When the Little Guyana Avenue street sign was unveiled last month at the intersection of Liberty Avenue and Lefferts Boulevard in Richmond Hill, it was a proud and meaningful moment for Romeo Hitlall, who was one of the organizers for the ceremony.
“Having that sign shows that Guyanese people have an impact in the community, and they have their own space — we have somewhere to call home,” said Hitlall, who immigrated from Berbice, Guyana, to the United States 35 years ago with his family in pursuit of a better life.
Hitlall, a resident of South Ozone Park, has invested his time, resources and advocacy to help others locally and abroad.
He has been a member of Community Board 10 for the past 10 years, the 106th Precinct Community Council, the Federation of Hindu Mandirs and the Phagwah Parade of NY.
He is also the charter president of the Richmond Hill-South Ozone Park Lions Club, which has organized local events such as the first Christmas tree lighting in Richmond Hill, helping to feed the community and hospitals during the COVID-19 pandemic, and providing $1,000 college scholarships to high school graduates.
“We support local families and we do outreach for anything that’s happening in the community,” Hitlall said. “We are involved with the local precinct, the community board and fire departments.”
The club is also involved in many international projects conducting outreach in Guyana, Gambia, South Africa and the Dominican Republic, delivering medical supplies and front relief. Recently, Hitlall, along with 16 members, traveled to Guyana and donated 100,000 female sanitary pads and 10,000 marble notebooks to the first lady of Guyana, Arya Ali.
The group also donated 15,000 books to the Ministry of Education and $2,500 to another institution to have their gates and guard huts redone, Hitlall said. They’re also sponsoring a club in West Coast Demerara.
Locally, one of Hitlall’s accomplishments is the installation of the “Welcome to Richmond Hill” sign that stands on a triangle at an intersection between Liberty Avenue and 133rd Street. Hitlall had worked for four-and-a-half years with Senator Joseph Addabbo Jr. and others to put the sign up in 2011, which he says represents the growing South Asian and West Indian commercial strip.
It was very important to have the sign welcoming everyone to Richmond Hill, Hitlall said.
“Some people call it the ‘Romeo Hitlall Triangle.’ When you go into different communities, they have a sign welcoming everyone,” said Hitlall, who maintains the triangle. “The area wasn’t being taken care of, and I thought to just beautify it so people entering the community would know it’s Richmond Hill.”
With so many initiatives on his agenda, Hitlall is also the CEO and real estate broker for NMCRA Connectors Realty in South Ozone Park. For Hitlall, it’s exciting to help people achieve their American dream of owning their first home, as he recalled the day his parents bought their house.
“It was very exciting after six of us were living in a basement,” said Hitlall, describing the moment as the best highlight of his life. “It’s the single largest investment a person can make. I love the way people react, just being happy and seeing their family so excited about the process.”
As one of the youngest real estate brokers and owner of a real estate company in 2000, Hitlall says it was difficult at one point.
“I was about 22 years old and a lot of people would look at me and wouldn’t take me seriously. In certain areas, we couldn’t sell. I tried my best to work with everyone,” Hitlall said. “I enjoyed doing it and I still look forward to helping people.”
When Hitlall became a realtor, he began sponsoring local cricket teams, baseball leagues and other events, he said. As the years went by, he wanted to give back to the community. Some of Hitlall’s past events include the first cancer walk for a cure, a relay for life event at Smokey Oval Park and local charity/talent shows.
For Hitlall, it’s a satisfying feeling to be able to help people.
“It gives me the drive to continue doing what we are doing … when you see people’s reaction and expression, that just makes you want to do more,” Hitlall said. “I’m fortunate to be able to do it for as long as I can. Everyone says I do so much. There are people out there, and if we can help, we do. It makes a difference.”
As he continues to do more outreach in the community, Hitlall says it’s also important for people to vote in local elections.
“One of the things I always tell people is that if you’re not involved, then don’t complain,” Hitlall said. “If you are involved, at least you know that you went out and voted and hopefully that person will help. That’s a very big thing in our community, and I think people need to become more involved in the voting process.”