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Lt Gov Announces Upcoming Upgrades to Downtown Jamaica

Lt Gov K. Hochul on the steps of the Jamaica Performing Arts Center

On a beautiful, hot and sunny day in front of the historic façade of the Jamaica Performing Arts Center, Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul announced the winning projects selected for the Jamaica Downtown Revitalization Initiative (DRI).

In August 2016, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that Downtown Jamaica was the winner of the $10 million DRI, a plan that looks to transform local neighborhoods into the next generation of communities. The winner was selected as part of a competitive process by the state’s Economic Development Council.

The projects that will be funded under the grant include a space for businesses, pedestrian plazas, infrastructure upgrades, support for dining options, increased broadband width and employment supports.

Greater Jamaica Development Corporation (GJDC) will create a 10,000 square foot shared workspace for approximately 90 local entrepreneurs and independent professionals at the Moda Building. The LIRR 159th Street underpass will be converted into a pedestrian gateway between York College and Downtown Jamaica. The underpass will include vendor and event space, public art work and seating. Pedestrian, lighting and the streetscape will be improved along Parsons Boulevard between Jamaica and Archer Avenues. Jamaica’s broadband infrastructure, to support high speed delivery, will be strengthened. There will be funds to invigorate nightlife and dining options as well as an incubator space for new food businesses. Entrepreneurship training for low income residents to launch and grow their businesses and career preparation at Edison Career and Technical Education High School will help develop a qualified workforce.

“We still have a lot to do,” said Senator Leroy Comrie who delivered remarks at the announcement. On his to-do list was the initiative to ensure that “promotional dollars” were in place guaranteeing that any development was adequately populated.

In addition to this grant, Downtown Jamaica’s is seeing the infusion of revitalization dollars from the Jamaica Now Action Plan. Jamaica Now is a $153 million dollar investment from the City which will add upgrades to local parks, provide additional transit routes, redesigned store fronts and add new mixed income housing, retail stores and business incubator spaces.

Downtown Jamaica’s transit hub will be getting a boost as well with $8 million dollars in state allocated funds for upgrades to its transit hub. The Jamaica transit hub is one of the city’s busiest transit centers hosting the E,J and Z trains, numerous bus lines, the LIRR and AirTrain to JFK.

JFK International Airport, which is located just minutes from Downtown Jamaica, will also be revived with an influx of funds. Governor Cuomo announced $10 billion in funds last year to transform JFK and its connecting commuter links into a 21st Century airport redesign.

In addition, both the city and state have set goals that 30% of its awarded contracts should be allocated to Minority and Women Owned Businesses.

All this opportunity and redevelopment would seem a boom for local businesses and the area’s high unemployment rate, but challenges remain. “Unemployment is high,” acknowledged Queens Borough President Melinda Katz in her opening remarks at the podium. Along with the grant, Katz sited the Jamaica Now Plan and private funding as initiatives that can close the gaps.

But local businesses are challenged when it comes to working with the larger companies that are central in the revitalization of Downtown Jamaica. Thomas Crater, owner of newspaper ‘The New York Page’, frequently expresses frustration at his attempts to connect with GJDC and York College for possible funding avenues. It is a frustration shared by this news organization. “It’s hard,” Crater reported that Hope Knight President GJDC of said of the challenge of working with area black media businesses due to having no money. Knights’ resume includes as stint with the Upper Manhattan Empowerment Zone whose chief area, Harlem, has recently experienced revitalization. Dr. Marcia Keizs, York College President, and Earl Simons, York College Director of Government and Community Relations were eager to set up a meeting, and receive proposals about types of partnerships.

Residents and community stakeholders who participated in the planning and provided recommendations for the Jamaica Now plan provided input stressing that it was vital any Downtown Jamaica revitalization touched the neighboring communities and include the main thoroughfares which connect the neighborhoods to Downtown Jamaica. A few members of the Leadership Council of the Jamaica Now Initiative did not want to speak on the record of their concerns of the early efforts of the program.

York College President, Dr. Marcia Keizs, serves on Governor Cuomo’s Regional Economic Development Council and has been credited with helping to secure the grant. The council was designed as a shift in the state’s effort towards economic development which includes a community-based approach that harnesses local expertise.

For more information on the seven winning projects, click here.

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‘Central Park Five’ documentary screens to community youths

Korey Wise speaks to youth after documentary viewing

[This article was originally published in 2013. As renewed interest in the ‘Central Park Five’ story emerges, this article is being reposted.]
It is one movie that you are happy to know the outcome.

