Tag Archives: Op Ed:

Looking into the artwork of LIC artist Luba Lukova


| aaltamirano@queenscourier.com

Aeroblue © Luba Lukova


What was only supposed to be a one-week visit to New York for an international exhibition has turned into about 25 years of success for Long Island City artist Luba Lukova.

As a young girl in Bulgaria, Lukova never had a doubt as to what she wanted to be when she grew up. Influenced by her grandmother who was an artist, Lukova began to attend art classes and then graduated from an art academy.

Through an invite from Colorado State University, where school officials had seen some of her early artwork, Lukova came to New York for an organized exhibition featuring artists from all over the world.

Her initial idea was to stay in New York for a week and then return to Bulgaria, but she decided to stay indefinitely, and in 1991, she began drawing illustrations for the book review section of The New York Times. She then moved on and drew for the publication’s Op-Ed section covering subjects such as the Middle East.

These illustrations opened up doors for Lukova, exposing her to a larger audience, which got her into theatre work creating posters, and years later she even got a call from then-presidential candidate Barack Obama’s campaign to use one of her images months before his inauguration.

“It was just a miracle. I never went back [to Bulgaria],” she said. “For a young artist, it was a mind-blowing experience and when I saw the reaction of the people, it was really very exciting for me.”

Lukova’s pieces, whether they are on a canvas or theatre poster, all convey social and political issues in what she calls a “simple and accessible way.” She tells a whole story with just a few colors and images and creates visual metaphors for viewers to take in.

“[My artwork] involves thinking and the viewer’s participation,” she said. “All of my work is like that — it’s always provoking stuff. I try to make it accessible and bring something to the contemporary viewer that can stop them and make them think.”

Her “Social Justice” poster portfolio, the first publication from her own publishing company, has gotten her national and international acclaim. Currently some of her work is part of a show at the Museum of Modern Art and Denver Art Museum.

After moving out of Manhattan following 9/11, Lukova has been working and living in the booming art scene found in Long Island City. Last year she took part in the LIC Arts Open festival, which introduced her to a community she has now become a part of and loves.

“I think it’s a great group of artists with a lot of energy,” she said. “The art community here is growing and it is so huge.”

This year Lukova designed the poster for the LIC Arts Open, and her exhibition “Drama on Paper: Posters for the Stage” can be found at The Local at 13-02 44th Ave. throughout the festival.


     LIC ARTS OPEN POSTER © Luba Lukova

“I’m excited to be a part of it again,” Lukova said. “I think what [the festival organizers] do is very admirable and I hope we will keep the community here and we will expand. Because New York without the arts would be a very sad picture. We don’t just want New York to be the city with museums; we need the real art here.”

 

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Op-ed: Cataloging Queens Library’s accomplishments


| oped@queenscourier.com

JOSEPH FICALORA

When I agreed to join the Board of Trustees of Queens Library, I did so out of a sincere desire to serve the community. Trustees are volunteers. Trustees spend many hours of our own time attending meetings, doing research, and helping to steer the library for future generations. I wanted to maximize my volunteer hours by doing the most good for the most people in my community, and I cannot think of an organization that makes a bigger impact than Queens Library.

During the past 10 years, Queens Library has been a force for immeasurable good. More than 128 million people have visited their community libraries during that time. They have borrowed well over 200 million books and videos. Every library building in every community has been upgraded or is in the pipeline to be upgraded. Millions and millions have used the library’s customer-use computers. Throughout an unrelenting series of budget cuts, the hard-working staff stretched their resources and every library stayed open at least five days a week, including during the critical after school hours every Monday to Friday. Based on accepted national estimates, this means that Queens Library delivered $6 billion worth of goods and services. That’s “billion” with a “b.” Queens Library has won every major industry award for achievement and innovation, from the National Award for Library Service to Library of the Year.

Queens Library is not about statistics. It is about people. In Long Island City, toddlers gather for story time, while their parents chat. In Corona, every seat is filled every day; adults read newspapers in English and Spanish and talk with their neighbors and parents accompany children for homework help. In Far Rockaway, library users take advantage of job search assistance and computer training. In Jamaica, new Bengali immigrants attend workshops in their own language to teach them how to sew, so they can start small home businesses. In Elmhurst, a nursing student is looking for material to help pass the licensing exams. Queens Library supports the community with a broad range of programs and services.

Doing it all, every day, takes astute management. Queens Library is a very large, complex organization. I am proud to be a member of the library board, but the real credit goes to the 1,700 hard-working library staff who serve the public every day. A huge “thank you” to the President and CEO Tom Galante, who has devoted his career to enriching lives. Every not-for-profit would do well to take a page from his book.

