St. Johnian Cheryl Boynes-Jackson has never allowed adversity to stand in her way, or let traditional female societal constraints dictate her actions.
As vice president and general manager of her familys barge business, Boyson Inc., she follows in the footsteps of her grandfather, the late Captain Loredon Boynes Sr.after whom the Cruz Bay dock was namedand her father, Captain Noel Boynes Sr.
I came from a seagoing family, she said. My parents started the business back in 1973, and I worked there since I was a little kid. I like the sea, and its something that I really enjoy doing.
Boynes-Jackson has been breaking out of traditional female roles since she graduated from Charlotte Amalie High School in 1980.
A First for Black Women
I was fortunate enough to become the first black female ocean operator in the Virgin Islands, she said. My father and grandfather helped me study and my uncles helped me practice. My family has always been very supportive.
Before she took the reins of the family business, Boynes-Jackson blazed her trail in the U.S. Coast Guard.
I was in the Coast Guard for four-and-a-half years, she said. I was a presidential honor guard in Washington, D.C. under president Ronald Reagan. When he had visiting dignitaries, I was part of the elite troops that he showed off.
As part of her U.S. Coast Guard duty, Boynes-Jackson also served on the law enforcement search and rescue team.
We went out on boats and tried to find and retrieve missing personnel, she said. I cant really discuss much of it, but we pretty much worked trying to find people running drugs through the Florida Keys.
It was during her military career that Boynes-Jackson first witnessed racism rear its ugly head.
When I originally went into the military, I had a bit of difficulty, she said. Its sad to say that it was also the first time that I encountered racism. It wasnt the place I was, I would say that it was more the military itself.
Despite her personal struggles with the military, Boynes-Jackson still encourages others to sign upand she walks the walk, her own daughter is currently enrolled in the U.S. Air Force.
I encourage any and every male and female to join, because its a good service and a good way to gain discipline, she said. Its a great head start because not everyone wants to get out of school and jump right into college.
The military is a great way to learn a skill, and it helps you determine what direction you really want to go in, she added. After her miliary service, Boynes-Jackson returned to St. John and took the helm of her familys business.
The business was growing, she said. After the experience that I gained, I wanted to come back and work with my family, and make the business improve and grow.
Home Is Paradise
St. John is, and will always be, my home, Boynes-Jackson continued. I would never trade it for any other place in the world. It is the true meaning of paradise.
From growing up in Cruz Bay, and attending Julius E. Sprauve School, Boynes-Jackson has seen her treasured island home undergo extensive change over the years.
The schools here arent what they used to be when I was there, she said. I really feel that the school should be relocated to a place where the kids can be in a safer environment.
Julius E. Sprauve School was an institution of strict discipline when Boynes-Jackson was in school.
We dont have the same types of teachers that we had when I was little, she said. I would love for them to come back. The kids were still kids then, but they were respectful.
I think that we have lost a bit of that in todays age, Boynes-Jackson continued. It starts from the home, but the parents need to allow the teachers to go back to teaching our kids to be respectful to adults.
Although Black History Month means different things to different people, Boynes-Jackson believes on St. John it should be a time to take a look at the local community.
I see this time as a chance for us to look at our peers and ourselves and learn from each other, she said. We should look at ourselves and see what we have contributed, and what we can contribute, to our community. And not just to help ourselves, but to help teach each other and grow and achieve from it.
In the Virgin Islands people often look to outside sources for inspiration, but the community should look within, according to Boynes-Jackson.
Supporting Each Other
We often look out there in the world and see others that we want to be like, she said. But we need to look at our own, at us islanders, and be the people who we know that we can be. We are limited here in the islands, and we need to be here for each other.
For the past 15 years, Boynes-Jackson has been living by example, though the Boyson Inc.s scholarship fund.
We offer scholarships for St. John students who are graduating and going on to college, she said. But we dont award the best student, necessarily. The valedictorian always gets everything, so we try to find that other person who has done well in school and could use the additional support.
Boynes-Jackson never rests on her laurels. She recently upgraded her 100 ton captains license to a 200 ton license and is still looking toward the future.
There is always room for growth, she said. I think the last thing that I would really like to accomplish before I retire is increase my license to 1,600 tonas high as you can go.
Boynes-Jackson is also a community activist, and has worked with a number of local organizations, including the St. John Queen/Prince and Princess Committee, the V.I. Captains Association and the American Red Cross. She is also a member of the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary St. Thomas-St. John Flotilla.
A Family Affair
At Boyson Inc., seafaring is still a family affair. Boynes-Jacksons childrenChemica, who serves in the U.S. Air Force, and Michael Jr., who attends Howard Universityboth acquired their 100 ton ocean operator licenses last year.