Bryan Sworn in, Pledges Change that Unites the Territory

Gov. Albert Bryan Jr. is sworn in Monday by Chief V.I. Supreme Court Justice Rhys S. Hodge.
Gov. Albert Bryan Jr. is sworn in Monday by Chief V.I. Supreme Court Justice Rhys S. Hodge.

Albert Bryan Jr. was sworn in Monday as governor of the Virgin Islands, promising to work for change that unites the territory.

“I am hopeful that as we lead the charge these next four years, we do so united as one people, one government and one territory, a oneness united in our desire to improve the quality of life and in our approach to confronting the issues impacting the V.I. community,” he said after taking the oath of office administered by Chief V.I. Supreme Court Justice Rhys S. Hodge. “The only solution is through unification. Our path must be inclusive of each island community and the nuances of the needs that exist within each.”

“Immense is the opportunity ahead, but there is a canyon of challenges still to cross,” he said. Looking back to the days of Hurricanes Irma and Maria, Bryan said residents then did not have a choice as they hunkered down in the night, working to secure friends and family before dawn broke.

“This time you have a choice,” he said, calling for the community to be courageous and rally for change, which he said is constant but often unpopular.

“Speak up and speak out,” Bryan added. “Our children are watching. We must all live the change we want to see.”

Before Bryan and Lt. Gov. Tregenza Roach even got to the podium, the first hour of Monday’s inauguration ceremony was filled with words of emotion from friends who not only shared words of unwavering belief in the new administration but hope for greater opportunities, a stronger recovery one year post-hurricanes and the overall “reunification” of the territory.

Calls for transparency, a restoration of trust in government and a separation of the Virgin Islands from national political turmoil were also woven through and, later, echoed by Bryan and Roach as they pledged to bring together, to be inclusive and to return the territory to its glory days.

Lt. Gov. Tregenza Roach speaks during Monday's inauguration ceremony.
Lt. Gov. Tregenza Roach speaks during Monday’s inauguration ceremony.

“Today’s history is a story of resilience,” Bryan-Roach campaign manager John Engerman said in opening remarks that set the tone for the morning. “A story where a group of Virgin Islanders rallied around a leader and made it their mission to ‘change course now.’ Change in any form is not easy and our work is not yet finished, but future generations will mark this morning as a turning point for real and necessary change in the territory. Many will look back and remember that this was the moment that our mantra reached the halls of Government House.”

At each break in the speeches the applause from the crowd, which covered most of Emancipation Garden, was thunderous. The audience laughed when the speakers laughed, cheered when the messages were inspirational and, when there were tears, could be seen pulling out tissues or bowing their heads.

“Many are called, but few are chosen,” veteran teacher and writer Elaine Jacobs, who introduced Roach, said. Taken out of its biblical context, Jacobs said the sentence alone was enough to describe this year’s political season – where many answering a call to service threw their hats into the ring – and profound enough to convey the weight of responsibility now left on the winning team.

It also conveyed the collective belief of each voter who helped put Bryan and Roach into office, and symbolic of their faith in what the Virgin Islands could be.

“This is our time to be good again,” said Roach, whose thoughts seemed to pick up where Jacobs’ left off. “We can be good again, we can be mighty.”

Framed against the backdrop of Hurricanes Irma and Maria, Roach described the territory as he remembered it as a youngster who immigrated from St. Kitts in the 1960’s. The town he described as “enchanting” has since declined, crowded by overdevelopment, and on the campaign trail, the team had talked about a rebirth.

“We have lamented the loss of luster that once made our island shine,” Roach said of St. Thomas. Made worse by last year’s storms, Roach considered how he could be most impactful, and decided to enter the race for lieutenant governor.

“I saw that the moment to make an impact is now,” he said. “And that very often, we just have the moment and sometimes tomorrow is a dream deferred.”

Speaking of his love for the Virgin Islands, Roach expressed his gratitude to the community for making it possible for him to even dream of being able to make a difference.

“This is a singular privilege, and it is especially so for someone like me who is not native to this place and especially now when throughout the United States, a sentiment of nationalism is taking hold and with it, an anti-immigrant bias,” he said. “That we were once outside the fold, and now within as family, we have a lot to teach the country, and we have a lot to teach the world about the riches that abound when we stand together.”