The 35U began with a vision to inspire the leaders of tomorrow by telling them about the leaders of today. With millions of people involved in government, education, business and community service across the country, it sometimes may be hard for the 35U to connect to leaders individually simply due to an age barrier. The 35U to us is any young adult from the ages of 18-35 in this country. These individuals have a voice – they can vote, serve, and most importantly, they can make a difference for future generations.
Today’s Q&A feature is Janelle K. Sarauw, Senator for the District of St Thomas/ St John in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Sarauw is also Chair of the Workforce Development, Consumer Affairs and Culture committee. Prior to joining the legislature, Janelle taught US History at the Charlotte Amalie High School for 3 years. In the year of 2010, Janelle assumed the position of Coordinator for the Virgin Islands Department of Sports, Parks & Recreation, another position of impactful influence on the youth of the Virgin Islands. In January 2015, Janelle became the Chief Researcher and Special Assistant for the Office of the Lieutenant Governor of the US Virgin Islands. Janelle was also a part-time professor of Political Science at the University of the Virgin Islands. Through her academic and athletic achievements, Janelle was awarded a four year volleyball scholarship to attend Florida Atlantic University where she earned a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science with a concentration in Global Governance; Interdisciplinary Studies of Social Science and a minor in History. Janelle also holds a Master of Arts in Organizational Leadership with a certificate in Servant Leadership from Gonzaga University and is a US Government Certified Grant Writer. Realizing the importance of balance in one’s life, in her spare time, Janelle is well involved in a plethora of activities. She has coached the Youth National Volleyball Team, is co-founder of Sky High Volleyball Club, former Board Member of the United Way St. Thomas/ St. John and past Vice-President of the St. Thomas/St. John Chamber of Commerce Young Professionals. Janelle currently coaches the Charlotte Amalie High School Varsity Volleyball Team, and as a staunch culture bearer, Janelle has been a Mocko Jumbie for over 20 years – bringing the culture of the Virgin Islands to hotels throughout the territory as well as representing the Virgin Islands throughout the Caribbean and United States. We caught up with Janelle to find out what leadership means to her and what advice she would give to future leaders.
Why did you choose this career path?
I was born and raised in the Caribbean, on an island considered a Territory of the United States; a
Territory marginalized and disenfranchised. I grew up “pledging allegiance to the flag of the United
States of America” yet never being able to cast a vote for my Commander in Chief nor can my representative in Congress vote on legislations. These decisions were recently upheld by US Courts. To
add to it, we are omitted from other significant legislations like the Affordable Care Act. For much of our history since the acquisition of the islands in 1917, we were under Naval rule and later white Civilian Governors were appointed by the President. It is only in 1970 that we gained the right to become a self governing Territory. As such, we are a young democracy plagued with post-colonial issues. The aforementioned are all factors that contributed to me choosing political science and servant leadership as my career path. My upbringing and environment almost forced me in this direction and I knew that in order to spark change, I had to gain a seat at the table in determining the path my home would take.
Who inspired you to get involved?
My father is a local politician and held very important positions within the government of the US Virgin
Islands. My maternal grandfather who lives on the tiny island nation of St. Kitts & Nevis is also a nation
builder. After receiving independence from Great Britain, he helped to co-author the constitution and
later served as the Speaker of the House. Queen Elizabeth later bestowed the title, Commander of the
British Empire on my grandfather. He is still alive and 97 years. My mother is an educator for about 40
years so she instilled in me the value of an education. Being surrounded by all of that, subconsciously
kept me woke, alert and wanting to remain engaged in the process. I always knew I wanted to be a
How do you define a leader?
Dr. King’s quote eloquently defines a leader, “Cowardice asks the question, is it safe? Expediency ask the question, is it politic? Vanity asks the question, is it popular? But, conscience ask the question, is it right? And there comes a time when we must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but one must take it because it is right.” That is leadership and a quote that I live by. Leadership is looking back to make sure you still have followers. Leaders empathize and listen even when there is dissent. They are servant leaders. They take unpopular positions even in the face of adversity and they take it because it is morally right. Leaders take risks. They use their position of power to positively effect change. Leaders sacrifice much of themselves for the greater good.
What projects are you currently involved with in the community that engages the next generation of leaders?
As a former Division I Athlete, I use my athletic abilities to engage the next generation. I am the cofounder of a non-profit, Sky High Volleyball Club where I use sports as a means for social change. Our goal is to develop the whole athlete on and off the court. Through various tournaments and travels
many of our players have been awarded athletic scholarships to various colleges and universities. Such
an award directly impacts their education. My office also authored what we refer to as the
Apprenticeship bill. We looked at the data and realized that a large portion of our population was
locked out of the vaults of opportunity. This was the detached group, either the drop-out or those that
chose not to attend college. Our response to such, was to work closely the Department of Labor (DOL)
with input from the Dept. of Education to enact legislation that would recognize DOL as a State
Apprenticeship Agency. This program would provide more opportunities and workforce development
and eventually permanent job placement for many. Two Category 5 storms ravaged our Territory in a
matter of 12 days. The high levels of destruction, the need for labor and the inability for us to meet the
skilled labor force demands also proved how important the legislation is. Economic opportunities will
open other doors.
What advice would you give to the next generation of leaders who want to get involved?
Be prepared. In order to lead, preparation on the subject matter, geographic location and the
demographics of who and what you want to lead is imperative. One must take time to understand the
organization and its political, cultural, economic climate. Learn to network, stick one foot in the door
and then another. Find your niche. Find your voice and never be afraid to speak out. Most importantly,
it starts with believing in yourself and then putting in the work needed.