For Hurricane Relief, Caribbean Americans Step In Where US Media and Government Fall Short

A reveler waves the flag of Dominica at the annual Miami Broward One Carnival on Oct. 7, 2017. (Kenya Downs)

When it comes to economic stability, many experts invoke the old cliché that when the U.S. sneezes, the Caribbean catches pneumonia. But who helps nurse the Caribbean back to health?

After hurricanes ravaged islands throughout the Lesser Antilles, images of the devastation flooded news sites and social media but were followed by an immediate pivot to nonstop coverage of Florida’s storm preparation. According to Media Matters, top Sunday-morning news outlets spent less than one minute discussing Puerto Rico immediately following Hurricane Maria. Even less time was devoted to coverage of other islands, or those affected by hurricanes Irma and Jose, leaving Caribbean families in the dark.

“We’ve had to look out for our people because if this shows us anything, it’s that we’re all we’ve got.”

—Sheniko Frett, President of Virgin Islands worldwide

“My sister called me from Tortola in tears because they weren’t being told anything,” says Lester Liburd, a Washington, D.C.-based photographer from the British Virgin Islands. “They get American channels, so when they’re trying to find out what’s happening on our own island, they couldn’t. It was all about Florida.”

A lack of adequate news updates can hinder relief and recovery efforts. But for Caribbean Diasporas in the U.S., when the media and public fall short, it’s their time to step up. Caribbean Americans are leading the way to make sure the region isn’t forgotten.

“We’ve had to be our own media,” says Sheniko Frett, president of Virgin Islands Worldwide and a federal director of operations at the nonprofit, who is from St. Thomas. Following Irma’s landfall, Frett united Caribbean-American business and community leaders in the D.C. area to form the Caribbean Disaster Relief and Recovery Alliance. Together with representatives of several Caribbean nations, they’re sending…

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