Tag Archives: black history month

Police Commissioner Bill Bratton talks community relations in southeast Queens

By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Salvatore Licata

Police Commissioner Bill Bratton called for stronger ties between police and the community during a speech in Jamaica on Tuesday, when he outlined plans for greater collaboration and   alternatives to making arrests for first-time minor crimes while also recognizing law enforcement’s role in “many of the worst parts of black history.”

At a Black History Month event at the Greater Allen A.M.E. Cathedral in Jamaica, he said that the NYPD has made tremendous strides with regards to crime prevention but that there is always room for improvement. He said that new programs started by himself and Mayor de Blasio will help to do so and will have a “dynamic effect on the level and quality of policing.”

“Despite our accomplishments we’ve made in the past years, police actions can still be a flashpoint,” said Bratton. “The NYPD needs to face the hard truth [that] in our most vulnerable neighborhoods we have a problem with citizen satisfaction.”

Bratton mentioned some of these “hard truths” that the police have to realize and deal with. He said that “many of the worst parts of black history would not have been possible without police,” citing law enforcement’s role dating back to the days of slavery.

Bratton said that not recognizing this as an issue would not only be naive but reckless and irresponsible.

But he also mentioned that “far more often than not, many of the best parts of America’s history wouldn’t have been possible without police,” saying they are the protectors of such freedoms like those of speech and religion.

When asked about going back to community policing, a method that was scrutinized in the early ’90s for not being effective against historically high crime rates, Bratton simply replied that he doesn’t think the NYPD has ever gotten away from the strategy. He described the policing method using three “P’s” that he said the NYPD still practice today: partnership, problem solving and prevention.

The commissioner finished by saying that ultimately, policing is a shared responsibility: having the police and community work together will ultimately lead to a better and safer New York City.

“We cannot change the past but working together we can change our future,” Bratton said. “We all need to work together. All of us.”


Ridgewood Y director knows community service

| agiudice@ridgewoodtimes.com

Photo by Anthony Giudice

As the executive director of the Ridgewood YMCA, Lakeisha Harris knows what it means to serve her community.

Serving the community comes naturally to Harris, having earned her master’s degree in social work.

“I have always been interested in giving back to children and families … and it’s exciting to be able to do it in Ridgewood, Glendale, Middle Village and the communities that we serve,” Harris said. “That’s why I became a social worker to begin with, is to work in the community and be able to provide needed services to people who are unable, for whatever reason, to provide it themselves.”

Harris credited her mother for being her inspiration for getting into social work. Having worked hard to be where she is today, Harris emulates her mother and her work ethics.

“Because of what she went through is why I decided to be a social worker to begin with, to really help other kids and families who might also be struggling and need some encouragement, some support to get through. I think I’ve been able to do the things I’ve been able to do because of her,” Harris said of her mother.

“She’s just really resilient, really strong, and really passionate,” she added. “I still emulate her and when I get to be her age, I want to be where she is.”

One of the challenges Harris faces as executive director of the Ridgewood Y is having “high expectations.”

“I think the organization has high expectations and I think it’s making those expectations happen with limited resources,” she said.

But meeting those challenges leads to great success. Seeing and hearing the success stories of the people who use the Y is one of the best parts of her job, Harris said.

Being a prominent woman of color in the community, Harris said, “I love that we have Black History Month. It’s definitely an opportunity for me to hear more about what black people have done.”

“I definitely hope that what I do at the Y is an example for other brown and black children,” Harris said. As a mother, Harris hopes that her son is informed of the people of color who have done amazing things in the past, and even today.

Tucked away off Fresh Pond Road at 69-02 64th St., the Ridgewood Y (formerly known as the Catalpa YMCA) has been there since 1931 and previously served as the Queens County Magistrate’s Courthouse. The YMCA of Greater New York purchased the building from the city in 1965.

Renovations were made to the building in 2011, transforming it into a state-of-the-art facility complete with a gym, an early childhood educational facility and other amenities.



Latimer House, museum for African-American inventor, rethinks museum concepts

| ejankiewicz@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Eric Jankiewicz

Anarchy is the word of the day at the historic Latimer House in Flushing, where the African-American inventor Lewis H. Latimer lived in the early 20th century.

“We’re embarking on an experiment here where we let people touch and interact with the historic displays. That’s why we’re calling it an experiment in anarchy,” said Monica Montgomery, director of the historic house. “When people are being killed on our streets, we want people to come here and grieve and explore ideas for social justice. And celebrating Black History Month is a great way to begin that.”

On Friday, Parks Department officials and representatives of New York City’s historic houses met at the Latimer House to celebrate Black History Month and receive a check for $100,000 from the Historic House Trust, a public charity organization that runs a network of the 23 historic house museums across the city. The Latimer House will receive $5,000 from the check.

Latimer lived in the Flushing house from 1903 until he died in 1928. The son of runaway slaves, Latimer is known for his work with Alexander Bell in creating the first practical telephone, and he is an inductee of the National Inventors Hall of Fame.

