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THE COURIER/Photo by Salvatore Licata
THE COURIER/Photo by Salvatore Licata

The Rev. Floyd Flake, a prominent pastor and former congressman, has been a powerful advocate for improving the neighborhoods of southeast Queens, earning him the Juanita E. Watkins Lifetime Achievement Award from Merrick Academy.

“The work he has done is tremendous,” said Gerald Karikari, president of the board of trustees at Merrick Academy, a charter school in Jamaica. “Rev. Flake has made many distinguished accomplishments. It is a great day to honor someone who has done so much [for this community].”

The award was named for former city Councilwoman Juanita E. Watkins. Karikari drew comparisons between Watkins and Flake because of their shared vision that has helped the southeast Queens community continue to get stronger. Flake has served the community as a congressman and is the leading pastor at the Greater Allen A.M.E. Cathedral in Jamaica, which under his leadership has grown into one of the largest churches in the city.

“The way you carry yourself is the only way that you are able to rise from the position that you are in,” Flake told a crowd of students and teachers at Merrick Academy. “If we put our hearts, minds and souls into whatever we do, there is nothing that we can’t do.”

Watkins was the founding member of the board for Merrick Academy, which opened in 2000. Karikari said she would be so happy to see how they have expanded in the past year and how they are continuing to grow as a prominent educational facility in southeast Queens.

Flake said that he was honored to accept the award from Merrick Academy but remained humble throughout his speech. He called on the audience to stand up and applaud the children and teachers present for all their hard work and dedication. He gave encouraging words to the students at the academy upon ending his speech.

“Color means nothing,” he said. “What does matter is what is on your inside. That will drive you to do what you want to do.”

After the speech, students put on a performance that included songs and a dance tribute. Some students sang “Redemption Song” by Bob Marley and a group of others did a James Brown dance tribute that received a standing ovation from the audience.

Karikari outlined the importance of having a good arts program in the school as he said it will help students later in life, giving them the skills and confidence to go before large groups or to be more confident in front of future employers.

“I truly do believe in education and charter schools,” Flake said. “You children can become anything you want to be. You just have to work for it.”

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