by Zoë Carlton
Of all the VIP arrivals at V.C. Bird International airport, that of Team Antigua Island Girls, on August 1st 2023 will remain as one of the most emotional and memorable. What more appropriate day could there be than Emancipation Day, for three heroines of Antigua to return home from conquering not one, but two oceans.
In July, Team Island Girls became the world’s first all-black team to voluntarily row across the Atlantic Ocean.
After 2,800 miles of rowing, 41 days, seven hours and five minutes, Kevinia Francis, Samara Emmanuel and Chrystal Clashing landed rather more comfortably on Antigua soil to glory, laud and honour. They were greeted by the Prime Minister, Gaston Browne, Minister Daryl Matthew, Senator Samantha Marshall, Tourism Authority’s Colin James and a host of family, friends and fans.
The team arrived in Hawaii on 23rd July after a precarious 14 hours’ solid rowing, against winds and swells that threatened to push them north and away from their goal. Courage and determination got them through what they describe as the worst leg of the whole trip. They landed safely, if utterly exhausted. “Sheer willpower and determination pulled us through to the end…we were not going to accept a rope to be towed in and do …. the ‘row of shame’ “.
The girls rowed the Atlantic and the Pacific to raise money and awareness to establish a home for girls in Antigua in conflict with the law; to provide a Cottage of Hope. Senator Marshall commended the girls’ commitment and declared on behalf of the government that such commitment should and would be honoured. “There will be” she said “a home for our girls in need”. This sentiment was echoed by the Prime Minister, who personally committed a donation of $20,000.
The resilience and courage of the girls, he said shows the “courage & resilience [that] is in the DNA of the people of Antigua and Barbuda.” He gave a clarion call to “all Antiguans and Barbudans to use this experience, this achievement of Team Antigua Island Girls to aspire to even higher levels of achievement”
Clearly tired, but still running on adrenaline, Samara, Kevinia and Chrystal thanked all Antigua and Barbuda for their prayers and support. They were honoured, said Kevinia to have “stepped into places where there is no representation.” She encouraged others to do the same: “You can do it” she said.
The real fun started as the girls poised themselves on an open car and amid cheers, flag waving and music, the motorcade set off. Down Airport Road and into St John’s, music and cheers and car horns echoing through the streets of the town, to be joined by young cheer-leaders and dancers on Market Street and up to the St John Luce building.
The love and pride for the Island Girls was palpable as people cheered and waved; as all speakers said: “The People of Antigua and Barbuda thank you.”