“Personal Legends” – A Testament to the Virgin Islands

“Personal Legends” – A Testament to the Virgin Islands

Good morning, and Happy 1st of March, also known down here as Virgin Islands History Month! 

Over the last three years, as a resident on St. John, I’ve learned about the deeply rooted, rich culture of the Virgin Islands. Picking fresh fruit from mango trees, eating saltfish and pates, and listening to the harmonious sounds of the steel pan are all aspects of this beautiful culture that I’ve come to know and love. 

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Moko Jumbies © Tsunami’s Photography

Recently coming across a series of interviews titled Personal Legends, created by the Friends of the Virgin Islands artist-in-residence Kayden Richards, I am reminded of the time-honored and diverse heritage of the Virgin Islands. By exploring generational traditions shared by nine subjects from St. John, St. Thomas, and St. Croix, Richards perfectly encapsulated the vibrant spirit of these islands and its people. 

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Kayden Richards, photographer and author of “Personal Legends”

Although an ancestral native to the Virgin Islands, Kayden Richards spent his teen years in Georgia attending high school. After he graduated, Richards took photography classes at a local technical college. Feeling the need to “move back home to better his community”, Kayden left Georgia and moved back to his native home of St. John.

And bettering his community is exactly what he’s doing. Already an impressive photographer, Kayden Richards was the honorary recipient to grant funding awarded by the Community Foundation of the Virgin Islands and funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities.

This grant’s purpose is to “enrich the lives of people throughout the U.S. Virgin Islands through projects focused on humanities education, lifelong learning, and public humanities programming.”

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Among the featured: Kharid Wallace, a taxi driver from STJ

The funding was then managed and mentored by Friends of the Park, “as a part of their Artist-In-Residence program that aims to help Virgin Islanders explore and develop their creative talents.” By being their artist-in-residence, Richards has had the opportunity to showcase his artistic skills further in Personal Legends by documenting the lives of nine native Virgin Islanders. 

Videoing these interviews in a montage, Personal Legends aims to “honor the strength and wisdom passed down through the ages, celebrating the triumphs and tribulations that have molded Virgin Islanders into the remarkable individuals they are today.” 

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Among the featured: Dale Brown, a modern farmer at Sejah Farm on STX

Collecting stories from a music producer, resin artist, and taxi driver to name a few, Personal Legends shares the interwoven cultural tapestry of the Virgin Islands history, heritage, and culture. Last week, I reached out to Richards to gain further insight on how he chose candidates for Personal Legends, what questions he asked, and what his message was for us, the reader.

What was your process in selecting candidates for this project?

I wanted to include all 3 Islands in this project. At least 2-3 people per Island. I reached out to friends and family on each Island asking them if they would know anyone who would be interested in being involved. It was a little difficult at first but everything fell into place at the right time. Everyone in the book I feel is following their personal legend. Striving for something they deeply desire. Not only for themselves but for the benefit of our community.”

What were some of the questions you asked / prompts?

“Some of the questions were: 

How long has your family been in the Virgin Islands? 

Is there one family member that inspired you the most? 

What motivates you the most?” 

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Leng & Baye – owners of Amore Arowako, being interviewed by Richards

What is the most important thing you hope people take away from the book?

This book is essentially a blueprint for people who have that burning desire to do more and be more, for themselves and their community. To show Virgin Islanders that there is more than one way to make a living here. You can actually do something you thoroughly enjoy and also make an impact at the same time. I want people to know that we are beautiful inside and out. We are resilient, innovative, resourceful and are guided by our ancestors knowingly or unknowingly. I want people to know we are connected to our Island in a deep way. We connected so deeply that we are extremely sensitive about our home and our culture. We desire to be respected and appreciated.”

If you could have one message for people visiting the Virgin Islands that had never been here before, what would it be?

I would say come to learn, be open, and come with good energy. We do not respect entitlement. Use all your senses to engulf yourself in the energy of the Virgin Islands, in the energy of our people and in the energy of our culture.”

If you could have one message for the future generations of the VI, what would it be?

“One message I would have for the future generation of the VI is to pay attention to that burning desire you have inside you. The passion you always think about and can’t seem to ignore. There is something higher calling you into action. I can say everyone in this book has felt that at least once along their journey. The stars will align for you if you keep going. It won’t be easy, but I promise if you keep going you will find a way.”

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©Tsunami’s Photography

I think we can expect great things from Richards as he continues to honor and preserve the culture of the Virgin Islands. Personal Legends (the hard copy) will be available soon for purchase at Tsunami’s Photography and on the Friends of the Virgin Islands website. If you’d like to listen and watch the interviews beforehand, the full version is also available at Tsunami’s Photography, along with Kayden’s captivating, Caribbean inspired photography collection.


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