Joseph R. Ficalora is President and Chief Executive Officer, New York Community Bancorp and a member of the Board of Trustees of Queens Library.

 

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Op-Ed: Rebuilding our city with private investment


By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com

TA Stuy Speech at MicSmileCrop

The recent superstorm, Sandy, has devastated large parts of our city, and while we must continue to help those neighborhoods still in need, we also must begin to figure out how we move forward to avoid this large-scale suffering again.

First of all, our power grid is extremely fragile and in need of serious upgrade. Too many of New York’s electrical lines are above ground, which will always leave us at the mercy of Mother Nature, who seems to be more mercurial these days, probably because we are not treating her planet as well as we should.

We need to look at how the electrical and energy grid can be upgraded, safeguarded and backed up. This includes investing in new power plants in safe areas (why was a Con Edison plant near a hurricane zone?), figuring out how to move as many power lines as we can underground, and developing a gasoline back-up strategy (New York City reserves?) so we do not have a crippling shortage in future emergencies.

Beyond developing an energy and electricity policy for New York City that protects us going forward, we need to develop plans to rebuild in our precious waterfront communities that are safe and cost-effective. Do we need to set back our communities from the waterfront and put up walls or levees to protect them?

With our crucial subway system, there is one relatively inexpensive quick fix. Like Singapore has done, we should build elevated entrances at subway stations that are vulnerable to flooding. Just imagine walking up a few steps before you then head underground so that our subway stations are protected in the future.

On a more macro level, how do we now protect our citizens in places like Queens, lower Manhattan and waterfront sections of Brooklyn and Staten Island in a cost-effective way? Perhaps we need to look at private-public partnerships that allow private investment dollars in our waterfront to help fund the necessary investments like large river gates.

How can we turn areas of our city’s waterfront into thriving marinas which bring in private investment dollars, while at the same time funding our necessary safety precautions like sea gates or protective walls?

Imagine a New York waterfront that attracts boats — large and small — from along the eastern seaboard and where our citizens can go to enjoy a day at the shore and eat and shop along the waterfront.

We see small pockets of this at our piers on the West Side of Manhattan or near Battery Park City, but we can do more to develop our waterfront in such a way that will create new jobs, new tax revenue and new ways to fund our necessary infrastructure improvements.

We must heal our communities while we also learn the necessary lessons from our recent superstorm devastation. We must not let ourselves be lulled into stasis as we were after Hurricane Irene. We can rebuild and make New York a better, safer place. Let that process begin now.

Tom Allon is Republican and Liberal Party-backed candidate for mayor in 2013

 

Op Ed: Human trafficking is not victimless


By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com

BY SENATOR JOSE PERALTA

I introduced a bill last year, which Governor Andrew Cuomo signed into law, prohibiting the distribution of obscene, business-card-sized ads for prostitutes.  These so-called “chica” cards, which have been handed out along Roosevelt Avenue and adjacent streets for many years, feature promises of “free delivery.”

After a press conference at which I unveiled my chica cards bill, the problem drew attention.  The cards were the subject of some jokes.

And it turned out that one of the cards we enlarged and displayed at the press conference pictured an international supermodel.

The harsh reality, however, is that there is absolutely nothing funny, or glamorous, about prostitution.

The fact is, many women from around the world and across the country are brought here — to New York, to Roosevelt Avenue — and are enslaved, forced to have sex with strangers for the profit of human traffickers and pimps.

We have to dispel the dangerous notion that prostitution is a victimless crime.

And we do that with information and by raising awareness.  Someone aware of the brutal truth is less likely to participate in the continued exploitation of these women.

And that’s the point of the public awareness campaign I am launching.  I put it together in conjunction with the mayor’s office and Restore NYC, a non-profit that provides aftercare services to sex-trafficking victims and operates a safe house in Queens.  The campaign consists of getting posters into storefront windows and informational, palm-sized pamphlets into people’s hands along Roosevelt Avenue and neighboring streets, areas where many of the women trafficked into New York are prostituted.

Again, someone who understands what these women are really going through is less likely to participate in their brutal exploitation.

As Faith Huckel, co-founder of Restore NYC observes, “sex trafficking is one of the most violent humanitarian issues of our day.  To call it anything less is to disregard the trauma, rape and abuse experienced on the part of the victim.”

