Wheatley ;

Act No. 6674 :

Nanyamka Speakes :

Digna Marie Wheatley :


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