March 27, 2005 – Joyce Brown describes herself as an "around the way girl," referring to the phrase made popular by rapper LL Cool J in the early 80s. Born in the Bronx, New York, Brown is the second of four children. Her mother and father moved to St. Croix in 1971, following the advice of long-time friends who said St. Croix was a better place to raise children than the urban sprawl of the city.
But Brown is not your typical "girl from the block," she is also an experienced advocate for women's and youth's rights. Her career choice – and her move to St. Croix – were both dictated by fate, and a close brush with death.
Brown was just beginning her first year at Adlai E. Stevenson High School in the Bronx, when, in December, her parents decided to escape the city. When she arrived in St. Croix the first thing that struck her was the tropical heat. "It was 20 degrees when we left New York and 86 degrees when we got here," Brown says. "We started taking off our coats and sweaters and it was still hot."
Brown was enrolled in St. Croix Central High – another shock. "I went from hot pants and high heels to bobby socks and knee-length pleated skirts," she says. She also didn't expect there would be a communication problem between her and her fellow students. "There was a language barrier, and I couldn't understand a word that was being said." Brown recalled the phrases she had the most trouble with.
"Wha pa' you been?"
"Wha, pa' you going?"
"Wha' pa' you 'dere?"
"I would ask them to please fill in the missing letters for me," Brown says. "It was total culture shock. I couldn't understand the dialect; I didn't understand the culture, and I didn't want to be here."
Despite the obstacles, Brown survived high school life in St. Croix and eventually moved back stateside, and so did her family.
The years following her return to the states were tumultuous ones for Brown. While living in South Carolina, Brown found herself involved in an abusive relationship.
In 1981, in a fit of rage, her daughter's father hit her with a hammer ten times in the head and left her for dead. Miraculously, she survived. The experience proved to be a turning point in her life.
After the incident, Brown, her baby daughter, and two older siblings were living in a shelter when a counselor asked her if she wanted to make a difference for women who found themselves in a similar situation. "They asked me if I wanted to tell my story to the public."
Brown testified in front of the state legislature and was instrumental in strengthening South Carolina's laws protecting victims of domestic violence.
She was invited to appear on several television talk shows, including Sally Jessie Raphael, and "A Closer Look," with Faith Daniels and Oprah Winfrey. Brown had become a full-fledged advocate for women's rights. She would eventually move to Florida to continue her advocacy.
Brown served on the Florida Governor's Task Force for Domestic Violence and Sexual Abuse, the Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence, and she chaired the Florida Women of Color Caucus.
Dealing with the justice system and women's rights motivated Brown's quest for higher education as well as personal empowerment. "I enrolled in college, got a degree in criminal justice, and learned to shoot a .357 Magnum," Brown says.
Brown said she often recalled her school days in St. Croix and tried to get in touch with old friends. "I thought a lot about the simpler days in St. Croix, where the sky was closer to the earth. I came to realize the states were not my home, and although I was not born in St. Croix, my roots were here."
It took Brown over 33 years to come "home", and, a year ago, she packed up everything she owns and relocated back to St. Croix.
"I love the relaxed lifestyle. The same things that sometimes get you irritated are the same things that make you love living in the islands." She cites as an example a recent visit to the airport to pick up a relative. "I just drove up to the curb like everyone else – in the states you have to park far away and walk," she says. "When I was ready to leave, someone was blocking me in and that could be irritating, but I made the decision not to complain about the small stuff."
Brown asks where else can you leave work and spend your lunch break by the water. "You don't have to be a certain class, or spend a lot of money at a high-priced restaurant. These things are here for everybody to enjoy."
Brown is still a voice for those who need it. She is the program coordinator for the Unity Coalition, a project of the Village, Virgin Islands Partners in Recovery. Unity, which hosts the annual Teen Summit, advocates youth issues, especially in the area of drug and alcohol prevention and youth violence.
Brown says not a day goes by when she regrets making the decision to relocate. Her motto? "Love the life you live and live the life you love."
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