Traffickers prey on the poor and vulnerable.  They use promises of a good job or a false marriage proposal to lure victims.  Other victims are kidnapped or sold into the sex trade by parents, husbands or boyfriends.  Many of these women are being abused and exploited in public and private locations in our very own communities, including Jackson Heights, Corona and Flushing.

We must seek justice for trafficked women.  To that end I have also I introduced a bill in the New York State Senate to reclassify sex trafficking as a violent felony and increase the minimum jail sentence to five years.  The minimum sentence currently is one to three years.

Classifying sex trafficking as a violent felony not only raises the minimum sentence for a first offense, it can put someone that commits multiple violent offenses away for life under the persistent violent offender law.

By raising awareness and imposing penalties commensurate with the brutality inherent in sex trafficking, I hope that we can put at least some traffickers and pimps out of business and keep them from destroying more lives.

Senator Peralta is the Ranking Democrat on the Labor Committee and also serves as a member of the Finance, Investigations and Insurance Committees.

Op Ed: Condemning the violence against Sikhs


By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com

ALEX HEADSHOT

In the aftermath of the terrifying events in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, the American Sikh community is grieving the loss of six lives. They are also awaiting answers.

Why would such a heinous act be perpetrated, committed within their own house of worship? Although the investigations concerning the motives of the killer are ongoing from local, state and federal authorities, there has been an unfortunate history of violence against Sikhs since the attacks on September 11, 2001.

Most devout Sikh males do not cut their hair, which they cover with turbans. The turbans and their uncut beards are frequently, and inaccurately, associated with images of terrorism and violence. Many times, attacks against Sikhs are cases of mistaken identity, with the perpetrators thinking the Sikhs are Muslims.

If the perpetrator of this horrendous attack was driven by a fear or hatred of Islam and Muslims, it must be stressed that the Sikh Coalition is vehemently opposed to all acts of religious bigotry. Sikhism is a religion of love, strongly advocating a peaceful coexistence with other faiths.

The fifth-largest religion in the world, Sikhism was founded in the late 15th Century in the Punjab region of present-day India by a succession of 10 gurus, or spiritual leaders. The first, Guru Nanak, was strongly opposed to the Hindu belief in castes — a class system — which in turn dictated one’s career, social standing and even who they were allowed to marry. Another fundamental belief for Sikhs was the promotion of equality among men and women. Sikhism is also a monotheistic faith, meaning they only believe in one god, who they call Waheguru. Their image of Waheguru is gender neutral, further promoting their concept of gender equality.

The tenth Guru, Gobind Singh, laid out several rules of conduct for Sikhs, the most obvious being unshorn hair. Another rule was the adoption of a shared last name, Singh, which means “lion,” for men, and Kaur, or “princess,” for women. Sikhs worship at temples called gurdwaras, where all are welcome, even non-followers. After the worship service, the gurdwara offers a free community meal called langar.

Sikhs first came to the United States in the late 19th century. The U.S. has the fourth-largest Sikh population in the world, behind only India, the United Kingdom and Canada. Despite facing adversities such as bullying, job discrimination and racial profiling, Sikhs are a proud part of our cultural landscape, working in all professions and contributing to their communities. Queens boasts the largest Sikh population in New York City and is home to several gurdwaras.

What happened in Wisconsin was the latest in a dreadful saga of violence against Sikh Americans. What makes this the most upsetting is that this occurred at a house of worship. Attacks at any house of worship — church, synagogue, temple, mosque, or gurdwara — must be condemned, as these institutions are regarded as places of peace. Crimes like this strike at the heart of religious freedom, a core principle that is central to Sikhism and the United States alike.

Alex DiBlasi is an educator and advocate for the Sikh Coalition, the largest Sikh civil rights group in the United States. He lives in Long Island City.

Op Ed: A Model School in Queens


By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com

By Francis Mechner, Ph.D.
Director, Queens Paideia School

“Paideia” – Plato’s ancient term for the ideal education of Athenian citizens — is an apt name for the widely-accepted educational philosophy that John Dewey expounded in the early 1900s. Children must learn not only the three Rs, Dewey said, but also the skills and knowledge they will need to negotiate the challenges of adult life in the real world.

No one would dispute the fact that every child is unique. Children obviously differ in personality, temperament, learning style and cultural background, as well as in knowledge, skills and general ability. Is it reasonable to ignore these important differences and educate all children the same way? Most educators acknowledge that batching same-age children into classes can never meet the needs of all. Some children will not have the required preparation, some could go faster, some don’t learn well by listening, some can’t sit still for long, and some simmer with emotional issues.