‘The Central Park Five’, is a documentary that examines the 1989 case of five Black and Latino teenagers who were convicted of raping a White woman in Central Park. The movie is currently being screened throughout Southeast Queens to audiences, both young and old. Recently, the documentary was screened at the Robert Ross Johnson Family Life Center and the Jamaica Performing Arts Center.

At the Ross Center, seventh and eight grade students from the nearby Eagle Academy comprised a large portion of the guests who had come out. While the case of the Central Park Jogger left an indelible mark on New York City and its residents at the time, this younger segment of the population had not experienced the case but certainly its implications.

Young Black and Latino men are among the highest percentage that are stopped by NYPD in their stop, question and frisk policy. It was one reason why the Central Park Five were implicated in the rape. They were stopped when reports of teens carousing and causing mayhem through Central Park were reported.

Audience members were transfixed throughout the documentary. The film gave a glimpse of New York City of the late eighties, a city of financial gains and deep pockets of poverty. The film followed the discovery of the woman and how the teens were implicated in the crime. It delved into their taped confessions, a main component of the guilty verdicts, and the inconsistency of the statements. The film included interviews with all five of the men, teenagers at the time they were implicated, and several of their family members and community leaders.

A range of emotions were evident in the audience during the screening. There was anger and frustration evident from the lip smacking and a shout of ‘Tawana Brawley’, when the issue of believing a young woman’s rape story. There were tears wiped away and a huge surge of applause at the ending.

After the screening, Yusef Salaam and Kharey Wise, two of The Central Park Five, engaged in a dialogue with the audience. Kharey was the oldest at the time of the guilty verdict and, as such, was sent to Rikers Island to serve out his sentence. Yusef was his friend at the time. The two ventured to the police after hearing they were being sought in connection with events in the park. Knowing they had no part in crimes that night, they believed their trip to the police would be short and they would return home before their parents. “Kharey came home thirteen years later, Yusef came home eight years later,” they said to the audience.

Kharey shared that he was thankful to be alive. “I died every day for thirteen years,” he said of his prison incarceration. “I am messed up in the head from dealing with [the NYPD]. It’s good to laugh after going through hell.”

Kharey advised the young men there to become familiar with their Miranda rights. And to not talk until you see someone familiar. “The life you save may be your own,” he said.

There was no condemnation for all police and the lack of resentment was noticible in both men. Yusef talked about channeling his anger into education and inspiring people.

The men have not been in contact with the woman at the center of the jogger case, but had deep sympathy for her. “She has been victimized several times,” said Yusef. He was referring to the initial crime, then being told, as she had no memory of the events, The Central Park Five were the culprits only to find out that a serial rapist ultimately confessed to the crime.

After the rapist’s confession, the DNA evidence gathered at the time, that did not connect to any of the five teenagers, were a match for the serial rapist. The role of the prosecutor in the pursuit of a guilty verdict, was also a key component of the film.

Brandon Aiken, a student at Eagle Academy, came away from the screening believing that “sometimes cops can help and sometimes they can’t,” he said.

Tanya Sledge was nineteen at the time of the incident and remembered the events contained in the movie. She remembered thinking “Oh My God,” several years back when the incident occurred. “To see the truth now,” she said “the same phrase still resonates but for a different reason, the injustice”.

Vivett Hemans was also a young adult during the events depicted in the movie. “I remember that word wilding,” she said. “It became part of our vernacular”. She said the movie is a “must see”. She has been taking her children and as an educator, encouraging her students to see the movie.

Councilman Leroy Comrie, one of the sponsors of the free screenings, spoke about resolution for the Central Park Five. “We have not come to terms with this malicious prosecution,” he said. “The City Council is working to “help them get the restitution they so deserve.”

Councilman Comrie urged residents to put pressure on the Mayor by sending emails about the case to his office. He also said this case should be a “litmus test” for the next Mayor.§

Published in Communities of Color News April 2013 Issues

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Community Fights Against Alcohol at Parks Events

Days prior to the R&B concert event ‘Groovin’ in the Park’, civic leaders, residents, elected official representatives and Southern Queens Parks Association (SQPA) board members met with representatives from the Parks Department to discuss authorizing alcohol as part of the event.

The community’s position was clear. No alcohol.

Although NYC Parks Commissioner Mitchell Silver’s presence was requested, Queens Borough Commissioner Dorothy Lewandowski was the designated representing official. She was apologetic about another appointment she had that would mean leaving the meeting early.

