COMMUNITY INVOLVEMENT: A 10-year member of Community Board 7, John Henry Byas, Sr. serves on five committees, including Budget, Land Use and Housing. He is enthusiastic about voting on behalf of the proposed Flushing Commons. “The population in Flushing is increasing, the community is changing and we have to change with it,” Byas said. He is the Director of the Rachel Carson Community Program at I.S. 237 on Colden Street in Flushing, started in 1994 to keep kids off the streets. The Program runs a basketball team, computer class, step-dancing for boys and girls, English as a Second Language for adults and kids and has a game room with ping pong, pool tables and video games. Byas also serves as President of the Tulane building in University Park, managing any issues that arise among its 146 residents. He serves as Pastor’s Aid at Macedonia African Methodist Episcopal Church in Flushing.
JOB: Born and raised in South Carolina, Byas obtained his driver’s license at age 13 and drove a school bus while in high school. After he graduated, he spent four years in the Navy, then moved to Harlem and worked as the director of the elevator service at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in Manhattan for 41 years. He retired in 2000.
PERSONAL: Byas has lived in Queens since 1974. He lives in Flushing with his wife of 48 years, Johnnie May Byas, who is also active in their church. “She’s very supportive. Without her I wouldn’t be doing all this,” Byas said. He has two sons and one daughter and six granddaughters. He looks forward to seeing three of his granddaughters graduate high school and go on to college this year.
BIGGEST CHALLENGE: “My job is to keep children active after school. There’s a big turnout –128 registered kids. Everyone is supportive. I have no problems,” said Byas.
PROUDEST MOMENT: “When I married my wife of 48 years, and raising three happy kids,” he said.
FAVORITE MEMORY: Serving in the Navy from 1953-1957. “I saw a lot of things: the Korean War, beautiful countries all over the world and lots of different people. I’d like to go back to some of those places a civilian. If you want to see the world, join the Navy,” Byas said.
INSPIRATION: “I love children. I love to see them grow up in the community and become something. I want them to grow up to be respectable. That’s the next generation,” he said. – Catherine M. Lozada