In short, one-size-fits-all may work for, say, hats, but not for the education of children. The fixes that have been tried — No Child Left Behind, standardized testing, holding teachers accountable, charter schools — fail to address the core issue, namely that every child must be educated in a way that recognizes his or her unique and individual characteristics.

Are these impractical and unaffordable?

So it would seem, until you have become familiar with the Paideia Personalized Education system, (PPE) a whole new way of addressing education.

PPE provides a fully personalized education for every child, and implements (not merely espouses) the core principles of modern education theory and the “whole child” approach in a functioning K-12 school setting.

Queens Paideia School (QPS) in Long Island City is currently evolving into a showcase of PPE’s effectiveness and practicality. When you walk into a QPS classroom, you see children of diverse ages and backgrounds working at their desks according to personalized learning plans and objectives in the core academic areas.

The students rarely look up, giving the impression of the self-motivated independent learners they are growing into. They seem to enjoy what they are doing. There are no teachers standing in front of classes. What you see is learning managers walking around the room providing help and guidance as needed. Sometimes you see older students helping younger ones.

Equally striking are some other things you do not see: discipline problems, anxiety and fear of failure, and teacher burnout. What is not immediately evident, but key to the functioning of the system, is that every student is progressing along a different, carefully designed and customized curriculum under learning managers’ watchful eyes.

The result? Students normally progress faster than they would or could in a traditional setting, resulting in unusually high levels of academic achievement. Failure is impossible, while special talents and abilities find expression. Students also learn vital non-academic skills: positive ways to socialize and collaborate, self-management techniques, critical thinking skills, effective work and study habits, self-observation and reflection practices, and maintenance of personal health and well-being. The PPE system truly educates “the whole child.”

QPS also illustrates how a PPE school can become a close-knit community whose members have learned to forge and cultivate long-term bonds of friendship and mutual support.

The maximum size of a PPE school is approximately 30 students. Can this model be scaled up and made economically feasible for much larger and more diverse schools? We believe it can through putting together, in modular fashion, a large number of 30-student units across which fixed costs like administration, library, facilities for lunch, music, art, science labs, and physical education can be distributed.

It may be a big idea, but no bigger than the problem being addressed. We believe that there is reason for hope.

So you want to have ‘inclusion’


| brennison@queenscourier.com

BY ANDREW BAUMANN

Since I can remember, the state’s Department of Education has always talked about “LRE,” or Least Restrictive Environment. The days of special education students being secluded into one building are just about gone. With more and more opportunities for each child to reach his fullest potential, doesn’t it make sense that we should offer these students every possible support, service, and yes, classrooms to make this a reality?

However, inclusion must be done correctly. What I mean is that in order for an inclusion program to work, we must look at all the students in the classroom, not just the special ones. Special education students come in a wide variety of shapes, sizes, and even the severity of their disability. We cannot treat a child in a wheelchair the same as a child with an Autism diagnosis.

The first thing we have to do correctly is evaluate. Every child that needs a specialized service must get that service to succeed. Every child who needs some extra help while taking a test must be given more time. Conversely, every typical child in that same classroom will need a little more attention. This must be accounted for as well. To make inclusion work, every student in the class must feel that they are “a part” of the classroom. This can be a very challenging thing to make happen.

Over the years, I have seen a wide variety of different inclusion models. Some failed miserably, but some had some wonderful outcomes. Take Antonio for example. Inclusion in one school failed miserably and simply moving him into another school building with experience in the “inclusion” program yielded unbelievable success.

I think that the most beneficial thing about inclusion can be a “peer” modeling program. This is when a typical child is “buddied up” with a student with special needs. In one school district, we introduced this model and saw marvelous results. We paired 6th graders with 3rd graders; 9th graders with 5th graders; and high school students with middle school students. At first we had a lot of resistance from the parents, but once we met with them, explained the program and the benefits to each child, the parents were so supportive that within a year we had a waiting list for peer mentors.

All in all, the inclusion model of education should be every special child’s right. Based on a thorough evaluation and appropriate placement and services, every child can succeed. In this day and age and what we know on how children with developmental disabilities can learn, as long as we do it right, include all parties in the planning process, develop good Individualized Education Plans and provide well-trained teachers to guide our children, inclusion is a very good model to use in educating children with disabilities.

One parent told me that her child was not welcomed in her local school. He was sent over 10 miles away to a school that was appropriate. How does he make friends? What birthday parties will he be invited to? How about just an opportunity for a play date? Not likely. But what if he got that same program in his local school?

