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Housing Secretary Proposes Public Housing Rent Increase

Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Ben Carson made a proposal to make public housing residents pay 35 percent of their income in rent instead of their current 30 percent.  The proposal, which was announced on Wednesday, April 25 must first be approved by Congress. 

This proposed increase comes at a time when NYCHA (New York Housing Authority) is in a state of emergency as declared by Executive Order of the Governor.  The state of emergency will address repairs, upgrades, lack of heat and hot water, led paint, mold and more which have been deemed a “public health crisis” affecting NYCHA tenants. 

The majority of U.S. public housing residents are low-income minorities.  The proposed increase will put a strain on those who already have limited incomes.  The Washington Post concluded that the increase rents will impact single mothers the most.  In addition, increases do not take into consideration abusers of the system, like “over income” families that earn more than the maximum income for subsidized housing.   

It isn’t just the repairs and state of living that makes the hike questionable, but what many refer to as a tone deaf HUD Secretary that is Ben Carson.  Carson, whose background is in neurosurgery, has been advocating ‘self-sufficiency’ for public housing residents.  He believes in the up from bootstraps journey to alleviate poverty which mirrors his own journey of success.  Carson believes that too much government assistance leads to dependence.  “A comfortable setting that would make somebody want to say: I’ll just stay here.  They will take care of me,” Carson is quoted as saying in the New York Times during a tour of government facilities. 

Some also feel that raising the rents is a way to move low income tenants out of their long standing apartments to make way for privatization and to welcome high paying renters. 

There are approximately 400,000 residents in NYCHA Houses. 

The proposed increase will also eliminate some income deductions that assist in brining rental cost down for tenants.  Seniors and disabled residents would be exempt. 

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Free Summer Concerts coming to Springfield Park

 The Summer Stage concert series of free outdoor entertainment returns to Springfield Park this July.

The series will visit the park the days after the fourth of July with a string of old school, high profile artist performances including the legendary EPMD.  Concerts begin just prior to sunset at 7PM and run from Thursday, July 5 to Sunday, July 8.

The lineup begins Thursday with a Haitian theme featuring Paul Beaubrun. DJ Hard Hittin’ Harry and the band RAM.  Friday, the ladies take center stage.  The Ladies of SKYY perform from their classic chart topping arsenal which includes ‘Call Me’, ‘Real Love’ and many more.  They will be joined by DJ Felix Hernandez from the Rhythm Revue.  Plan for lots of folks and plenty of dancing and singing along.

Saturday its Dancehall featuring Kranium, DJ Polish and Federation Sound.  Think the club sounds of a J’ouvert festival brought to life by some of dancehalls most popular artist including Kranium the artist behind ‘Nobody Has to Know’.

The golden age of hip-hop rounds out the weekend long festival with EPMD, “Erick and Parrish Making Dollars”.  They will be joined by DJ Sylk.  Expect young and old in attendance as young boomers will look to the classics like ‘You Gots to Chill’ while the next generation will want to witness for themselves these key influencers of rap. 

Bring your own chair and plan to party for a string of concert bound to make old souls remember their back-in-the-day glory days.  The upgrade of Springfield Park should make enjoying these concerts a more pleasurable experience with increased area parking, clearly delineated streets and a stronger park infrastructure.  Both Friday and Saturday performances begin with workshops.  See the complete schedule below. 

Springfield Park is located at 147th Avenue and Springfield Blvd.

Thursday 7/5/18

7:00 PM  RAM, Paul Beaubrun, DJ Hard Hittin Harry

Friday 7/6/18

6:00 – 7:00 PM Freestyle Dance Workshop with Theresa Lavington

7:00 – 9:00 PM The Legendary Ladies of SKYY, Rhythm Revue with Felix Hernandez

Saturday 7/7/18

4:00 PM The Big Good Wolf, CityParks Puppet Mobile

4:00 – 7:00 PM Kranium, Federation Sound, DJ Polish

Sunday 7/8/18

5:00 – 7:00 PM EPMD, DJ Sylk

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Police Commissioner Attends Local Council Meeting

Police Commissioner James O’Neill

It’s all about neighborhood policing.

On Monday, April 16, Police Commissioner James O’Neill was the special guest for the 113th Precinct community council board meeting. 

