There are those who walk among us who know that taking action today ensures a better future for tomorrow. This issue we salute eight local heroes whose leadership, passion and tireless work is solely for the betterment of Bermuda. They share a belief that to make a meaningful contribution to this island, you have to roll up your sleeves and get things done.
Whether you agree with their mission or not, they are smart, passionate, innovative, tenacious and we think, the brightest lights in our community this year.
The Activists: Bermuda Pride Organisers
When Chen Foley, Liz Christopher and David Northcott first got Pride into the Bermuda diary, they anticipated a few hundred attendees. Closer to the time this became 1,500. On August 31, 2019, over 6,000 people made their way through Hamilton in an overwhelming show of support for the LGBTQI+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or questioning and intersex) community.
“It’s about diversity and not just the one kind of diversity. Also race,” says Christopher. “That as a wider community we need to wrap our head around and this is a start. Acknowledging all the different types of people in the queer community and it’s trying to pull everybody together and understand what diversity really means. I think we achieved that. I think a lot of people didn’t know there are so many safe places.”
“People who come up to you and are excited about Pride are not just young gay men,” adds Foley. “It was meaningful for the whole island.”
Foley, Christopher and Northcott have been fighting to combat homophobia for a long time, and the idea for the Pride event came after they attended the Beyond Homophobia: Navigating the State conference in Jamaica, in January.
At the conference, Christopher talked about the Stubbs Bill, which partially decriminalised homosexuality in 1994, Northcott about the sexual orientation amendment to the Human Rights Act, and Foley the “Bermuda Bred” case, which granted non-Bermudian same-sex partners of Bermudians the same rights to live and work on the island as those in mixed-sex marriages.
While they were in Jamaica, the organisers realised that many of the other Caribbean nations represented were behind Bermuda legally, but says Northcott, “more ahead in terms of social advances including the fact that they’d all had Pride. We looked at each other and said ‘Bermuda has no Pride! We have to have Pride!’”
Their first challenge was agreeing on a date. “We knew that it was the 25th anniversary of the Stubbs Bill,” he continues. “We deliberately wanted to make Bermuda Pride Bermudian and Bermuda relevant so we settled on August 31st because that was the closest to the Stubbs bill.”
The next challenge, explains Foley, was getting funding. Initially there was no interest from private organisations, so OUTBermuda, of which he was chairman at the time, agreed to underwrite the event. But, he says, “once there was momentum, the support was phenomenal.”
The feedback all three received after Pride was “incredible.”
“The number of people who said ‘I never thought this would happen and I’m so grateful,’” says Northcott.
“Another cool thing that came out of the event was that there were parents,” says Foley. “Parents feel isolated when they have a child that comes out to them. It’s important for parents to feel that they have a support system as well.”
The organisers are already planning for next year’s Pride event. “The way that it looks doesn’t have to stay the same. It can morph and evolve,” says Foley. “We need to improve and be more inclusive of trans issues,” says Northcott. The ultimate objective, adds Christopher, is “that everybody feels accepted.”
The Protector: Debi Ray-Rivers
Debi Ray-Rivers Today, many of Bermuda’s individuals and organisations entrusted with caring for and/or teaching children are required to take certified training from the charity Saving Children and Revealing Secrets (SCARS). Since May 2012, 9,616 adults have received certified training, while 1,075 have been re-certified.
This is a huge accolade for Debi Ray-Rivers, founder and executive director of SCARS, the first and only organisation in Bermuda to offer prevention education training about child sexual abuse. She couldn’t be more delighted because she remembers only too well when incidents of child sexual abuse were often shrouded in secrecy and silence and when resources for prevention and raising awareness of the issue were either scant or non-existent. A survivor of child sexual abuse herself, she was devastated to discover in 2004 that her own daughters had been sexually abused by a trusted family member, and she came to realise how little support was available in Bermuda. Admirably, she has made it her calling to rectify the situation, founding SCARS in 2011. Through her research, she discovered that Darkness to Light, an American organisation whose mission is to end child sexual abuse, offered a Stewards of Children programme, which SCARS now offers in Bermuda.
As a result of attending SCARS three-hour Darkness to Light (D2L) Stewards of Children programme, teachers and carers have a far greater awareness of child sexual abuse. They learn how it devastates children, how it can be prevented, how parents and carers can recognise signs that abuse might be happening and how victims and their families can be supported. Two other one-hour programmes are also offered: Darkness to Light Community Awareness and SAFE (SCARS Arms Families through Education). Participants are also given access to a lending library with books and other useful resources.
