Jackson Heights cultural group honored

By Jyoti Thottam

A Queens-based cultural awareness group received a citywide award in recognition of its contributions to western Queens at a ceremony Monday.

The Cultural Awareness Council, based in Jackson Heights, received one of two Community Leadership Awards from the Citizens' Committee for New York City at a Manhattan awards dinner hosted by actress Phylicia Rashad.

The council, formed in 1986, runs a program that helps Queens young people share experiences from their own cultures and confront stereotypes about others.

“Neighbors in these communities come from every continent in the world,” said Osborn Elliott, chairman of the Citizens' Committee. “The Cultural Awareness Council has been crucial in mediating tensions, familiarizing longtime neighborhood residents and their diverse new inhabitants with one another's customs and beliefs.”

The Cultural Awareness Council serves teenagers from several parts of western Queens, including Jackson Heights, Corona, East Elmhurst, Sunnyside and Woodside.

About 30 teens attend a weekly workshop at the Renaissance School in Jackson Heights, and a few dozen more attend other special events at libraries, schools and local cultural festivals.

“These issues really impact on teens' lives,” said Susie Tanenbaum, assistant director of the Jackson Heights Community Development Corporation. “They're living this.”

The development corporation provides the administrative and fund-raising support for the council, which was started as a civic association in Elmhurst/Corona. In the early 1990s, the group had become inactive, but four years ago, the Jackson Heights Development Corporation received a grant to revive it as a youth-focused organization.

While the original group primarily dealt with the issues arising between first-generation immigrants and their established neighbors, Tanenbaum said the Cultural Awareness Council today also deals with the inter-generational conflicts between immigrant parents and their “Americanized” children.

“Often they are dealing with different values at home and in school,” Tanenbaum said.

The teenagers active in the council reflect the diversity of the neighborhood, coming from several parts of Latin America, the former Soviet Union, the Caribbean and South Asia, as well as many American-born teens. The council's recent projects include a video history in which teenagers documented their own communities; presentations on stereotypes about the disabled and homosexuals; and workshops run by the teenagers for younger children.

As part of its recognition of the group, the Citizens' Committee has also asked the Cultural Awareness Council to begin training other community organizations to run similar programs or workshops.

“We're very glad to be able to do it, and we hope to be a resource to other groups that are working with teens,” Tanenbaum said.

The Citizens' Committee for New York was founded in 1975 during the city's fiscal crisis to fund volunteer work addressing poverty, crime, drug abuse and other social problems.

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