2015-03-04 / Front Page

Katz Honors Black History Month

BY THOMAS COGAN

Dr. Selena Rodgers, education award winner, holds up her award as she stands between Andrew P. Jackson (Sekou Molefi Baako), lifetime achievement award winner, and Queens Borough President Melinda Katz.  At right is Deputy Borough President Melva Miller.  Photo Courtesy Borough President’s OfficeDr. Selena Rodgers, education award winner, holds up her award as she stands between Andrew P. Jackson (Sekou Molefi Baako), lifetime achievement award winner, and Queens Borough President Melinda Katz. At right is Deputy Borough President Melva Miller. Photo Courtesy Borough President’s OfficeAmong several Black History Month celebrations in Queens this month included one presented on February 25 at York College in Jamaica by Borough President Melinda Katz. At the ceremony, scholarships were given to young students and achievement awards to community leaders.  The borough president led the singing of the national anthem and also Lift Every Voice and Sing and officially presented eight scholarship prizes to students from six schools and 11 achievement awards to community leaders and institutions. Effectively, the real moderator of the evening was Andrew P. Jackson, a.k.a. Sekou Molefi Baako, executive director of Langston Hughes Community Library and Cultural Center.  He was a frequent commentator and even won an achievement award, which he said was a surprise to him.

The winners of the scholarships, each for $1,000, were: Azana Newman and Keli Amonte of Hillcrest H.S.; Nickai Ruddock and Asia Matthews of York Early College Academy; Anu Alade of Queens Gateway High School; Diamond Moody of Townsend Harris H.S.; Matthew Loyd of Thomas Edison CTE H.S. and Asoromchukwu Animalu of Francis Lewis H.S.  The eight winners were chosen from a field of 91 candidates. They were followed by a quartet of young women singing a capella, at first rather shyly but with a gathering force leading to a fervent finish. Jackson and Baako then delivered an overview of Black History Month, noting that February is the birth month of both Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass and that, as historian John Henrik Clarke said history is both where you have been and where you have yet to go.

The community service awards went to Charles Lilly (arts & cultural, individual); K.E.Y.A. Dance School (arts & culture, organizational); Diane Foster of the New York State Human Rights Commission (Queens borough president award); The Door Jamaican Restaurant (business award); Ramon Cameron (civic award); Selena Rodgers (education award); Karen Clements (journalism award); Andrew P. Jackson and Sekou Molefi Baako (lifetime achievement award); Rosedale Jets (sports award); Diamond Craig (youth leadership award) and Order of the Feather Fraternity (youth organization award).

Keep Empowerment of Youth Alive (KEYA) came into being because of Zakiya Kaalund Moreira, who accepted the award. She said that after graduating from Hofstra University in 1999 she took a job at Humanities and the Arts High School, formerly Andrew Jackson H.S.  She formed Dance Ensemble, an after-school group that attracted many students. Its popularity was such that she felt unable to leave the school when hired by a dance troupe.  In the years since she has formed other groups in South Jamaica to keep former students and others interested.  She said her goal is always to “keep empowering youth.”

The Door, 163-07 Baisley Blvd., which calls itself “An Elegant Jamaican Restaurant,” was lauded for its civic-mindedness—and, as the award presenter said, “the food is terrific.”  Ramon Cameron, the civic award winner, started Project Hope in 1996 after a horrible incident in which a 13-year-old was shot dead by a 16-year-old in a dispute about a quarter.  Cameron said Project Hope teaches a doctrine of self-improvement and has served more than 3,000 young persons and their families in Queens Village. Dr. Selena Rodgers got a loud reception from her York students and fellow teachers.  She’s spectacular in her dress and with her confidence, and tries to pass that confidence along to those she teaches.  Karen Clements was a newspaper and radio reporter who began Communities of Color News, which promises “News Without the Noise.” It was started last fall and circulates in southeast Queens, the Rockaways and central Brooklyn; it is also available online.  Its red, white and blue front page was a model for the awards. Jackson and Baako was described in the program as executive director of the Langston Hughes Community Library and Cultural Center and also Queens Library master of ceremonies and African American Heritage Committee chairman.  Though he was all that and also the narrative force of the meeting, he still said he was surprised to be considered for any recognition. 

The Rosedale Jets, the sports award winner, is a football team whose name is nearly as old as that of the New York Jets (but whose current record is incomparably better).  The organization was represented by Coach Jerwaine Gordon and President Jacques M. Leandre.  These Jets, created to provide “structured space for after school,” are at the 50-year mark and have gone undefeated in their last 30 games.  Diamond Craig, winner of the youth leadership award, started a blog called Purposefully Pretty (“Outreaching, Teaching and Inspiring Women Like You”) in 2012 as a counterforce to her feelings of self-doubt and a frightening (though mistaken) medical report that she might have lymphoma.  She was from the start “amazed by the positive reaction.”  Before long, she had a Purposefully Pretty team, some of whom posed with her when the award was presented. 

Order of the Feather Fraternity, Queens Chapter, was the final winner, taking away the youth organization award.  Presenting the award was Roslin V. Spigner, who said it was inaugurated in 1946, which another speaker called “a tumultuous and ugly time in history.”  The fraternity has for close to 70 years worked in the interest of higher education and employment opportunities for young men.  A flyer available at the meeting appealed to young men between the ages of 14 and 25, committed to bettering themselves as individuals, dedicated to serving the community and “looking for the unbreakable bond of brotherhood.”  Those interested are encouraged to attend open house meetings, held every Friday at 6:30 p.m. at Catherine & Count Basie Middle School 72, 133-25 Guy R. Brewer Boulevard.     

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