Forum encourages young people in SE Queens to get involved

Panelist for the Black Men in Public Service forum spoke about the importance of community involvement.
Photo by Nat Valentine
By Gina Martinez

Elected officials from Jamaica and their staff members held a forum last Saturday at Dabar Bethlehem Cathedral reaching out to young people and explaining how they can get involved in bettering their community.

The hour-long forum called “Black Men in Public Forum: Navigating through Politics” held at the Queens Village church, located at 218-38 98th Ave., gave tips to community members on the importance of community involvement.

Chief staff members of Jamaica elected officials addressed a group of about 20 attendees who were mostly young black men and women.

Derrick Davis, chief of staff to state Sen. Leroy Comrie (D-St. Albans), talked about the importance of speaking up about what you want from local public officials. He said he and his staff take the residents’ varying visions for their community and try to come up with something that works for almost everyone.

“One of the things I noticed about the senator is that he is a consensus voter,” he said. “Even if constituents disagreed on what they want, he tried to figure out a way to come to a decision everyone could live with. He used his vision to best moving the community forward by hosting town halls, meetings with folks from the community, online surveys, and engaging in a dialogue to figure out what it is you think is best suited to move community forward.”

He said it is not always easy because Comrie represents 375,000 constituents in a very diverse community.

“So what people in Jamaica feel is best for Jamaica, people living in Kew Gardens may feel differently,” he said. “You have to take divergent factors, put it in a blender and figure out how to best proceed.”

Jamal Wilkerson, chief of staff to Councilwoman Adrienne Adams ( D-Jamaica ), said she is trying to engage younger women in politics by leading by example.

“In this district it doesn’t matter where I go, they need to be able to see and relate,” he said. “Adams is the first female council member in the 28th District. She is big on teaching young women and ladies on how to get into politics, and also just understand politics. Not everyone needs to be in politics, you just need to have an understanding of politics. By her going out there herself, when she was knocking on doors running, that resonated with other young ladies.”

He said instead of just gathering signatures she would engage with young women and ask them what they wanted from their community and explain how she can help and what they can do to make it happen as well.

“By sitting down with students and asking them to work together, she showed them that two heads are better than one.” he said.

James Johnson, community liason youth specialist for Councilman Daneek Miller (D-St. Albans) said he sees more young people in neighborhoods in Harlem and Brooklyn getting involved but southeast Queens has lagged behind. He said it does not even necessarily have to be politics, just getting young people to care about the community.

“We have to push them towards civic engagement,” he said. “I think we can do a lot better job into how we can get young people involved in Queens. I care about us, I know a lot of young people who need jobs and affordable housing. My biggest fear is if we don’t organize now and step up those houses you see in Cambria Heights, in Laurelton and Hollis, we wont be able to live in them.”

Johnson said one example is getting younger people involved in block associations, which he believes are dying. He said Cambria Heights, in particular, is very senior heavy and he hopes that the younger generation can one day be part of the planning.

Reach Gina Martinez by e-mail at gmartinez@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4566.

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