The issue at hand was whether the promoter would be able to add alcohol to the event slated to take place in three days. Alcohol would be in the form of four two ounce wine samplings which would be reserved for the event’s VVIP and VIP sections and not for the general ticket holders at large. There would be an estimated 1500 concert goers and samplings would be tracked by a wristband system.

In order to have this item attached to the event, the promoter was required to fulfill three requirements: reach out to the local community, provide a site security plan and have a license from the NYS Liquor Authority. At the time of the meeting, the promoter had only done one of those three items, provided a site security plan.

It was a who’s who of community leaders that gathered for a heated conversation in opposition to granting authorization to the promoter including civic organizations in closest proximity to Roy Wilkins Park: Addesleigh Park Civic Association, St. Albans Civic Association and Greater Tri-Angular Civic Association.

The community was concerned about ‘Groovin’ and alcohol because it was outside of the scope of the mandates regarding liquor at events. Furthermore, the promoter did not do his due diligence in order to be in compliance with the waiver by reaching out to the community and obtaining a liquor license. As other promoters are lining up for the same types of alcohol provisions, there is a concern that there is no standing policy. Most who gathered in favor of the community were clear that they were not against alcohol being served at events, but rather at the manner in which this particular case was being decided.

“A policy needs to be established,” said Andrea Scarborough, Addesleigh Park Civic Association. “Follow the law that is in place”.

Policy aside, those in attendance not in favor of granting the waiver felt that the addition of alcohol burdened an event already plagued with issues.

“Who knows what affect alcohol adds,” said Scarborough.

Concerns surrounding the event included loud noise that begins early in the day with sound checks and is followed by a concert which lasts well into the late hours. A myriad of parking issues arise as concert goers use and block driveways, park multiple cars at dead ends and double-park throughout the neighboring community causing residents to be trapped in their homes less they lose a parking space. Other issues were the garbage left behind and a parade of unlicensed merchants who congregate along Merrick Blvd.

There was concern that SQPA was acting independently of the community. “SQPA being run like a private club. We don’t know what is going on. We see a sign, buses or vans. We deserve better than this. This is a first class community,” said Archie Spigner, former Council Member, to applause, about not learning of upcoming events until he sees signs in the community.

The community also wondered, why now?

“Prior to this year, there have been no efforts to serve alcohol. What changed that? They make a fortune off this community. Why is it different this year to sell alcohol,” asked Elmer Blackburne.

Many who gathered felt that there was a clandestine effort by elected officials to push alcohol at events, with Assembly Member Alicia Hyndman’s name dropped frequently an agent in that effort. Their evidence of such included the speed and secrecy of the initiative coming to pass, especially in light of an approved liquor license. Some even asked why Council Member Ruben Wills’ office, who supported the authorization, had a representative at the meeting as his District does not include Roy Wilkins Park.

The community proposed a town hall, post event, to talk with promoters about issues and concerns surrounding the event. Community Board 12, which is remaining neutral on the subject, was willing to host such the event.

“Before you weigh in on something as important as this, wait, hear from the community,” said Scarborough.

Lewandowski suggested a larger conversation including a stakeholder group would be beneficial when moving forward on events in Roy Wilkins Park.

By the end of the meeting, most felt the decision would support the promoter and the event would move forward with alcohol. The next day, the Park Department’s press office confirmed the decision to approve the ‘Groovin’ event with alcohol.

The City, with SQPA, has authorized the sampling of wine in the designated VIP areas only, for this weekend’s event. Please note that the event promoter has approval from Parks, but also requires a permit from the State Liquor Authority.

The Parks department gave no rationale for their decision, despite being asked. The NYS Liquor Authority did not grant the promoter’s request. The concert took place without alcohol.

This meeting took place on Thursday, June 22 at Roy Wilkins Park. Groovin the Park took place on Sunday, June 25 at Roy Wilkins Park.

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Hip Hop Pioneers at St. Albans Library

DJ Divine

MC Davy Jay, DJ Divine, DJ Casino, Livio G…

These names may not be household names, but they represents artists one who paved the way for the likes of Jay Z, Kayne West and Kendrick Lamar. They are just a few of the Queens Hip Hop Pioneers featured in a photo exhibit curated by Queens Library’s Hip Hop Coordinator, VJ Ralph McDaniels. On Thursday, June 15 the St. Albans branch of the Queens Library hosted an opening day reception to welcome the exhibit to its new temporary home.

McDaniels, Video Music Box’s VJ is a legend in his own right and was inducted into the Smithsonian African American Museum of History and Culture for his work. McDaniels’ has been documenting the story of Queens Hip Hop for the Library. That has included past conversations with FUBU Founder Damon John and Darryl McDaniels from Run DMC.

