Benita Martin honored for Selfless Service

Award Ceremony for the Helen Gjessing Community Service Award happening now at the University of the Virgin Islands

Posted by DaraMonifah Cooper on Thursday, February 23, 2017

Honoring this year’s recipient of the Helen Gjessing Community Service Award, Ms. Benita Martin, the community is invited to a gathering this coming Thursday at UVI’s ACC Building in the 1st floor conference room, between 6:30 – 8:30 pm.

Over the past twenty years Benita helped keep vital elements of local culture alive, collectively working with a number of organizations that promote, preserve, and defend the future and ability of Virgin Islanders to practice self-determination, and to foster the most basic forms of healthy life and living.  Some of those culturally-based organizations include the Pan-African Support Group, Afrikan Liberation Day, Rastafari Improvement Association, Kwanzaa365, Sankofa Saturdays, Per Ankh, Inc., Queens of the Earth, and the African Diaspora Youth Development Foundation. She has also provided eight years of service to the Dollar for Dollar Coal Carrying Annual Commemoration and ten years to The St. John African Slave Revolution Annual Commemoration.

Benita’s tireless efforts to help preserve the land and sea of our delicate islands include work with the Environmental Rangers, Environmental Association of St. Thomas (EAST), Virgin Islands Recycle Partnership (VIRP), Waste Management Authority (WMA) Community Advisor Board, Camp Umoja Academy, and the Virgin Islands Conservation Society (VICS).

Sponsors for this year’s event include: The University of the Virgin Islands, The St. Thomas Restaurant Group, Buddha Sushi, WUVI Student Radio Station, Sankofa Saturdays Youth Initiative, DaraMonifah.com, and Ms. Cheryl Rae.

Read more about Sister Benita and the award below. 

Named in honor of Ms. Helen Gjessing, this award is perhaps one of the more difficult awards to earn. It is about living life with an attitude of service to, and care of the world around us in a way that exemplifies similarities to Helen herself. Throughout her life, Helen Gjessing has been a quiet force. Never one to garner accolades, she simply “showed up” for decades in the Virgin Islands, in her quiet and unassuming way, to do what she could and what was needed, to make a positive difference. That is what this award is about.

A resident of St. Thomas since 1958, Helen is an environmental-activist powerhouse.  She was given the first “Connie” award from the National Wildlife Federation in 2010; has “Emeritus” status at the University of Virgin Islands-St. Thomas Campus, where she retired in 1999 after teaching biology for thirty-four years; and served on and chaired the League of Women Voters’ Planning and Environmental Quality Committee, tirelessly reviewing countless permit applications and reports on behalf of territorial environmental protections. In short, Helen is the type service-minded individual that communities around the world can only hope to call their own. To read more about Helen’s life and activities in the USVI, follow the About Helen link on this website.

The Helen Gjessing Community Service Award is given out annually, if an individual comes to the fore that year who’s observed to live their life in the spirit of the type of service to the community that Helen epitomized, and which is typically unpaid. Someone who quietly, and again and again, shows up and helps encourage and accomplish things toward a better world. There is no monetary gift with this award. It is given by citizens, to citizens, in recognition of and as an opportunity to honor those who selflessly give, and live a life of giving to the world around them. The public is however invited to make donations, if so inclined, to whatever cause(s) or projects are embraced to the recipient of that year’s award. Based on suggestions from the public on persons deserving of the award, each year’s recipient will join with Helen and anonymous founders of the event in the decision for the following year’s recipient of the award (with the number of persons participating in that process increasing by one each year). The public is invited to submit suggestions for the next recipient of the HG Community Service Award using the Submissions link on the above website.

In that spirit of selfless community service, Ms. Benita Diana Martin has been selected to receive this year’s award. 

Benita was born in Detroit, MI (1952), though has long been proud to call the Virgin Islands her home. Benita gave birth to five children — Ayinde, Naima, Ariel, Amad, and Lukata — while providing a mother’s love to numerous youth throughout the world.

Benita’s professional career began in 1979 after graduating with a master’s degree in Blind Rehabilitation.  She has provided orientation and mobility (travel skills) Braille and vision training and other vision services to blind and visually impaired children and adults throughout the United States, Kuwait, Egypt, and in 1994 with the Virgin Islands Department of Education.  Benita continues to provide services to various organizations to address issues of person with a disability in the Virgin Islands including VI Find, Center for Independent Living, and the VI Special Olympic – St. Thomas.

Benita began her studies in alternative organic system farm practice in 1978.  After becoming a vegetarian, she realized that we must grow what we eat and educate our community on how the current fast food system generates too many health issues.  In 1995 she began to put her knowledge of organic farming into practice at Green Thumb Farm (GTF) in the St. Thomas Bordeaux area, building a fully operational 20×80 greenhouse, and assisting with all aspects of the farm, making it one of the most productive sustainable organic farms on the island. Benita joined We Grow Food Inc., noting the importance of providing food for their community. She has since served as a board member and is currently co-chairperson of the Future Development Committee. Benita has greatly aided in the development of projects/activities for the advancement of agriculture in the Virgin Islands to include: Land Agreement between Livestock Association and Bordeaux Crop Farmers Source.

In short, Benita is a caretaker of mother earth, continually involved in projects contributing to improved conditions and resources critical to healthy on-island farming practices. She is a vital member of the Bordeaux Farmers Annual Agriculture and Cultural Fair and the Bordeaux Farmer’s Market, as well as, the 1998, 2004, and 2005 Agriculture & Culture Summer Camp.  Benita has worked with many agriculture organizations and educational programs with goals to promote, develop, preserve and defend agriculture in the Virgin Islands.  They include Farmers In Action, Southeastern African American Farmers Organic Network – Caribbean Initiative, Virgin Islands Farmers’ Cooperative, Islands Food Security Inc. (The Network), Emerald Thumb Garden and the Gladys Abraham; Ulla F. Muller; and Lockhart elementary school’s garden clubs.

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