To a packed house of residents, civic leaders and NYPD personnel, the Commissioner shared his thoughts on neighborhood policing, responded to resident concerns, enjoyed the festivities, and stayed after the meeting for a photo opportunities. 

Aside from having the Commissioner as its special guest, the Executive Board of the Council billed the meeting as a Neighborhood Coordination Program refresher.  It had been two years since the precinct adopted the Neighborhood Policing Strategy and since then, there have been some changes and updates the Executive Board wanted to share those with residents.  Chief among those changes was a number of new officers who have entered into the program and an online way for resident to know their sector. 

The NYPDs neighborhood policing strategy is a collaboration between local police officers and community residents.  Precincts are divided into Sectors which are patrolled by the same officers daily. These NCO officers attend community meetings, functions and events and host their own build a block meetings as a means of developing relationships with residents while fighting crime.  Commissioner O’Neill is credited as the policy creator and initiator. 

NCO officers were center stage during the meeting seated by their sector alongside their partner on a stage for all to see.  Officers introduced themselves and shared a fun or interesting fact about themselves. 

Commissioner O’Neill commented that it was the first time he saw officers presented in such a way. 

It was a laid back, comfortable Commissioner that talked community policing and the goals of the neighborhood policing “to serve communities”.  He infused humor into his remarks likening his real life Commissioner role to the one Tom Selleck plays on television.  He shared that the thing he disliked most about his post was not being able to wear the uniform. 

The meeting included a resident Q&A, infotainment games in which NCO officers went head to head with residents in trivia challenges.  The meeting also included awards for Cop of the Month, who turned out to be the precinct’s officers of the year. 

Sergeant Edward Scali Jr and Officer Daniel C. Connors were awarded Cop of the Month by the Council Board and Cop of the Year from the Precinct for their numerous gun arrests and the closings of several cases in the precinct.  The precinct also honored board members with certificates of appreciation.

Community Member of the Month

Mrs. Johnessa Harper became the first ever community member of the month.  The award acknowledges the efforts of a community member as chosen by precinct personnel.

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Businesses and Entrepreneurs Gather for Minority and Women Owned Forum

What are the benefits of becoming M/WBE (Minority and Women Owned Business Enterprise) certified?  How does becoming M/WBE certified increase chances of success?  How can partnerships increase the chances at obtaining a government contract?  Those questions, and much more, were answered at a panelist forum on M/WBEs at York College on Thursday, April 5.

Downtown Jamaica and JFK International Airport are on the brink of major revitalization due to an influx of government funds.  Downtown Jamaica will be receiving a $10 million dollar grant for its revitalization.  The City Council approved a zoning plan for housing and commercial districts in Far Rockaway.  The Long Island Rail Road’s (L.I.R.R) $1.9 billion dollar third track project will include upgrades to its Downtown Jamaica transit hub.  JFK has a pending $10 billion dollar scheduled upgrade.

Southeast Queens sits squarely in the middle of these major initiatives.  As such, the area will be greatly impacted by the changes with physical changes to its structures, health risks to the environment, an influx of new residents and an increase in tourism.  Economically, when such big projects hit, area businesses and entrepreneurs are typically excluded from the dollars and jobs.  Having information in order to be included in the redevelopment has become the order of the day.

The forum was divided into two panels and moderated by Dr. Stacie NC Grant.  Panelist tackled questions of M/WBE participation in government contracts while handling the issues of what M/WBE means, how it helps businesses overall and especially when it comes to government contracts. 

The key takeaway from the panel was that an M/WBE certification can help grow a business and open doors to government contracts. 

While the process of becoming an M/WBE has been made easier and there is support from government to reach participation goals for M/WBE it is “not a magic ticket to a contract,” said panelist Joycelyn Taylor, TaylorMade LLC. 

“Certification is first step.  It is ‘A’ and you are trying to get to ‘Z’” said Brian Ansair, VP of Business Development Empire State Development, Division of Minority and Women’s Business Development.

Because certification is only a first step, the information from panelists was key to addressing components that can lead to business success and addressed the most important factors to growing a business. 

“Businesses should be clear on what [it is they] do,” said Brian Ansair, VP of Business Development Empire State Development, Division of Minority and Women’s Business Development.  Brian believes businesses should have a firm identity, which, in turn, inspires confidence. 