Ray-Rivers suspected the problem of child abuse is prevalent in Bermuda but she did not realise to what extent. After creating a survey with the help of the Bermuda Health Council, which distributed it in 2017 to the 6,000 people who had been certified, 740 responses were received from people who had experienced sexual abuse as a child. The survey results suggest about one in three adults in Bermuda has suffered some kind of sexual exploitation.
This statistic demonstrates how vital SCARS is for protecting our children from an evil that, yes, leaves permanent emotional scars. Often, she says, victims and their families are driven by a false sense of shame into hiding and keeping quiet about their experiences, which enables the abusers. But once silence and secrecy are lifted, sexual abusers lose their power. The good news is that according to the Department of Public Prosecutions, reports of child sexual abuse since SCARS was founded increased after 2014 by 125 percent. People are now more willing to speak up. The fact that, to date, approximately 18 percent of the island’s adult population have been certified is also positive. Thanks to Ray-Rivers’s vision, parents, teachers, coaches and carers are now better able to protect the innocence of our children through greater awareness and preventive training. It is her hope that eventually a child advocacy centre in Bermuda may be founded and that SCARS organisations will be formed everywhere in the world, starting with the Caribbean countries. Her ultimate vision is a world without child sexual abuse.
The Environmentalist: Richard Winchell
Ever since he enjoyed the pleasures of “turning over rocks” as a school boy at Warwick Academy and Bermuda Institute, Richard Winchell has taken huge pleasure in offering his services to any organisations related to the environment and to educating people about it. For 20 years he was principal curator at the Bermuda Aquarium, Museum & Zoo (BAMZ), heading in 1994 their first capital campaign to fund the Caribbean, North Rock, and Australasia exhibits. He stepped down from his position in 1999, moving professionally into international business, but 10 years later reconnected by becoming volunteer and president of the non-profit Bermuda Zoological Society, support charity for BAMZ. During that time BAMZ had the wonderful opportunity to acquire Lot 2 of Trunk Island in Harrington Sound, and Winchell rose to the challenge of raising funds to make the acquisition possible. The BZS, which devotes itself to stimulating an understanding and appreciation for the environment in all members of the community, had already, in partnership with the Gardner family, acquired a third of a four-acre plot. The additional 2.41 acres include a cottage, ideal for running aqua camp explorer classes directly from Trunk Island in the summer, a dock, rocky shoreline and beach. Fund-raising was entirely successful. They raised five-and-a-half million dollars, including a two million dollar endowment to provide ongoing support and maintenance.
Was fund-raising difficult? “No,” says Winchell firmly. “Trunk Island sold itself.” Besides, he sees fund-raising not as a chore but as a “privilege that allows us to improve the world around us. Every donation large or small is important because you want the community to feel part of it. Often fund-raising is about making a dream achievable, about the joining of hearts and minds. If a project makes sense, improves the community and is sustainable, then it can be achieved.”
The successful fund-raising campaign for acquiring more of Trunk Island has proved him right. As he enthusiastically explains, Trunk Island has joined Nonsuch Island in being treated as a nature reserve but while Nonsuch has long been dubbed a “living museum,” Trunk Island will be more a “living classroom,” perfect for allowing students to be immersed in a hands-on, practical approach to learning about the complexities of native and endemic plants in Bermuda’s natural environment and the crucial importance of saving it. So far 1,500 students a year, mostly from public schools, have experienced courses or camps on Trunk Island. The aim is to attract 3,000 students a year.
Winchell is very happy about the restoration work carried out on Trunk Island so far. Under the current principal curator Dr Ian Walker, president Colin Brown, and David Wingate’s management, volunteers from companies and individual unpaid helpers have cleared Trunk Island of casuarinas and rats. Now they are cutting invasive Brazilian pepper trees and Chinese fan palms, wood chipping and planting areas with native and endemic species. A mangrove habitat on Trunk Island is also being planned.
Winchell loves being involved with BZS and the Trunk Island project. “When I volunteer,” he says, “I always have a smile on my face.” Now second vice president of BZS, Winchell chairs a number of committees devoted to protecting and generating appreciation for Bermuda’s natural environment. He quotes Margaraet Meade: “Never underestimate what a committed group can do.” But he also has his own axiom: “Each of us has an ability to make things better.”
Winchell’s commitment to BAMZ and BZS has certainly proved that.
The Influencer: Shiona Turini
US-based Bermudian style guru, Shiona Turini, has worked for, and with, some of the biggest names in fashion and show business. When she publishes an Instagram story, 184,000 people see it. She’s “a force in the best sense of the word,” says Victoria Isley, Chief Sales and Marketing Officer at the Bermuda Tourism Authority, who also has a “passion for home.”