The pre-Father’s Day reception assembled many of the legends depicted in portraits from the exhibit. As they gathered for the event, talk turned to dollar vans and block parties as friends celebrated the portraits new location.

“Some of us didn’t talk to each other back then, but we battled,” said MC Davy Jay. “When we started the blocks had a crew and that crew battled against another crew. It wasn’t about all this gang stuff”.

At the time, these pioneers, some who are now grandfathers, didn’t know they were playing a significant role in the creation of what is now a billion dollar industry. These men were merely on their grind. Some juggled work and school while passionately displaying their craft at area parties and on the stage. While many now have new careers and pursued very different life paths, some still work in the recording industry and encourage others to investigate careers outside of being an entertainer. However far they may have strayed from their musical beginnings, they quickly returned as the reception turned into an indoor jam! With vinyl scratching and old school callout and shout backs, the crowd was on its feet waving their hands in the air like they just didn’t care.

“Like Beef Fried Rice with Extra Duck Sauce/I’m running things and I’m called the boss” chanted MC Davy Jay to a familiar back in the day beat.

Pioneers took their turn on the mic while others, like Livio G, took time to spin.

The exhibit will continue its tour through Queens stopping at various branches throughout the system. McDaniels will continue documenting Queens’ hip hop history which will be accessible in Library archives.

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First Lady McCray Hosts Conversation on Mental Illness

NYC First Lady Chirlane McCray

How are you feeling? Are you or a loved one depressed or anxious? Would you know what to do or where to go for help?

First Lady Chirlane McCray hosted a community conversation on the subject of mental illness and the Thrive NYC program. The goal was to connect individuals, and their loved ones, to services which help those affected by the disease. Thrive NYC is a collection of programs which offer help and support. One phone call to 888-NYC-WELL can start the process.

Assistance is not just a phone call away, but many of the Thrive NYC programs are proactive and reach out to connect with those who might be most in need. The ‘Respect for All’ program which extends care to students and their families is currently located in over 130 schools in Queens. There are initiatives that are evaluating new mothers for signs of maternal depression and treatment. There are social workers and mental health care practitioners in senior centers and outreach is available to homeless individuals living on the streets.

Thrive NYC is not only about connecting individuals to the care they need but is about changing the way mental illness is viewed and addressed as a health issue.

“We know what to do when people are bleeding. Do we know what to do when people are having a panic attack or are depressed,” asked McCray.

To that end, Thrive NYC is looking to train a quarter of a million New Yorkers on how to identify and respond to those who may be affected. Targeted for that training are those who are currently in caregiver positions, i.e. teachers and clergy. To-date, the program has welcomed over 2,000 members of the clergy to be on the frontlines.

“You can only do so much praying before you have to get that person some help,” said the First Lady.

The conversation addressed questions submitted by those in attendance. First Lady McCray brought an army of agency directors from the various city agencies involved in the program to help address those questions and to share information about their individual initiatives.

However informative that army was, they were definitely well represented by McCray who was able to respond to each question. She displayed a confidence and ease while providing feedback advising individuals on resources. There was no faltering of tone or shying away from sensitive topics, just an earnest compassion toward every situation. These are the examples individuals need as they grapple with erasing the stigma which accompanies mental illness.

“We all have a story,’ said First Lady McCray. When she asked those who also had a story to raise their hands, almost every person responded affirmatively.

Ninety percent of the questions submitted to the conversation were signed anonymously, confirming the sensitive nature surrounding expressing concerns regarding mental illness. Questions were asked about ways to get help for those who may be in crisis and what to do in a drug overdose situation. The First Lady and NYPD Chief Ward stressed that individuals should not worry about arrests for those in a narcotic crisis, even if they have drug or drug paraphernalia in their possession at the time. The goal is to get that individual assistance.

The conversation fielded concerns about connecting young people with assistance against bullying and peer situations. Addressing youth issues was an important component of the program as the First Lady shared statistics about teen suicide attempts and early onset of addiction during teen years. A pivotal moment of the event came when one brave soul stood up after the First Lady opened the floor to questions.

“I am suffering from severe depression…I’ve been in a shelter for two years. I’m suffering so much and I see all the doors closed,” he said.

“Thank you for having the courage to stand up. I hope you can feel the support around you. This is a safe place, a supportive place. We want to do our best to direct you to services,” said the First Lady.

“We do have people here. I want to address you as an individual and not as a policy issue. I want to connect you with resources,” said Dr. Herminia Palacio, Deputy Major for Health and Human Services.