Lewis Latimer

Lewis Latimer

“A lot of the remembrance during Black History Month surrounds this idea of oppression and negativity, but I want people to see that black people have invented things and contributed to our society,” Montgomery said. “So it’s very important for us to remember Lewis’ story as an inventor overcoming obstacles.”

The Latimer House stands as a monument to Latimer’s work and many of his items, like a piano, are on display. Until recently, visitors were prohibited from touching historic items, much like at most museums. But the Historic House Trust, which provides funds to the house, decided to try a new model with the Latimer House by loosening the rules.

“The project, Latimer Now, is meant to engage more with the community and become more than just a sleepy house with dusty items,” Montgomery said.

Frank Vagnone, executive director for the Historic House Trust, said the project is meant to change the way people look at museums. In the fall, they plan on publishing a book called “The Anarchist Guide Process” that will outline methods for museums to change their model into a more engaging institution.

“We want anarchy,” he said. “So go ahead, play on Latimer’s piano, touch his tobacco pipe.”

Along with the hands-on approach to museums, Montgomery launched the “Unconquerable” initiative, referencing a poem by Latimer, a man who was born at a time of slavery, lived to see the Civil War and contributed much to America’s industrial period.

“This house was a salon during Latimer’s lifetime,” Montgomery said. “And we’re bringing that back. We’ve started to have gatherings here where people discuss the problems of our times and try to figure out solutions. That’s Latimer’s legacy.”


Liu hints he might abandon run for mayor in light of scandal

| jlane@queenscourier.com

Graphic by Jay Lane

Liu hints he might abandon run for mayor in light of scandal

Beleaguered city Comptroller John Liu hinted last night he might abandon a run for mayor following the arrest of his campaign treasurer in the mushrooming straw-donor fund-raising scandal. “All options are on the table. We’re moving forward,” Liu said in a vague response to questions about his future before hosting a Black History Month event at Medgar Evers College in Brooklyn. Read More: New York Post

Sex attack on elderly Fresh Meadows woman

A 67-year-old Queens woman was sexually assaulted in her home after she invited in a man who had asked for a glass of water, cops said. She encountered the pervert Monday in her building in Fresh Meadows at 2 p.m. When she invited him in, he pulled a knife and forced her to perform a sex act. Police said he is black, between 45 and 65 years old, 5-foot-9 and weighs 160 pounds. He wore black-rimmed glasses. Read More: New York Post

Yeshiva tutor admits molesting girls, 8

A yeshiva student trusted by parents to tutor their children pleaded guilty yesterday to sexually molesting two fourth-graders. Hillel Selznick, 25, of Flushing, told Queens Supreme Court Justice Richard Buchter he inappropriately touched the two 8-year-old girls over the course of a year during private tutoring lessons inside the victims’ homes. Read More: New York Post

Fanning racial fires

A tutorial workshop for the upcoming FDNY entrance exam turned raucous last night when the organization that represents black firefighters — which was hosting the Queens event — turned away whites who wanted to attend. “This is absurd,” fumed Rob, a 21-year-old who was one of about 60 whites refused entry by the Vulcan Society at MS 72 in Jamaica and whose angry reaction drew 30 NYPD cops and school safety officers. Read More: New York Post

TSA Introduces Expedited Security Screening Lane At JFK

Getting through security at John F. Kennedy Airport is a little easier for some passengers as the Transportation Security Administration launched Wednesday its Pre-Check Program at Terminal 8. Low-risk passengers can volunteer information about themselves before flying to get expedited screening at checkpoints. Under the program, passengers may be allowed to keep their shoes, belts and other items on while passing through security. “I’m not a frequent flyer though, but it is annoying. I understand you need it, but if you can avoid it why not?” said one air traveler. Read More: NY1


Queens Film Festival Gives Credit To Local Talent

Jackson Heights resident Richard Uhlig, who wrote and directed the film “Can’t Dance” is ready to show it off. “‘Can’t Dance’ is about a lonely widower who plays with his toy trains all day and his dead wife’s ghost comes back, and she coaches him on how to talk to the neighbor lady, so he can get a life again,” said Uhlig. Uhlig’s film is one of more than 125 in the Queens World Film Festival, which opens Thursday night and runs through Sunday. He says having his film in the festival is a great opportunity and that he shot it in his apartment in just two and a half days. Read More: NY1

Honoring African-Americans who paved the way

By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com

Photo Courtesy St. John’s Archives

When Carl Fields walked the halls of St. John’s there weren’t many other blacks enrolled in the school, but they were welcomed equally to the university.

Fields, who was part of the class of 1942, shone brightly on the track team and in the classroom.

He graduated with his bachelor’s in English and social science, and was the first African-American inducted into St. John’s College’s Skull and Circle Honor Society, having never failed to place on the school’s dean list. He was also the first African-American to serve as the captain of the track team.

But he didn’t stop there. Fields would later become the first African-American administrator of an Ivy League institution, when he was promoted to assistant dean at Princeton University in 1968 — 30 years after he first enrolled at St. John’s.