“Know who you are.  What you can do.  What you can’t do.  Know your market,” he said.  “Does the public sector buy what you sell?”  Ansair also wanted businesses to be aware that having a minority designation should not be its only definition.

“Have a strategy about how you want to build your business,” said Joycelyn M. Taylor, TaylorMade Contracting.

“Do the work,” said Carol O’Connell, a commercial banking representative that works as an underwriter for small to medium business loans.  “Businesses must have their basic paperwork aligned,” she said. 

In terms of loans and financing, O’Connell outlined key elements for businesses as they prepare to obtain a loan.

“Businesses should prepare three to six months before you need the money,” she said.  “Businesses should also have a live business plan and a goal for how they will repay the loan.  It is not only about filing taxes annually, but knowing the state of one’s business throughout the year.”  She encouraged business to plan ahead.

“Plan a year ahead.  Tax returns a year prior have to stress that you made money.   Where are you today?  Poor financial records indicate you don’t have a handle on money,” she said.  O’Connell also shared that an owner’s personal credit should also been in line.  “Your personal credit score is important as your name is on the line.  No tax liens.  No outstanding judgements.  Settle up with your lenders and don’t be delinquent on credit cards,” she said. 

The second panel focused on contracts through partnering and joint ventures.  Because many government contracts are million dollar behemoth, partnering with prime contractors is a means to gain experience and access to government dollars. 

“Where there is great risk, there is great profit,” said Donald Vernon lawyer Vernon and Associates. 

While there are many concerns about partnerships, the group wanted to delineate clear ways businesses could use them to their advantage stressing that in partnerships, success should be shared.

“No one is supposed to lose.  Both parties walk away as winners,” said Vernon.

“Partnerships can get you experience,” said Abdulla Darrat, Assistant VP of Development at Omni New York. 

“Joint ventures are popular now because you can join with someone who is across the ocean,” said Suzette Bather-Taylor, Deputy Director Programs Mayor’s Office of M/WBEs.  “Prime contractors need you”.  Her office is enforcing M/WBE participation goals.

How could all of this be applied to current redevelopment especially JFK’s big ticket upgrade which, according to panelist Carl Peters, has already begun. 

“Teams are already being formed…Major players already responded…Master plans have already been awarded,” said Carl Peters, Analyst and Compliance Manager with the Port Authority’s Office of Business Diversity and Civil Rights.  As the initial stages are underway, he encouraged those present to connect with him personally.  He can then presents to contractors on the businesses’ behalf to see if they can be brought on board. 

He asked businesses to be prepared

“Be prepared.  If I bring you to the table, have a correct phone number on a business card. Have an email address.  Make sure it works,” he said as not having these types of basic items creates a negative impression. 

“[This] creates an impression they are not ready,” said Peters who shared that an unprepared impression already exists when it comes to M/WBE businesses.  “When that happens it validates that stereotype. 

The forum included opportunities to network with panelists and businesses.  Attendees were given an intake form so they could connect with the York College Small Business Development Center for resources and follow up concerns. 

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Help is on the way for NYCHA Tenants

Governor A. Cuomo

On April 2, Governor Cuomo signed an executive order declaring a state of emergency for NYCHA (New York City Housing Authority) Housing complexes in the five boroughs.  This order will assist in facilitating the repairs necessary to address what officials are calling a ‘public health crises’ for NYCHA tenants. 

The plan will address repairs, upgrades, construction lack of heat and hot water, led paint, mold and other hazards materials.  The states monetary commitment to repairs over the next several years is $550 million.  Initially $300 was committed to fund NYCHA, this additional $250 million comes after tenants and legislators have raised concerns about the living conditions at NYCHA Complexes.  This past winter, tenants throughout the system experienced a lack of heat which also caused alarm.  Results of an investigation by the Department of Health revealed the gravity of a public health risk.

“After seeing how these families are forced to live their lives every single day…I would not sign the budget unless funding was dedicated to address…NYCHA housing,” said the Governor in a statement. 

In accordance with the executive order, an independent emergency manager will be selected within 60 days to oversee the development and completion of a remediation plan.  Once the Emergency Manager has been selected, they have 30 to select an independent contractor. 

