V.I. Scholars Fosters Future Community Leaders Ready To Make a Difference
As a junior high school student on St. John, Lincoln Liburd saw a big problem facing his peers.
“There weren’t many constructive programs for youth on St. John then,” said Liburd. “I would see kids in school uniforms sitting next to kids not in uniforms, meaning they had dropped out of school, spending hour after hour just hanging out at the bandstand in Cruz Bay.”
“I thought it was only a matter of time before the kids in the uniforms ended up as drop-outs too; perpetuating the cycle,” Liburd said.
With that vision in mind, Liburd launched a tennis program to give himself and his peers something to do after school. Liburd was only 14 years old at the time.
“I was 14 years old and I barely had an idea of what to do and had no money,” said Liburd. “But I started the after school program and it grew to draw 30 kids from kindergarten to 12th grade from all different backgrounds and public and private schools. They were coming out of the bushes essentially to get involved.”
“Essentially the program was about teaching kids how to make the right decisions on and off the court,” he said. “Kids from that program went to compete in tournaments, and many went on to college.”
Liburd went on to graduate from Gifft Hill School in 2008 at the top of his class. He set out for Stanford University in California with that same desire to improve the world around him.
“I wanted to find a meaningful way to give back on the local, national and international levels,” said Liburd. “I got the idea to provide a type of program for kids that I wish I had when I was growing up on St. John.”
Liburd recently earned his bachelor’s degree from Stanford with an independent study of management science and engineering with a minor in education and, remaining true to his vision, returned to Love City this summer to lead the second annual V.I. Scholars Summer Leadership Institute.
The free three week program brought high school students from across St. Thomas and St. John together at a GHS classroom for daily sessions focusing on how to succeed, motivate others and improve their communities with that support which Liburd lacked when he was a teenager.
“My idea was to provide kids with everything they would need to start things like the tennis program I started, but to support their efforts,” said Liburd. “We put them in a group and scale their services to serve hundreds of kids throughout the territory.”
On the heels of last summer’s first annual VI Scholars Summer Leadership Institute, which graduated seven students, Liburd and a five fellow Stanford students and alumni welcomed a group of 13 students, representing most high schools on St. Thomas including private, public and parochial schools.
The students split into three separate groups which each conceived a different way to impact their community, with what Liburd termed “social impact projects.”
The students came up with their own projects this year; Conserving Local Energy Efficiently and Naturally (CLEEN), V.I. Helping Our Own People Succeed (VI HOOPS) and Coral Reef Protectors Project.
“The students in CLEEN are partnering with the Department of Energy to help bring a successful weatherization program from St. Croix to St. John and St. Thomas,” Liburd said. “The idea is to reach low income families and other individuals with energy efficiency and affordable energy.”
VI HOOPS will provide a biannual basketball tournament to help raise awareness about violence in the community and to give teens an alternative to getting involved in gangs and violence.
Coral Reef Protectors Project is an environmental group which will raise awareness among both local residents and tourists about the damage being done to coral reefs.
While each group, and each member of each group, is different, the students are all focused on one thing: improving their community, Liburd explained.
“The kids are so diverse and are coming from all parts of society but they are all passionate about what they want to see happen,” he said. “That is part of the philosophy, that you have to provide a solution which gets everyone involved and appeal to students of all socioeconomic backgrounds from the very wealthy kids to the kids who don’t have a dollar to catch the free boat over here to take advantage of our free program.”
The social impact projects also allow VI Scholars leaders to understand what is important to students, Liburd added.
“You see what issues are being faced all across the board and you get a pulse of what kids are thinking about all throughout the community,” he said. “That is important about the social impact projects; the kids want to make a difference in the Virgin Islands and when they go back to the community, they are a positive impact on their fellow students.”
Students in the VI Scholars Summer Leadership Institute also had the opportunity to hear from inspiring and dynamic speakers, from Rhode Scholars to local commissioners to Delegate to Congress Donna Christensen.
“Students were exposed to speakers who are true leaders and they were able to engage them in a way that was extremely open,” said Liburd. “The students were able to ask questions and learn the qualities that are important for leadership of all kinds.”
Looking ahead, Liburd hopes VI Scholars can grow into an intensive program with students from throughout the Virgin Islands. He also hopes to realize a funding source and attract partnerships which will enable the program to continue in his absence, Liburd explained.
“The hope is that we can go out and find a leadership team locally and be able to raise the capital to put in place a residential program which could take place at UVI where students from St. Croix, St. Thomas, St. John and Water Island can all get together in one place for a four-week period,” said Liburd. “We would build the community around the organization to surround these kids with people who care deeply about their goals.”
“We need to have something that is sustainable,” Liburd said. “We need to have a team in place who can be here year round so that when I’m not here, everything doesn’t just go away. I can’t do this alone.”
Liburd’s motivation is simple, seeing the difference in students who complete the program.
“You see where the kids come in and then how they leave and it’s mind-blowing,” he said. “You wouldn’t believe this is something that can happen in three weeks.”
VI Scholars is under the fiscal umbrella of the Community Foundation of the Virgin Islands. To make a donation to the group, send checks with “VI Scholars” in the memo line to CFVI, PO Box 11790, St. Thomas, VI, 00801.