The stylist and costume designer moved to New York 16 years ago for an internship it turned out she didn’t actually have and through sheer determination, hard work and a refusal to stop turning up at Yves Saint Laurent in New York until they employed her, Turini has now become a household name among the highest echelons of the fashion industry.
She wanted to work at Yves Saint Laurent because she was “obsessed with the brand. I knew they were the first brand that put black models on the runway and they were the first brand that put women in suits.” High profile jobs at W Magazine, Teen Vogue, CR Fashion Book and Cosmopolitan then followed before she decided to go it alone.
In spite of her fame and success, she still devotes time to her Island roots and regularly comes back to Bermuda not just to visit her extensive family but also to promote the Island to her followers. “I’m from the best place in the world,” she says. “Bermuda definitely is an endless source of creative inspiration to me. The people, the culture, the traditions, the beach, the ocean, the lifestyle and the way in which I grew up has been a huge influence on my aesthetic and my work.”
Growing up in between Paget and Devil’s Hole, Turini always knew she wanted to work in fashion and had strong opinions about her outfits early on. In primary school she challenged her mother endlessly by threatening to show up to school naked instead of in uniform. She also learned to sew at an early age to supplement her wardrobe.
Turini throws that passion and determination into everything she does. She wants to create “content that highlights talented black creators who are often overlooked” and that powerful message comes across throughout her work and the brands and people she promotes.
She was part of the style team on Beyoncé’s Grammy Award winning music video, Formation, wardrobe stylist for the Nike ‘Equals’ campaign and costume designer for Season 3 of ‘Insecure’. She recently worked on her first feature film, ‘Queen & Slim’, starring Daniel Kaluuya and Jodie Turner-Smith, which says Turini, tells “a story for the culture. One that aptly and uniquely unpacks the state of being black in society. A story about heart, fear, strength and the realities of our humanity.”
This summer she wrote “72 Hours in Bermuda” in Essence magazine and in May, Turini returned to be Marshal of the Bermuda Day Parade, which again, she shared with her mountain of followers. “I’ve had a lot of jobs in my life,” she says, “but none have been more intimidating than coming home and representing ‘Bermudian Excellence’ for my community.”
“Her willingness to leverage the influential network she’s built on her own for the benefit of Bermuda is worthy of recognition,” adds Isley.
The Visionaries: The Murphy Family
Opened in 1931, the Bermuda Railway rattled and shook its way from one end of the island to another with locals, military and tourists alike enjoying scenic views from its 33 bridges and trestles. In 1948 the service came to an end and the rolling stock sold to what was then British Guiana. But the railway left behind a right of way, which officially became the Railway Trail in 1964, and was designated a Bermuda National Park in 1986. Nearly 30 years later users of the trail were delighted to see two unfamiliar footbridges over Winton Hill and Bailey’s Bay open, thus restoring the connectivity these areas had possessed in the days of the train. In 2015 the bridge over Store Hill was erected and in 2018 another over the north shore near Flatts, allowing the clear view of Gibbet Island passengers once had enjoyed from the train windows. This wonderful enhancement to one of the island’s most popular recreational attractions is thanks to the vision of the Friends of the Bermuda Railway Trail (FBRT) charity, and a family foundation established by Mike Murphy, his daughter, Laura, and his son, Tucker. The project began when Tucker, having completed his doctorate in zoology from Oxford University, wrote a very detailed paper on how the Railway Trail could best be improved and used. His main thrust was for the trail to regain as much of the connectivity it once had as was possible. “Every study shows the greater the connectivity,” he says, “the more the trail will be used.” It also allows access to isolated, often scenic areas, and helps bring neighbourhoods together.
The family then began to work on how his ideas could be practically implemented. They drew on each other’s expertise. Mike is a retired lawyer and international political and legislative lobbyist while Laura, herself a lawyer, has years of experience in the Department of Planning. Tucker, an Olympic cross-country skier, is a conservation biologist with first-hand experience on many cycling and hiking trails, including the Appalachian Trail. In conjunction with the Department of Parks, they started by improving the western side of the trail, adding garbage cans and benches while correcting erosion in some places and facilitating continuity between the sections wherever possible. Soon their project developed into a huge community endeavour, involving collaboration with local and international businesses and organisations, local volunteers, technical bridge experts from overseas, the Department of Parks and the Bermuda Tourism Authority. The collaboration involved many years of fund-raising, seeking required government permits, designing and constructing the bridges, and generally helping to make the enhancements possible.
Since the erection of the bridges, many more tourists and locals are using the trail and benefitting physically from the free form of exercise it offers, which has made this massive undertaking all the more rewarding As Mike says, “It is very satisfying to take something abstract and turn it into something tangible, to make a more connected Railway Trail a reality and to see people using it. Bermudians should be extremely proud of the trail and its history.”