There are approximately 400,000 residents in NYCHA houses. 

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Women Impart Leadership Lessons to Middle Schoolers

“Leadership is in all of us,” said panelist Nikki Pryce who is an author and speaker to a group of rambunctious school children.
It was an ambitious endeavor to bring a panel discussion of Women in Leadership to middle schoolers on a Friday morning. But the message imparted was that important.

On Friday, March 23, 2018, Council Member Adrienne Adams hosted a Women in Leadership Panel at Catherine & Count Basie Middle School 72. Panel members included the first and only African American NYPD Assistant Chief of a Borough command, Juanita Holmes. Shante Chamblee a representative from SSEU Local 371. Cheree Buggs, a sitting justice on the Queens Supreme Court and Cineus Omotayo, Principal of I.S. 72.

Ms. Pryce had three action items for the youth to assist them in developing their leadership qualities. First to accept the call, second to stand in your truth and know who you are and finally to never tell yourself no. “Affirm. I can. I will. I am,” she said.

All of the panelist had words of wisdom to share about the obstacles they faced and the value of women in leadership.

“The biggest obstacle was myself,” said Ms. Pryce she said of her self-sabotage. “We have to get out of our own way”.

“Stay focused on what you want to achieve,” said Justice Buggs. “Don’t concern yourself with competition and those pushing back”.

Principal Cineus’ revelations about a career filled with obstacles must have been deeply impactful to the students, as she was one of their own. The students gave her a rousing round of applause as she was called to the stage as a panel member. It was that which did the seemingly impossible task of quieting down and focusing middle-schoolers to give proper respect and allow panelist to offer their message. She shared her academic struggles “I was suspended from high school five times. I was kicked out of college…I worked for a principal that tried to fire me,” she said. “I had a college professor that said I was never going to teach. I had a guidance counselor who said I was never going to graduate from a four year college. Yet here I sit.”

“I had to learn to speak up for myself,” said Shante Chamblee that comes from a family of five brothers in which she is the youngest sibling.

“I had to prove that I could do a job most felt was for a man,” said Assistant Chief Holmes. “Hopefully you don’t have to face the same obstacles.”

Principal Cineaus spoke to the importance of education in future goals. “You need as much ammunition as possible to live this life. [With education] you will have your conversations that improve your life. You will have access to more places and spaces,” she said. She also spoke about other types of education which she felt is equally important including “experience, environment, knowing your community…and travel”. She encouraged students to travel outside of Queens and experience other foods, festivals and cultures. “It is important in the development of who you are,” she said. §

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Residents Unite for Stake in JFK Redevelopment

by Karen Clements-Roach

Queens Connection Team

Participants were asked to come to the Friday Night March 17 Town Hall meeting with pen, paper and positive attitude.  The goal was to find a means to approach the upcoming $10 billion dollar re-development of JFK International Airport and to ensure that Southeast Queens, its neighboring community, benefits positively as a result. 

The group at the center of this effort is the Queens Connection Team (QCT).  A self-described first of its kind community based coalition committed to capacity building and goal setting that will empower local leaders, business professionals and the community to overcome obstacles by joining resources through a unified approach.  QCT was first assembled in the summer of 2017.    At the center of organizing this group is Clergy connect, a movement designed to build community through unifying resources, gifts and talents.

While Southeast Queens is home to the country’s largest Black middle class, large scale government economic development within its borders have a history of continually bypassing it in terms of inclusion.  “[We want to] make sure we have a seat at the table,” said Public Advocate Letitia ‘Tish’ James in her introductory remarks.  “One voice, one agenda…not excluded from development in our backyard.” 

One of the goals of the group noted by the Public Advocates is to create a Community Benefits Agreement.  “One that is legally enforceable,” said PA James.

The Town Hall was an opportunity for the Queens Connection Team (QCT) to hear comments and issues from attendees.  It was also a place to share information.  A listing of available jobs was disseminated and information about a website the group created which features resources was given. 

Representatives from civic groups and the three Community Boards of Southeast Queens: 12, 13 and 14, were also in attendance as a show of support and participation. 

