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Katz honors Queens leaders at Black History Month event

Katz honors Queens leaders at Black History Month event
Jacqueline Boyce (r), executive director of the South Quens Park Assn., steward of Roy Wilkins Park in South Jamaica, receives the Borough President’s Award from the beep herself, Melinda Katz.
Photo by Naeisha Rose
By Naeisha Rose

Feb. 23 marked the fourth Black History Month celebration hosted by the African American Heritage Committee through the Queens Borough President’s office. The event, which honored student scholars and community leaders, was held at the newly built Helen Marshall Cultural Center atrium located at Queens Borough Hall in Kew Gardens.

Some of the officials at the event included Queens Borough President Melinda Katz, Patrol Borough Queens South Assistant Chief David Barrere, and Councilman I. Daneek Miller (D-Jamaica).

“We are here to celebrate leadership in the borough of Queens and nationally,” said Katz. “We celebrate the leadership of Dr. King, Rosa Parks, Frederick Douglass and those individuals who we rest on the shoulders of, but we also have many heroes right in our community and tonight is our chance to pay honor to those heroes as well…and let us give a hand to the future of America.”

The students honored at the event were CJ Brown (Hillcrest High School), Cosette Davis (Queens High School for the Sciences at York College), Jaya Hamilton (Academy of Finance and Enterprise), Sydni Karyn Hicks (St. Francis Prep High School), and Tamara Smith (Forest Hills High School).

Brown and Smith intend to go to Stony Brook University, Davis plans on attending Yale University, Hamilton wants to go to NYU, and Hicks hopes to go to The Savannah College of Art & Design. Each student has an average that is above 93.

Before the awards were given out, Katz, a mother of two, took a moment to address the difficulties parents and students face in this current administration.

“Let me just say this on a personal level,” said Katz. “We are facing extraordinary times in the United States of America.”

She added, “As I go around the borough I hear from so many parents about the difficulties about explaining to their children what is going on and how it is going to affect their lives and how it’s going to affect their families. And to be here to celebrate the heritage of the African-American community sends a very strong message to whoever is listening that Queens, the most diverse area on the planet…stands up for one another. Whether we are second- or third-generation American, or whether we just came here yesterday for the American Dream, we work together, we celebrate each other and we take pride in each other and we take pride in the fact that Queens is made of such a diverse population.”

Kicking off the event was Ashley Keiko Chambers, a saxophonist and pianist who studied jazz and classical music for over 15 years. The recent grad student received her master’s in Music and Music Education at the Teachers College in Columbia University. Throughout the night Chambers played the Black American National Anthem “Lift Every Voice & Sing” and “Pearls” by Sade on the sax. Now that she has her degree, Chambers is on her way to opening a music school in Queens Village.

“I want to bring the gift of music to children and adults,” said Chambers. “Music programs, as we know, are being cut from schools across the country and music is such an important outlet to express themselves and use their brains in a different way and I think bringing music to the community is a great extra curricular for kids to have after school.”

As the school continues to undergo renovations with help from the crowdsourcing site Kickstarter.com, Chambers has plans it to include “private lessons, group lessons, jazz ensembles and string ensembles.”

Chambers’ fund-raising goal is $10,000 and within a month her music school dreams has reached 95 percent of the target. The school will be located at the intersection of Jamaica Avenue and Hempstead Avenue.

The community leaders who were honored at the event were Jacqueline Boyce (Borough President’s Award), Bill Briggs (Sports Award), Elsie Saint Louis (Civic Award), Shearon Smith (Business Award), Ralph McDaniels (Lifetime Achievement Award) and Nathaniel Valentine (Journalism Award).

“I have been given awards for community service, but this is the first award I’ve gotten for journalism,” said Valentine, who shoots many assignments for the TimesLedger Newspapers. “It means a lot to be recognized and to see what you do as important.”

Photojournalism has been a childhood passion of Valentine’s and to be able to fulfill that dream continues to be a rewarding experience for him.

“I had the idea of capturing images and even though I did other things during life, in this life I’ve always wanted to do this, so here I am. I’m doing this and it’s a blessing,” he said.

Valentine also acknowledged the need for black voices in journalism.

“There needs to be more black voices in journalism in this time. I think once those of us, African-American, Afro-Caribbean, however we describe ourselves, we have an unique perspective and that using our artistic gifts to capture that puts a different flavor on everything.”

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