This exchange was a real life example of how individuals will be addressed by the program. Someone reaches out, there is a response about resources with no judgement or shame.

The First Lady admits Thrive NYC continues to be a work in progress despite its many strides. Although the program boasts counselors that speak more than 200 languages, the program is working on building a workforce which reflects the city’s population and cultures.

The event took place on Tuesday, June 13 at the Queens Library Central Branch and was streamed live on Facebook.

Here is what you need to know about the free Thrive NYC service.

Phone Number: 888-NYC-WELL

Text: “WELL” to 65173

In Schools: Assistance is available for both students and their parents.

Clergy Connection: Ask your church if its leadership is connected to the program


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Candidate Anthony Rivers “Southeast Queens Has Been Overlooked”

Election season has officially begun when individuals find themselves bombarded by folks outside of supermarkets, events and stores asking for signatures as residents go about their errands. Petitioning for the right to be on the ballot is what these important annoyances are about. It is an important first steps for candidates to get themselves on the ballot for the upcoming Primary and subsequent election.

Residents were introduced to candidate Anthony Rivers at the civic meeting a week before petitioning began. Rivers is running for City Council District 27 which covers the areas of Cambria Heights, Hollis, Jamaica, Queens Village, St. Albans and Springfield Gardens.

“What happened in Harlem is about to land on us,” he said to shouts of agreement from residents in attendance for the meeting.

The candidate was talking about gentrification and the burgeoning development in Downtown Jamaica and in close proximity to the AirTrain at the LIRR (Long Island Rail Road) Jamaica Station.

Rivers is a former NYPD lieutenant and came to prominence through his fight in the community against the Hollis Gardens Development. The development began as a proposed homeless shelter which was converted into housing for physically and mentally ailing veterans. The group challenged the development because of the lack of affordable housing for residents and the oversaturation of homeless shelters in the area.

“We have bigger issues than just those buildings,” he said.

Those issues include a community Rivers feels has been overlooked but is a prized commodity for others looking to cash in.

“We are ten minutes from an international airport. The AirTrain is 11 minutes and one stop away. LIRR, twenty-three minutes and you are in the heart of downtown Manhattan,” he said. “This makes us very desirable for other people”.

Rivers will be running for council seat which is currently held by I. Daneek Miller. Rivers contends that Miller has “sold us out to big business and could care less about us. He doesn’t even live in the area,” he said of the Miller who Rivers contends lives in Brooklyn.

Rivers has strong condemnation for elected officials whom he believes let others infiltrate and overlook the Southeast Queens community. He pointed to examples in other neighborhoods which garner favor like Howard Beach which has an AirTrain station. Overdevelopment on Farmers Boulevard where a site which formerly housed approximately 22 individuals will now house hundreds. The oversaturation of shelters in the area makes it one with one of the highest percentages of shelters in the borough. He noted that there are three waste stations in Southeast Queens while there are none in Northern Queens. Schools were also on the list as well.

“How are there more co-located schools in our area, but fully functioning schools in other areas,” he said.

“Now is the time to stand up. Four years will be too late. We are a ship headed to the dock at full speed,” said Rivers. “We are the last stronghold. They took Harlem…and Brooklyn.”

Those gathered agreed in unison as Rivers’ posed the question “what are we willing to do”. Their reply, fight.

Residents connected with Rivers’ message and assertive tone. Some felt they lived in the area for decades and find their quality of life diminished. Others took responsibility for the shortcomings in the community as they didn’t hold current elected officials accountable. Mostly residents have noticed the changes happening and the feeling that improvements and upgrades to the neighborhood are not happening for their benefit.

But there was some concern about a candidate that is strongly attacking elected officials. If elected, how would he work with those who he has condemned?

Rivers invoked the name of Assembly Member Charles Barron. He cited Barron as a legislator he will emulate as far as commitment and courage. “I want to be a representative, not a leader,” said Rivers.

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Delta Ladies Support Gun Violence Awareness

by Roslin SpignerMembers of the Queens Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., canvassed the streets of Queens distributing flyers in orange tees on National Gun Violence Day June 2, 2017.
Wearing the color orange in June is more than just a bold fashion statement.This vibrant color that demands to be seen is the color used to represent National Gun Violence Awareness Month. There are millions of Americans who want to end gun violence in America. As a tribute to those who lost their lives or were victims of senseless gun violence, the color orange is worn to demand being seen and heard.The ladies delivered a powerful message to the community: Please help us to keep our communities safe. Please help us to keep our nation safe. Get involved by calling your legislators. We need gun violence reform. We need it now!