“What we need is to complement their leadership,” said Leroy Gadsen, President of the Jamaica Branch of the NAACP.  He spoke to his groups’ concerns regarding the JFK re-development calling for a “vetting process” that includes accountability for contractors.  The group was also concerned about the definition of minority.  “Too often the breakdown is less than double digits,” he said referring to the double digit percentage allocation reported by the city for minority contribution.   “There are contractors that violate the M/WBE (Minority and Women Owned Business Enterprises) and are rewarded with another contract,” he said.  He also felt it important that churches, fraternal organizations and civic groups have this item on their agenda and share it with their groups. 

“We should have one goal…We need to be unified for the [empowerment] of the community,” said Rev. Dr. Phil Craig. 

“We have a great opportunity to take advantage of a great economic development coming to our community,” said Phillipa Karteron Queens Connection Member focusing on Economic Development.

NYS Senator Leroy Comrie was the designated representative from the elected officials on the project.  “The airport is here.  We do not derive enough directly benefit.  We want to do this as a group,” he said.  “We should coalesce as never before,” he said and spoke to the community’s coming together in the past on major issues and important projects.  “We have to focus on making sure there is opportunity for all and not some,” he said.  “We are in this for the long haul.”

While most supported the unity and positivity, there was an acknowledgement of the past concerns that inhibited growth.

“We have too much dysfunction and corruption,” said Craig.  “We want to have patience…A rollout plan, not just a Town Hall and talking”.  Craig reminded participants of a time when, during Martin Luther King Jr.’s time, the Black church was the cornerstone in a community which had no representation in government. 

“This is not about me, me, me…this is a new strategic plan…We don’t get to this place because we are too busy, fighting each other,” said Rev. Craig to applause. 

There was a heated example of how anger and fighting can curtail progress with an acrid exchange between Bishop Charles Norris and Rev. Craig which paused the forum’s momentum. 

Norris come to the meeting seemingly prepared for a challenge.  Before the forum was fully off the ground, he stood at his seat questioning the level of participation by clergy. “[I have] a question about this community unity,” said Norris who stated he did not want to wait until to the end of the program to ask questions.  “But there is no clergy in community unity…How can you have community unity in this community without clergy participation.”  When he was told by forum moderator Fred Simmons that unifying was a purpose of the event, his response was “we’ll see”.

While clergy members were not a part of the panel group, Rev. Craig and Rev. Dr. Calvin Rice, Rev. Henry Simmons and Rev. Robert Lowe were noted as being part of a small group of community clergy partnering in the effort.  “Sometimes you have to start on a smaller scale in order to bring additional clergy into the fold,” said Craig who encouraged individuals to visit the QCT website and register to ensure they were part of the effort.

During the Q & A, the forum came to halt a second time as Bishop Norris continued to press for the “who” and the “where” of the clergy on the effort.  This was after the events’ two hour time frame had long passed and several attendees had already exited due to the late hour.  Although there continued to be push back about the uniting efforts of the forum, Norris would not budge from his right to speak or having his question answered.   

Craig responded by noting that the effort was a result of a few churches taking initiative and stating that he was not going to “list all the churches that have not taken initiative [on this effort]”.

“With all due respect, we have too much work to do to be sitting here listening to this,” said Craig to applause.  At which time he explained that, unless he had directed questions, he was going to pass the mike.

There was also an intense exchange after the first question, posed by Anthony Rivers, which addressed the issue of permanency.

“These things that are going to affect us permanently, but when we talk about jobs…60% of the expansion jobs are temporary. Once expansion is complete, there will be no more need for construction. What are we getting back that is going to be permanent and is going to aid us and uplift our community for the future,” he asked to applause. 

That started an exchange with panelist Yvette Dennis about employment and hiring in which Senator Comrie interceded and quickly turned heated.   “We are not here to defend what happened or did not happen…Brother Rivers laid out a list of good ideas, let’s just make that happen,” he said.

“If we do not talk about the needs of the people, it will not work,” added Herlema Owens, Association of Women Construct Workers of America, Inc.

“I don’t want us to be fighting at the first meeting,” said Comrie as he tried to navigate multiple exchanges.

NYS Senator Leroy Comrie

But it was Ruth Hassell-Thompson that became the voice of reason and reassurance.  The former NYS Senator and Gov. Cuomo advisor is viewed as an anchor of the QCT.  She acknowledged the frustrations of participants and saw that as a point to grow and learn how to move forward in the process.  “We are here to hear you,” she said.  “[If not] we won’t accomplish what we want to accomplish.”

