By Ayala Ben-Yehuda
Longtime activist Loretta Napier has spent decades bringing together Bayside's diverse communities to find solutions to problems big and small.
On Friday, Napier will be rewarded for her work by the northeast Queens branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in a ceremony at Flushing's Sheraton LaGuardia East Hotel. Napier is set to receive the civil rights organization's Eleanor Pittman Award “for dedicated commitment to the community and for your efforts in the battle for civil rights,” according to a letter from Kenneth Cohen, head of the NAACP's northeast Queens branch.
Napier, 66, attended Martin Luther King, Jr.'s historic “I Have a Dream” speech in Washington, D.C. in 1963. She models her own activism after King's by looking for unity with her neighbors of all ethnic groups.
“I'm always raising the issue of civil rights and equality, not just for African Americans but for everybody,” said Napier, a lifelong Bayside resident.
The former social worker with the State Division for Youth surmised that her late father, who helped construct the Community Baptist Church in Bayside, had passed down his leadership skills to her.
“He wanted to solve everybody's problems, and that's probably where it came from,” said Napier of her own activism.
Napier, the third vice chairman of Community Board 11, also serves on the board of the East Bayside Homeowners' Association as well as on the board of the Bayside Historical Society. She is the social services representative at the Community Baptist Church and was recently named vice chairman of the community advisory council at New York Hospital Medical Center Queens in Flushing.
“My house is a paper factory right now,” said Napier. “I'm in a thousand organizations, and I love every one of them.”
Between meetings, she devotes time to her son Ray, 37, daughter Virginia, 45, and her grandchildren. Her daughter Aronda, 41, died of a lupus-like illness in 1998.
Of the countless family heirlooms and photos that line her house, a picture of a gregarious, smiling young boy stands out. It is Napier's grandson, Christopher Scott, 11, who was struck by a car and killed in August 2000 while riding his bike on the 46th Avenue crossing at the southbound Clearview Expressway service road.
“That hit me between the eyes,” said Napier of his death. She, her family and other civic leaders in Bayside fought hard for the installation of a traffic signal at the crossing, But the proposal was rejected by the city's Department of Transportation in December 2000, with the agency citing insufficient traffic at the intersection.
“It smacks of racism,” said Napier of the lack of a traffic signal in a neighborhood with a larger black population than the rest of the community, given that there is a traffic device farther north on the Clearview service road.
“I believe the DOT is not doing what it should be doing to help the community,” she said.
Napier helped conduct interviews for the “Bayside Was a Wilderness Then…Voices From the Black Community” exhibit at the Bayside Historical Society, an oral history project documenting the experiences of Bayside's black population over the twentieth century.
“I'm gung-ho on making certain that their names and records are maintained for life,” said Napier, who noted that Bayside's black population is dwindling due to the high cost of living in the area.
Napier wants to document the lives of successful blacks who grew up in Bayside for a historical society project called “The Generations Continue.”
She looked fondly on her childhood in what she called the “little UN” of Bayside, where her mother made matzo ball soup and where Napier still receives hugs from her Greek hairdresser and baked ziti from an Italian woman down the street.
“Dialogue is the most available and meaningful way to understand one another,” said Napier.
Reach reporter Ayala Ben-Yehuda by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 146.