Investing in Youth: Congressman Meeks announces major funding for Southern Queens Park Association

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Rep. Meeks presents members of the SQPA and Showing Hearts Foundation with $3.5 million in federal funding for a new community center.

Photo by Athena Dawson

Dozens of people, including local leaders, elected officials and community members, gathered at the Roy Wilkins Recreation Center’s gymnasium in St. Albans for an early morning Juneteenth breakfast event hosted by the U.S. Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-5) on Monday, June 10.

The event aimed to unite the Southeastern Queens community and present a $3. 5 million dollar community project check to the Southern Queens Park Association (SQPA).

The Bartlett Contemporaries Jazz Band captivated the crowd at Monday’s event. Photo by Athena Dawson

The event kicked off with the smooth sounds of the Bartlett Contemporaries Jazz Band, followed by a breakfast featuring an assortment of foods paying homage to the South, including fried catfish and grits. Attendees mingled with each other and eagerly enjoyed the breakfast as they waited for the program to begin. The program opened shortly after the meal with the singing of the Star Spangled Banner and the Black National Anthem, “Lift Every Voice and Sing.” 

Following the national anthem, Jermaine Smith, executive director of the SQPA, spoke to the eager crowd. Smith thanked the community for attending the event and for celebrating the upcoming Juneteenth holiday. “In a world where there are a lot of holidays and special events, Juneteenth really stands out as important,” he said.

Smith referenced the origin of the holiday, which commemorates the final end of slavery in southern states just after the end of the Civil War. Smith also noted to the crowd that the SQPA is the only black-run park in New York City. He added that the SQPA’s legacy dates back to the 1960s when residents advocated for the organization to be in charge of Roy Wilkins Park, which is located in a predominantly Black community.   

Jermaine Smith, executive director of SQPA, addresses the crowd. Photo by Athena Dawson

Smith also thanked the SQPA executive board members for their service to the community and the park. “It is community and community empowerment as to why we are all here today. We’re talking about our workforce program and SQPA, the Greater Triangular Civic association… our community that comes together to make sure that in times like this, we get to celebrate Juneteenth and share other opportunities amongst the community,” he said.

After Smith’s speech, Meeks took the stage, speaking to the crowd on a wide range of topics. Meeks briefly spoke on politics, calling out former president Donald Trump for his recent felony convictions, adding that community members should take the opportunity to vote in the general election to keep Trump out of the White House. “We are going to be entering into probably the most important election of our lifetime in November. Democracy is on the line,” he said. “This guy is a convicted felon.. he couldn’t work in most places in the U.S. right now. If he were a member of Congress, he would be expelled.” 

Meeks added that Trump’s Supreme Court appointees are rolling back levels of freedoms that will affect the next generation, including DEI programming. “This is a serious election, not an election to be playing around with. Generations are at stake. We cannot allow history to repeat itself,” he said. At these remarks the crowd murmured support in unison, as many community members clapped and cheered in approval. 

Meeks reflected on the struggle that many Black Americans faced for almost 100 years during the Jim Crow era, which lasted from the 1860s to the 1960s. He recalled how his father could not vote until 1963. “1863 to 1963, 100 years before the Supreme Court started to change the rules again,” he said. 

Rep. Gregory Meeks addresses the eager crowd, urging them to vote in upcoming elections. Photo by Athena Dawson

Additionally, Meeks endorsed surrogate court candidate Queens Supreme Court Justice Cassandra Johnson and urged community members to vote in her favor in this month’s judicial election. “On June 25 in our district, we have judges that are on the ballot… judges are so important as we see from the federal level to the local level,” he said. 

Following his political statements, Meeks provided a congressional citation to recognize Jeffrey A. Cocker, a maintenance supervisor at SQPA, for his longtime service. Meeks called up SQPA leaders and members of the Showing Hearts Foundation, an organization dedicated to youth economic empowerment and community outreach, to the front of the room. 

The representatives were presented with a check for $3.5 million of federal funding toward the creation of the Goodrich Legacy Center. The center will redevelop an unused bunker, part of the SQPA, into a recreation center focused on providing workforce development programs and entrepreneurship resources for the youth. “A community is only as strong as the people who live in it,” Meeks said in his closing remarks to the crowd.

Following Meeks’ speech, the chairman of the SQPA board thanked Meeks for the multi-million dollar investment. “The next kids in our future can see a community center in Southeast Queens for workforce development. For years, this community has asked for resources, and the congressman has given it to us in an amazing way,” he said. 

David Tanis, chairman of the board of the Showing Hearts Foundation, echoed Morrison’s views thanking Meeks for the investment. Tanis explained how the southeastern Queens-based nonprofit organization’s mission is to educate, empower and uplift the community through organizational support, youth economic development and community outreach. “One of the things we wanted to focus on was how to empower our youth,” he said. Tanis explained how the organization made sure to provide strategic mentorship for young people within the neighborhood. “With this investment… we will make sure to connect our young people with more resources … to make sure they can be the next version of leaders coming out of southeast Queens,” he said.