Andrew Baumann, Ma, CASAC, FAPA, is president and CEO N.Y. Families for Autistic Children Andrew@nyfac.org

 

Op Ed: The Myth of Relaxation


By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com

By Rabbi Yossi Blesofsky

A recent Wall Street Journal article discussed the results of a fascinating study. People who work under high pressure conditions will often take time off to get away from it all, relax and “decompress.” This, common wisdom assumes, is the way to alleviate the accumulative effects of stress. Alas, the study’s findings indicate that a cycle of intense stress followed by utter relaxation does nothing to counter the deleterious physical and mental health effects of chronic stress. The only thing that really helps is learning to respond in effective ways to stress-inducing situations as they arise. Relaxation is not what heals stress, but reshaping our day-to-day behavior in a way that makes for a less stressful life.

Passover is a celebration of our capacity to attain freedom in “every generation” Yes – even in 2012, to leave whichever “Egypt” our souls languish in. Yet, when we think of freedom, we usually think in terms of being free of care, worry and the burdens of life — in other words, freedom equals “relaxation”. Passover seems to contradict this with its laws on banishing every crumb of leaven from every nook and cranny of our home, with the requirement to eat precise amounts of Matzah and drink a certain measure of wine with each of the “four cups”. Religiously speaking, without eating and drinking the specified amounts, we have not really celebrated the Seder.

Is this focus on detail, freedom? Indeed, there is no other true freedom. We are physical beings living in a world of myriad details and minutia. If we say, “I can only spread my wings and feel uplifted when I transcend the body, the Earth and all its petty details,” we are basically saying that God cannot be felt here in our world. In this model, God is imprisoned in the sublime, and we are imprisoned in the petty. Escaping the petty will not help either — sooner or later we will need to return from the vacation, and then we are back to square one.

Passover responds by telling us that if we truly want our spirits to soar, we must find God in the details of the world we live in, in the same way that stress is not eliminated by escaping our life-frameworks, but by remaining within them and transforming them from within. At the Passover Seder, the ordinary act of eating embodies the will of the infinite, packaged in a few mouthfuls. God is not imprisoned, and neither are we. God can be wherever God chooses to be, even in the act of eating a piece of Matzah or the sounds of a small child asking the Four Questions. And we, too, are set free, as we discover the transcendent in the stuff of everyday life.

Wishing you a holiday of true freedom!

Rabbi Yossi Blesofsky is the Director of the Chabad of Northeast Queens

Op Ed: Labor invests in ‘The American Dream’


| gfloyd@queenscourier.com

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President Barack Obama recently proposed the American Jobs Act as a remedy to end the most devastating unemployment our nation has experienced since the Great Depression.

I have an idea on how to help.

In consultation with our financial advisors, union pension funds are routinely invested in various projects and bonds that will protect those funds, and enable them to grow. Often, those projects involve other states and nations. But here’s my thought: Let’s invest in America.

Specifically, let’s invest in New York where the added value would be job creation for New York workers. And I know this works. We tried it before with great results, in New York City in the 1970s and, before that, President Dwight Eisenhower successfully used this idea in the 1950s for building interstate highways. It’s already being done in California, where its public employee retirement system (CalPERS) has just earmarked an additional $800 million for infrastructure investment…on top of the $60 million already invested.

Some will see this as merely a “PR” smoke screen to counter critics of unions who say pensions, especially public employee pensions, are the cause of our nation’s economic crisis. But they are not. What the union-bashers forget is that we’re Americans too. We pay taxes and are struggling to do more with less, just like everyone else. We didn’t cause this mess we’re in!

The recent Census shows that poverty in the nation is at an all time high of 15 percent. And in New York, poverty is even higher, at 16 percent — marking the worst it has been since 1998. Experts warn that we run the risk of creating a new “underclass.” Clearly, we’ve got to do something to help ourselves and we’ve got to do it now!

I want to work with the president of New York State’s AFL-CIO, Denis Hughes, and my other colleagues in labor to identify different investment projects that will safeguard the money of pensioners as well as create jobs for New Yorkers.

This initiative will bring the labor movement back to its roots. Labor unions helped to build our nation’s middle class. We helped to make the “American Dream” come true. Sadly, some people have forgotten this. They only see the economic nightmare we all share.

This pension investment plan would revive the “American Dream” for our children and rebuild the middle class through investments in America by Americans and for Americans.

By Gregory Floyd, President of City Employees Union Local 237 International Brotherhood of Teamsters