Officials celebrate Flushing street co-naming honoring late community activist

Family and friends of John Byas join Councilwoman Sandra Ung and Senator John Liu to co-name the intersection of Colden Street and 45th Avenue “John Henry Byas, Sr. Way” on Saturday, Aug. 26.
(Photo courtesy of Dana Byas)

Flushing community leaders joined Councilwoman Sandra Ung and Senator John Liu on Saturday, Aug. 26, for a street co-naming ceremony at the intersection of Colden Street and 45th Avenue honoring the life and contributions of the late John Henry Byas Sr., who was known as a tenacious community advocate.

Ung and Liu, along with members of Community Board 7 and friends and family of Byas, unveiled the street sign ‘John Henry Byas, Sr. Way.’

Councilmember Sandra Ung joins Johnnie Mae Byas and other members of the Byas family to reveal the new street sign honoring John Byas at the intersection of Colden Street and 45th Avenue in Flushing.(Courtesy of Ung’s office)

Byas was an active member in the Flushing community. He served on Community Board 7, was elected district leader, served on the Board of Directors of NewYork-Presbyterian Queens and started a successful after-school program for local youth at I.S. 237. He was also an active parishioner at Macedonia AME Church, where he was a pastor’s aide.

“We all saw the same thing he saw, jobs that needed to be done and problems that needed to be solved,” Nia Johnell Byas, the granddaughter of John Byas, Sr., said during the ceremony. “He saw possibilities where the rest of us saw need. He saw opportunity where the rest of us saw problems. Grandpa’s enthusiasm gave the rest of us what we needed most, which was leadership. So, grandpa, on behalf of everyone here, I’d like to say thanks for being a man of action and not just words. You got us started, rallying people to work together to complete your work in the community.” 

Byas was born on Nov. 18, 1934, in South Carolina and eventually settled in Flushing in 1974 with his wife Johnnie Mae, with whom he raised three children, Clyde, Dana, and John, Jr. Shortly after moving to the building on Colden Street where he would live for the rest of his life, Byas started a tenants’ association. 

He is perhaps best remembered for a decades-long crusade to have a comfort station built at Rachel Carson Playground on Colden Street to serve the families and children who played there. 

With the help of then-councilman John Liu, funding was allocated for design and construction of the comfort station in 2008. It opened to the public in 2013. 

“John Henry Byas was a devoted community activist in and around the Flushing community with a penchant for making sure his voice, and his community’s voice, was heard. If there was an issue that affected the people of Flushing, you could always be sure Mr. Byas would be there to make sure it benefited our community,” Liu told QNS. “His voice and friendship will be deeply missed, but with this street co-naming, his legacy will continue to live on and inspire others to get involved in community service.”

Ung remembered Byas as a “remarkable individual who left an indelible mark on the Flushing community” for the four-plus decades that he called home. 

Councilmember Sandra Ung speaks at the co-naming ceremony for “John Henry Byas, Sr. Way” as Nia Johnell Byas, the granddaughter of John Byas, looks on.(Courtesy of Ung’s office)

“With this street co-naming, we are ensuring that he will always be a part of Flushing. ‘John Henry Byas, Sr. Way’ should serve as an inspiration to all of us that one person can make a difference and transform the lives of those around them,’” Ung said. “Hopefully, this street co-naming will inspire others to follow his example. It was my honor to bring this street renaming request before the City Council, and I am happy for the Byas family that it is finally a reality.”