Albert Bryan Jr., Wittenberg class of 1989, is “changing the course” as the only African American governor in the nation, including states and territories, following his election to the highest office in the U.S. Virgin Islands this past January.
Bryan said he was a longshot in the race as he had never been in an election for political office before 2018. But the people spoke, and he defeated two candidates in the Democratic Party primary, six other teams in a general election, and then the incumbent gubernatorial team in a runoff to clinch the election and become the ninth governor of the U.S. Virgin Islands (population of 110,000). The accomplishment completes a lifelong goal that Bryan said he has worked on since graduating from Wittenberg.
“I have always been attracted to leadership and politics, and I could think of no more rewarding an occupation than serving the people of the U.S. Virgin Islands in the highest office in the land,” said Bryan, who was born and raised on the island of St. Thomas, but has lived on the island of St. Croix for more than 35 years. He graduated from Wittenberg with a degree in economics and earned his MBA from the University of the Virgin Islands in 2003.
“With the magic of social media and a remarkable campaign team, we succeeded. The three elections were hard-fought, but the indisputable determination of the team and especially that of our tireless campaign volunteers allowed us to set election precedents in several ways,” he added. “There has never been a candidate in the U.S. Virgin Islands that has won any single district by as large a margin, securing over 75 percent of the total vote. Our campaign slogan was ‘change course now’ and that’s what we really push to do every day. We want to see responsible fiscal management, real vision toward the future, and a steady improvement in the quality of life for our residents. Wherever life leads me, the welfare of the Virgin Islands will always be in my heart.”
Bryan’s career track has reflected Wittenberg’s success in producing problem-solvers, critical thinkers, and creative graduates who can adapt and succeed wherever they land. Bryan has pursued such diverse paths as an oil refinery worker, business office manager of a multi-million-dollar Virgin Islands corporation, commissioner of the Virgin Islands Department of Labor, and an entrepreneur focused on strategies to create business opportunities and career paths for others. He also inspired future generations in financial literacy and leadership as executive director of the Virgin Islands branch of Junior Achievement USA.
As governor, he now presides over four islands - St. Thomas, St. Croix, St. John and Water Island - and 25 different departments. He is complemented by a legislature of 15 elected senators.
“In the Virgin Islands, we do not have state sport teams, so politics is a ‘national’ pastime,” said Bryan, who was a peer mentor and a member of Kappa Alpha Psi, Mu Xi, and Concerned Black Students during his time at Wittenberg. “Politics has been in my blood from a very young age, and I still remember accompanying my mom to campaign rallies. My family lived and breathed politics. As I grew older, I took a natural liking to the social nature of the job and, and of course, the constant debating that has enabled me and others to be more engaged citizens.”
Bryan said that the Virgin Islands has been in recovery mode for the past two years after being hit by two Category 5 hurricanes, Irma and Maria, which struck within weeks of each other in September 2017. The devastation led him and his team to work on three main issues including stabilizing the government and restoring trust and transparency; ensuring the recovery process is smooth and efficient and moves at the fastest speed possible to bring comfort to residents and prosperity to business owners; and building a sustainable economy. He is also pushing to solve a pension plan crisis.
“Like many jurisdictions across the nation, we have a pension plan that is terribly underfunded,” he said. “So many people in our community depend on this for their livelihood. It is a tremendous challenge, but I have a really good team and a plan. I am looking forward to putting this one to bed. I really enjoy deep diving into the issues and debating the solutions with the policy team. While the devastation to the lives and homes of our citizens has been heart-wrenching, the opportunity to lead the rebuilding of the territory and the rebranding of our islands through the use of talent, technology, and tourism have presented to me a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to give back to my home which has given so much to me.”
Bryan is also focused on education.
“As part of our disaster recovery, we are aggressively in the process of building new schools and infusing our curriculum with technology, and I am really excited about the opportunities that will open up for our children,” he added. “I reflect on what a Wittenberg education and the Virgin Islands school system have done for me, and I want to make sure that every child has that opportunity and understands the real value of what it can mean in achieving multiple successes in their life.”
Bryan put a lot of stock in Wittenberg, moving almost 2,000 miles away from home to attend. It ended up being a school that offered him not only the degree he originally sought in political science, but a global platform for him to more fully understand human nature and the importance of the diversity of people, culture, and faith.
“The academic and life lessons I experienced at Wittenberg (which included a change to economics from political science as my major) presented me a broader perspective for achieving a successful career path when I returned home,” he said. “Dave Wishart was my economics professor, and he really got me interested in economics. It was never something that I planned on studying in college, but after the 101 class it piqued my interest. Political science didn’t offer me the excitement that I thought it would. The lure to the economy and its constant movement seemed practical, and it all made tremendous sense to me. I continue to use that education every day, and economic development is the cornerstone of our platform.
“Wittenberg was a very different educational and broadening experience for me,” Bryan added. “The diversity of the student body, and the ability to participate and interact with so many different groups and people were invaluable. I must say that the education that I was privileged to receive helped me to strengthen a foundation that has led me this far. There is a lot more to do, and I am confident that my Wittenberg education is the gift that will keep on giving.”