The University acknowledged his achievements by awarding him with the President’s Medal, the Medal of Honor, an honorary doctorate and inducting him into the St. John’s Hall of Fame. And today there is a center dedicated to equality named in his honor at Princeton.

Fields is at the forefront of the rich black history at St. John’s, a history that is celebrated for only one month of the year, but is weaved into the University’s past – and present.

“Since its inception in 1870, St. John’s was aware of the need to offer men and women of all ethnic persuasions an education,” it reads in a 1985 St. John’s Today article on Black History Month.

Fields also recognized St. John’s cultural tolerance had transcended its time. He once described that blacks roamed the halls of St. John’s, conducted experiments in the labs, studied law and accounting and played in the arenas and fields of the institution way before it was acceptable at many other schools.

“In 1938, however, St. John’s had committed itself to equal education for all, before the historic Supreme Court decision of 1954 and without the attendant hoopla that characterized the efforts of other colleges in the 1960s and ‘70s,” said Fields in an article he wrote in 1988. “In effect, it was an act of faith and a pragmatic belief in the potential of black students to benefit from sound, Catholic-oriented education.”

Throughout the 1930s the Vincentian, the Pharmalog, and the Closing Entry yearbooks of St. John’s Colleges reveal that blacks increased in population and became slightly more prominent on campus.

In 1931 William Tucker Garvin became the first African-American to graduate from the St. John’s School of Law. Garvin was also recognized as the first black man to serve in the Queens District Attorney’s office.

Just over a decade later, in 1946, Cora Walker became the first African-American woman to graduate from the law school at a time where not many women were lawyers. Walker went on to become the first female president of the Harlem Lawyers Association, and was a senior partner at Walker & Bailey.

Solly Walker came to St. John’s from Brooklyn’s Boys High School to play basketball for the Redmen in 1950. Walker was the first black player for the Johnnies and helped the Red and White make a run to the NCAA Finals the following year.

“Although St. John’s was tolerant, they [blacks] still faced societal discrimination and some were successful nonetheless,” said Dr. Leonard Baynes, Professor of Law at St. John’s and the Director of the University’s Ronald H. Brown Center for Civil Rights and Economic Development. Baynes points out, because many black students still had to fight for their positions after graduation, it made their accomplishments that much more inspiring.

After the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s, blacks at St. John’s found ways to advance their culture and presence on campus.

In 1968, six black students founded Haraya, the Pan-African Students Coalition and currently one of the largest cultural organizations on campus, to further help advance black students. In its first year the group founded the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Scholarship, which gave four-year, full-ride scholarships to 10 black students.

On April 30, 1969, a committee consisting of 11 black students and 14 faculty members, including administrators, recommended a Black Area Studies program and in the fall of that year there were three Black Area Studies courses in the School of General studies.

As the years went by the black population grew and more successful graduates graced the University’s halls. Congressmember Charles Rangel graduated with his law degree in 1960, and the former Secretary of Commerce, Ronald Brown, earned his diploma in 1970. Current Indiana Pacers coach Mark Jackson graduated in the class of 1987, and Dr. Tony Bonaparte, 1964 MBA, became the first black provost of St. John’s in 1994.

Today there are nearly 3,000 black students scattered on the various St. John’s campuses, according to the 2010 Fact Book. There are also various organizations and groups that are dedicated to serving blacks.

But although blacks have become more abundant on campus, Baynes said its worth remembering those that came before.

“It’s important to know our early history, so we remain steadfast in our continuation of appreciation for diversity,” he said.


Queens Jazz roots run deep

| aaltman@queenscourier.com

The timbre of Dizzy Gillespie’s trumpet and the vibrato of Ella Fitzgerald’s voice come alive this month as the spirited style of Jazz music and culture ignites at Resorts World Casino New York City in celebration of Black History Month.

The brand new entertainment complex plans to celebrate Black History Month by featuring an exhibit of famous Jazz musicians who have roots in Queens. Hosted in Resorts World’s Times Square Casino Atrium, the display is set to run through Saturday, March 3.

“Our Queens community is well known for its impact on jazz music and culture. We are proud to join in that tradition and provide an exciting and unique experience for guests,” said Michael Speller, president of Resorts World. “We have embraced the diversity of this community, with 91 percent of our employees being people of color or women.”

Attendees can stroll through the demonstration, decorated with portraits of Jazz legends, such as Louis Armstrong and Billie Holiday, each of whom contributed to the rich cultural diversity of Queens.

Alongside these images, visitors can trace the Queens Jazz trail using the illustrated timeline.

Guests can also admire works of contemporary art, created by several of the city’s most prominent African American artists, including Frank Frazier, Brent Bailer, Willie Torbert and Sir Shadow.

This event is a combined effort between Resorts World and several local organizations, including the Council for Airport Opportunity (CAO), the Jamaica Center for Arts and Learning (JCAL), the Greater Jamaica Development Corporation (GJDC), York College, Flushing Town Hall and the Flushing Council on Culture and Arts.

For more information, visit www.rwnewyork.com.