UniverSoul event thrills in southeast Queens

Photo by Naeisha Rose
By Naeisha Rose

UniverSoul Circus has brought its show back to Queens.

The circus began April 19 and runs through May 7 at Roy Wilkins Park between Baisley and Merrick boulevards in Jamaica.

On April 24 the circus held its first free family open house for 2,000 city kids who live in transitional housing.

UniverSoul includes acts from around the world. There was the motorcross stunt team, Xtreme Bikes from Chicago and upstate New York, the Bone Breaking Contortionists from Guinea, the dancing Roller Skaters from Ethiopia, stilt and bachanal dancers from Trinidad and Tobago, and acrobats Aerial Silks from China. As the ringmaster “Lucky” Malatsi clowned around and the performers soared high and limboed low, classic music like “Tutti Frutti” and “Respect” was blasted through the speakers alongside dance hit “Juju on that Beat” and tropical rhythms from the Caribbean.

One of the organizers of the event was Lebrandon Smith, 25, an events coordinator for Samaritan Village, which runs homeless shelters around the city.

“I knew our families would enjoy the UniverSoul Circus,” Smith said. “I reached out to them and they jumped onboard immediately. It initially started with a few numbers of tickets, but once they learned about the homeless crisis in New York City, they decided they needed to do something and it blossomed into this.

”Wycima Spence, mother to 7-year-old Girl Scout Jahzara, knew this would be a moment her daughter will cherish forever.

“This is good for the community and the kids,” Spence said. “A lot of them have never been to the circus. It’s an experience that we value.”

“One of the families at the event was the Nunuz family, which includes Sapphire and her daughters, Amy, 10, and Grace, 5. Together, they have lived at the Urban Strategies Shelter in Brooklyn for over two years.

“Being in the shelter, I meet people from similar situations,” Sapphire said. “We share views, we get motivated by each other’s strength. Many times they give you the hope that you will leave the shelter and be successful. The facility tries to build you up.”

With help from the staff of Urban Strategies, Sapphire is now able to pursue a degree in nursing at Long Island University.

Her daughters couldn’t wait to see what was under the big red and orange tent.

“We get to see clowns doing funny things and acrobats dancing,” Amy said. “Even though we live in a shelter we get to see things that we don’t even know.”

“I want to see the zebra, the tiger and the lion,” Grace said.

Smith, of Jamaica, started working with Samaritian Village because he knew people who face the same obstacles.

Assisting the veterans giving kids snacks and toys was Dr. Darlene Brown Williams, the assistant commissioner of the new Integrative Health & Community Resilience Department for NYC Veterans, which opened in July 2016.

“Our veterans have served our country, and I think that it is our duty to give back when they come home after they risked their lives and put their families on hold,” Williams said. “We ensure that they have proper housing, secure houisng and permanent housing.”

Lending out a hand during the event was Fred Green, a leader with J-CAP, which stands for Just Caring About People, a community center that helps people with different illnesses. The center is located at 116-30 Sutphin Blvd. in Jamaica.

“I want to help others get clean,” Green said. “I was a drug user, went to jail, all of that. I got dirty in Southside, I got clean in Southside and now I’m teaching in Southside Jamaica.”

Reach reporter Naeisha Rose by e-mail at nrose@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4573.

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