The group has plans to meet with the community quarterly.  The next meeting is scheduled for June 22 at Mt. Moriah A.ME.at 7PM.  The group can be found online at www.queensconnectionteam.com.

Members of the QCT are listed below.  Each bring formidable experience or expertise to the group.  What follows is their summary points, background or role on the team.

Ruth Hassell-Thompson saw ground breaking equity partnership “for the first time at LGA”.  “It is what we have the potential for on the JFK redevelopment” she said. 

Queens Regional Representative from Gov. Cuomo’s office, Hersh Parekh reiterated the Governors commitment to 30% M/WBE participation.  “This is just the minimum, we want to surpass that goal,” he said.  “Consider me a resource,” he told participants.

Jim Stevens is the Program Director for JFK Redevelopment, Port Authority of NY and NJ.  Stevens has been with JFK for approximately thirty years and this is not the first time he has been involved with airport expansion.  “The infrastructure is no longer capable of handling it,” he said of its 60 million passenger population which is growing.  “We have good intentions,” he said, but noted that individuals at the Port Authority are “stretched thin doing thousands of different things”. 

Ida Perich is the General Manager of the Office of Business Diversity and Civil Rights, Port Authority of NY and NJ.  The unit ensures there is a diverse pool in terms of workforce and contractors.  “We raised [M/WBE] goals from 17% to 30%,” she said of minority participation.  The unit wants to help local businesses get certified and once they are certified ensure they navigate and have access to opportunities.

Carl Peters, Office of Business Diversity and Civil Rights, considers himself a “foot solider for the office”.  He helps ensure businesses are ready to do business and ensures compliance on the contracts that it receives. 

Danielle Douglas is the M/WBE point person on the team.  “M/WBE is critical”, she said.  “We want to think about programs that address issues of entrepreneurs.  Ensure programs that get you the contracts you need,” she said.  “Ensure successful implementation of 30% M/WBE goals and access to opportunity, access to capacity building,” she said.

Donald Vernon is a lawyer.  His focus in the negative consequences that can happen as a result of the re-development that includes noise mitigation and health.  He is looking to ensure the community benefits agreement contains a portion to address noise and air quality.  He also wants redevelopment to examine a decrease in carbon emission focusing on electrifying passenger gates, cargo areas, hangers and the like.  He is demanding compensation for the damage to property and health.

Stacey Gilbert is the Senior External Relations Representative, Port Authority of NY and NJ. 

Phillipa Karteron will focus on Economic Development.  Yvette Dennis will be focusing on Workforce Development.  Tony Andrews will be focusing on health.  LaToya Benjamin will be focusing on Education.  She gave a brief summary of the statistic of the area in terms of race, income and home ownership. 

 

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Getting a Piece of JFK Development

NYS Elected Officials with Representatives from Gov. Cuomo’s Office

by KAREN CLEMENTS
editor@thecommunitiesofcolor.com

Redevelopment to the tune of $10 billion dollars is coming to JFK International Airport. In order to ensure Southeast Queens, JFK’s neighboring community, its residents and businesses are a part of the development, a collective of Southeast Queens state legislature representatives hosted a community meeting. It was a beginning conversation to connect businesses to opportunities and invite residents to learn about and have a say in changes to infrastructure, transit and the environment as a result of the redevelopment.

The meeting, on Thursday, June 8, 2017 gave a broad picture of the economic development opportunities on the horizon at JFK and included a presentation from Hersh Parekh, the Queens Regional Representative from Governor Andrew Cuomo’s office. Parekh shared the redevelopment vision submitted by the empaneled committee designated to study the airport‘s needs. The Governor has set aside $10 billion dollars for JFK’s redevelopment. A similar redevelopment project is already in the works at LaGuardia Airport (LGA) to the tune of $4 billion dollars.
“15 million passengers come through JFK Airport. How many stay in Southeast Queens and spend their money here,” asked Chris Hsu, Director CUNY Aviation Institute at York College. Representatives from York and Vaughn College participated in the meeting as a reminder of the need for education for careers in aviation and any new business derived from that sector.
“Aviation is a sophisticated field. A Degree is an entry level qualification. [It is] still a young and growing field. You can’t even envision the jobs as the technology changes,” said Maxine Lubner, Management Department Vaughn College.

