In the Summer of 2006, I took two nephews and a next-door neighbor’s child across town to see The Wizard of Oz in Forest Park. We thoroughly enjoyed the outing, but as I left the park I couldn’t help but ask: “Why must I leave my neighborhood in order to have such a wonderful community building experience?” The answer was I didn’t have to. I just needed to start an organization that could exhibit movies in a park in my neighborhood.
In January of 2007, I incorporated A Better Jamaica – a Jamaica, Queens based non-profit guided by a mission of engaging in activities designed to strengthen the set of southeast Queens, New York neighborhoods known collectively as Jamaica. I had not worked for a non-profit in over 20 years, and certainly had never started one. Ignorance was indeed bliss.
Soon after incorporating, the board and I commenced to plan and fundraise for our first program – Family Movies in the Park. In the Summer of 2007, with the fiscal sponsorship of an established local non-profit – and funding from a local New York City Council Member – we proceeded to pay a Brooklyn based exhibitor of outdoor movies the entire $5,000 that we had raised to exhibit two movies (Happy Feet and Pride) in the beautiful St. Albans Park. We weren’t sure who – if anyone – would show up, but we adopted the Field of Dreams “…build it, and they will come…” approach; and come they did. Our very first showing drew more than 100 people.
In the Summer of 2008, we were able to raise enough money to show two movies in each of two local parks. From those modest beginnings, we’ve grown to sixteen programs including (in order of development): Family Movies in the Park; Jamaica311; Classic Film Fridays; Jamaica Reads; Jamaica Solutions; The Jamaica Ball; JAC’s Holiday Music; Jamaica Shoots; The AirTrain Jazz Festival; The Delightful Festival; ABJ’s CASA; The Carver Scholars Program; The Jamaica Dance Festival; SU-CASA; The Saint Albans Craft Walk; and Art to the People. A brief description of each of our programs can be found on the home page of this website.
Each of our programs has grown out of the specific needs of the community that we serve. While changing, Jamaica:
- is predominantly black, outside of the downtown which is predominantly South Asian and Latinx;
- is fantastically diverse, in terms of household income;
- is home to the highest concentration of civil servants in New York City;
- has some of the highest levels of homeownership in the city;
- and at some recent point was ground zero for foreclosures in New York State.
But this is just the surface of the picture. An outsider visiting downtown Jamaica might just see a great number of recent immigrants living in tight quarters. For those who manage to venture beyond the downtown, they might not see anything other than black faces living in a large bedroom community that looks more like the suburbs than any of New York City’s other boroughs.
To just make these observations and stop there is to overlook the beauty of one of the most culturally rich neighborhoods in New York City. To not see the diversity of Spanish speakers (the Ecuadorians, the Colombians, the Mexicans, the Puerto Ricans, etc.) or the diversity of the south Asians (the Indians, the Bangladeshis, the Pakistanis, etc.) in the downtown is to not see the richness of the cultural offering. To just see the black faces is to not have an appreciation for the richness of Jamaica’s black mélange – the black southerners, the folks from throughout the Caribbean, and the more recent migrants from present day Africa.
Jamaica is a brilliant community and we are proud to serve its residents.