Sept. 20, 2001 – If you — and especially if your children — want to talk about it, or listen to what others have to say about it, be at Tillett Gardens Saturday at 4 p.m. and plan on staying for a couple of hours.
"It" being what most people have been talking about to the exclusion of most everything else in the last 10 days — the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 and their aftermath for America and the world.
"We need to talk," says Jason Budsan, owner of Caribbean Herbals, a candlemaking and craft business located in Tillett Gardens.
Budsan and his landlady, Rhoda Tillett, are organizing the semi-informal forum Saturday from 4 to 6 p.m. in the hope of bringing diverse segments of the St. Thomas-St. John community, especially children, together to share their thoughts and feelings.
Dr. Olaf Hendricks, a St. Croix psychiatrist, is expected to moderate the discussion. Other community resource professionals who've said they'll take part include Michal Rhymer of Family Resource Center, Iris Kern of The Safety Zone on St. John, firefighter Daryl George, business executive Michael Bornn and educator Carol Henneman.
Budsan says he's still in the process of reaching out to various sectors of the community to encourage them to participate — school teachers and administrators, counselors, religious leaders, the Police and Education Departments and more.
He said Kern arranged for Hendricks to take part: "He flies to St. Thomas all the time, and Dr. Kern told me he is coming over on his own to do this." Hendricks could not be reached, but Kern confirmed that "he told me he was coming."
Budsan said the forum was inspired by a two-hour live program hosted by Peter Jennings on the ABC television network Saturday morning. Jennings met in a New York City school gymnasium with dozens of youngsters, from pre-school to high school age and from a variety of ethnic and religious backgrounds, and some of their parents. The children largely determined the directions in which the discussion moved, with Jennings calling on pre-positioned experts — in person and via video hookup — in everything from airline operations to the Muslim faith to respond to issues raised.
Then, Saturday afternoon, while Budsan was at work, he said, "I saw a lot of kids in Tillett Gardens, some crying, some just looking at their parents wondering whey they were so shocked at what they were watching on the television. I realized this is the future. Rhoda pulled me over and said 'What should we do?' I said we've got to help the children, the kids that come here. And she said, 'Yes, put it together.'"
Budsan said he started thinking about the ABC special. "I thought, that's exactly what we need to happen — a 'Graffiti Street'-type atmosphere, relaxed, the children speaking, telling each other and us what their fears are." He added, "A lot of the things they say are things we adults would like to say, but we aren't able to express ourselves."
Saturday's forum similarly will be relaxed in structure, Tillett said, and the hope is that Hendricks will serve as moderator.
While reaching out to children is the prime focus of the forum, Tillett said reaching out to the Arab and Muslim members of the local community is extremely important, too. As U.S. residents, they share the pain of the attack and also are experiencing backlash from people who judge them to be terrorist supporters because of their ethnicity or faith.
Tillett noted that she has a tenant who is an Arab and "asked him to come and to invite all his friends." Budsan went to the nearby Plaza Extra Supermarket, which is owned by Arabs, and asked general manager Willy Hamed to spread the word, "and he said he would."
For Tillett, who is Jewish, the forum comes in the midst of the annual observance of the Ten Days of Repentance, also called the High Holy Days. It is, Rabbi Jay Heyman of the Hebrew Congregation of St. Thomas said recently, "a period of self-examination and introspection … to examine our hearts and to plead our case before the Eternal." Activities during the period are directed toward reconciliation with both God and other people, he said, "to alter conduct, readjust values and set things right in one's personal life."
That, Tillett said, makes the forum appropriate. "We always want to do for people," she said. And if it become clear from Saturday's participants that there's more to be done, she'll help.
"If there is a desire after Saturday, if people want to come and share, then every Saturday we can put the microphone up and we can talk," she said. "What happened is all we're talking about, anyway. If you meet someone on the street, that's all you talk about."
Budsan's convinced already that the desire will be there to continue the dialogue. "It's going to be a series of meetings," he said. "One child will speak out, then another and another. Then the process will begin, and it's needed."
He added, "We've got to act now. It's not something that can wait until we feel more like dealing with it."
For additional information, call Budsan at 777-7190 or Tillett at 775-1929.


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