Redevelopment will upgrade JFK into a world class, unified and interconnected terminal made up of world class amenities and reflecting a true 21st century airport destination. Recently, JFK broke ground on its first on site hotel which will be located in the now historic TWA terminal. This JFK redevelopment is happening at a time when Southeast Queens has a number of slated projects that are moving forward in Downtown Jamaica.

JFK redevelopment will focus on three areas: traffic flow to and from the airport, traffic flow between terminals and a mass transit component building on the success of the AirTrain.
The Van Wyck Expressway, ranked the worst traffic in the nation, will be expanded to accommodate an extra lane of traffic each way which can be used as an HOV lane which moves traffic straight to the airport. The development is looking to stop passengers from endlessly circling the airport when they miss their exit with a more unified airport traffic flow.
A mass transit component which will piggyback on the success of the AIrTrain which has surpassed projections and is currently operating beyond capacity. The AirTrain Station will be refined to improve overall navigation and connections between stations. There will also be a feasibility study to ascertain whether a one seat ride should be added to the subway or LIRR for the AirTrain. The one seat ride would end the need for a transfer.

Money for the redevelopment will come from private/public partnerships. The airport development will be approximately $7-8 billion. The road access development will be approximately $1.5-2 billion while costs for the mass transit option are to be determined pending the MTA feasibility study.

After the vision for the redevelopment was presented, the floor was open to Q&A from residents. Meeting participants included a cross section of business owners, community and civic organization representatives. As such, questions ran the gamut. Business owners wanted to know how they get started in the process of connecting to this project and the criteria necessary in order to be considered for work. Civic and community leaders wanted to ensure there was oversight to ensure Southeast Queens maintains a stake in the development. There were calls for the appointment of a community diversity representative and for a community benefits agreement to be put in place. Residents reflected on a similar pre-development effort related to the AirTrain. They pointed out that the AirTrains development did not include a station stop in the area. There is however, a station stop in Howard Beach.

Parekh confirmed there was such a community representative on the LGA development and he believed the JFK development would follow suit. There was also mention of the various community outreach projects occurring in conjunction with the LGA effort. Parekh believed a likely duplicated effort will occur for JFK.

Conservationist wanted to know about the environmental impact and community zoning, especially where traffic was concerned and living wage employment. For many of those items, it was too early in the process to give definitive answers, but Parekh kept a rolling record of concerns.

Parekh believed having this conversation prior to the start of redevelopment was key and that having elected officials speak on behalf of the community was also important. Parekh mentioned that Queens Borough President Melinda Katz is a member of the empaneled committee and has been speaking on behalf of her Queens constituents in that role.
“You have to be proactive and be available to work on these projects,” said Parekh to business owners. Assembly Member Clyde Vanel affirmed that the redevelopment project will incorporate all types of businesses including lawyers, accountants, marketers and the like, not just construction companies. His main message to the community, and the governor’s office, “we are ready”.

The next steps will be for the elected officials collectively to meet with the Governor on this issue.

JFK is currently ranked 59 out of the top 100 international airports in the nation. LGA did not make the listing. JFK is expected to grow to accommodating 100 million passengers by the year 2050. The project is slated to begin at the start of 2018.§

Published in the January 2017 Issue

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Black Panther Shatters Hollywood Myths While Validating Blackness

by Karen Clements
editor@communitiesofcolornyc.com

On what would normally be a quiet morning, people were making their way to area movie theaters. By bus, car and foot, they assembled in the early morning hours to see the movie everyone was talking about, Black Panther.

The Black Panther hype went beyond a blockbuster Hollywood movie, beyond a Superhero adventure. The hype touched nearly every Black Household with murmurs about a movie with a predominately Black cast and a Black director. But it might have been its red carpet premiere that was the call-heard-round-the-world that this movie was the thing to see. Its Black cast arrived at the premiere royally attired. Traditional African prints, slick suits accessorized with tribal print scarfs, royal colors: golds, purples, greens, shimmering orange suits, dashikis and madiba shirts filled the red carpet. For a society which praises Givenchy, Chrisitian Dior and Chanel during Oscar season this ‘Black’ carpet was a sight to behold.
Opening weekend shattered box office records. Black Panther amassed $387 million in global ticket sales becoming the top-grossing film in history by a black director, Ryan Coogler. The previous record holder was “Straight Outta Compton” which collected $214 million worldwide over its entire run (adjusting for inflation). Domestically the movie grossed approximately $218 million its opening weekend. The previous domestic record holder for a February release was “Deadpool” which collected $159 million President’s Weekend 2016.

More than money, it was a movement with theaters scrambling to provide extra showings to accommodate large crowds. Church groups, civic groups, fraternities and sororities attending in groups and provided free tickets to youths. Individuals showed up and out in superhero costumes and African attire for the premiere.
But was all this hubbub worth it? In the end, did the movie deliver? Overwhelming the answer was yes. Black Panther was one of the most positively reviewed films of late. “It isn’t just great for what it is. It’s great for what it says,” wrote Jamelle Bouie in her review on Slate. Jamil Smith writing for Time in a must read article titled ‘The Revolutionary Power of Black Panther’ speaks to the importance of such a film.

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“Those of us who are not white have considerably more trouble not only finding representation of ourselves in mass media and other arenas of public life, but also finding representation that indicates that our humanity is multifaceted,” he writes. “Rather than dodge complicated themes about race and identity, the film grapples head-on with the issues affecting modern-day black life”.

What was refreshing was that the movie was not a collection of scenes with the goal of tackling stereotypes or changing minds. It was a presentation of a people who were smart, sensitive, funny, dynamic, thoughtful, provocative, caring, and, in short, human. The Black Panther, played by Chadwick Boseman, was a King grappling with leadership issues. His relationships with the women: his mother, sister, his presiding general and future Queen, were powerful and revealed authentic partnerships and mutual respect.

There were many Hollywood spoofs handled superbly in the film with the best being the ‘wig’ scene. The beautifully bald general had to wear a wig for an undercover mission. It was the most ill-fitting and unattractive item on her body. It was reminiscent of every bad wig worn by every black actor so they might assume the role of the character they had to portray in a film. Think Samuel L. Jackson’s Jehri Curl wig in Pulp Fiction. Can we talk hair? It was deftly crafted: braided, locked, twisted, natural, wavy, shaved, in its various artistic and creative forms and second in beauty only to the extravagant costuming. Props to the man in the green suit with the matching lip plate.

Not everyone is happy about Black Panther. While Twitter continues to blow up with hashtags of Wakanda trending, trolls have been banned from the popular site for creating fake news of white cinema-goers being attacked and shunned from theaters. There are some that believe the tribal references are demeaning and that there need not be such a pop culture moment surrounding a movie when there are larger more important issues at stake during the year of Trump.

Despite the haters, it is clear that Black Panthers is a win. It shows Black power at the box office, positive representation and increased global awareness of the history and culture of Black folks. These things are sure to lead to black power on voting day, black mobilization for justice and global acceptance of diverse cultures.§

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Jamaica Business Improvement District Gets New Executive Director

The Jamaica Center Business Improvement District announced its new Executive Director, Whitney Barrat.

Whitney Barrat

Whitney’s background includes work in policy, urban planning and at alliances.  She has worked on several projects in Manhattan including the Lincoln Center Development Project.  She served as the Executive Director of the Old Seaport Alliance and the Montague Street BID.  Her work at the South Street Seaport was post Super Storm Sandy and included the use of neglected spaces. 

She is newcomer to Queens and looks forward to learning about the background and history of Downtown Jamaica.  Whitney came to the Jamaica BID after a summer of consulting with the organization where she was encouraged to apply for the Executive Director position.

The new Executive Director is adjusting to the position and meeting members of the community.  Her current short term goals for the area include “safety…outreach…and vacancy” she said.  “Looking at what the community wants and needs.”  Whitney wants to ensure the streets are safe and that Downtown Jamaica continues to be a beautiful place for visitors and owners.  She will also be looking at marketing and outreach on behalf of its businesses. 

“Jamaica Center already has so much to offer, whether you live, work or shop here,” said Barrat.  “This is truly a wonderful time to be joining the Jamaica Center BID”.

Whitney began as the new Executive Director on February 12.