2004-02-13 / Columnists

Black History Month Special Edition

Black History Month Special Edition PART2

Gregory W. Meeks CongressmanGregory W. Meeks Congressman

This is the second of four special Black History Month articles that will run in The Wave this month.

Rather than run the usual and sometimes mundane material that traditionally runs in Black History Month

sections -- Martin Luther King’s "I Have A Dream Speech," or the story of how Jackie Robinson broke into major

league baseball in 1948, we will feature stories of local people from the world of education, politics, business and

Curtis Archer RDRC   Executive DirectorCurtis Archer RDRC Executive Director

community affairs, who will speak from their hearts about growing up and about the role models in the

Black community that made they who they have become.

Meeks, who spent his youth in New York City housing projects has propelled himself to the office of United States Congressman. Now, he spends his days exhausting his efforts advocating for consumers, and helping to create jobs and opportunities within his district.

Gregory W. Meeks grew up in the Redfern Housing Project in Far Rock away. Through hard work and personal motivation he put himself through college and received a law degree from Howard University. Throughout his adult life, Meeks has dedicated himself to the state of New York, working as an assistant District Attorney, a Special Narcotics Prosecutor for New York City, and the Supervising Judge for the New York State Workers Compen sation System. Before being elected to represent the 6th Congressional Dis trict, he served as an Assemblyman for the 31st District here in Rockaway.

Greg Carter  President Rockaway Sports AssociationGreg Carter President Rockaway Sports Association

Meeks remembers several role models he admired during his youth in Rockaway. "My mother, Mary Meeks," he says, "is my ultimate role model. She sent me to law school, and taught me how to be a leader through her dedicated involvement with the block association and civic association where I grew up."

Meeks does not single out his mother as the only inspiration in his life however. "I had several people I could look up to growing up," he states.

One of these people is Sister Leona Cooke who worked with the NAACP in Far Rockaway. Meeks notes that, "she spent her life constantly fighting against racial discrimination."

Meeks credits the Reverend Joseph May and Robert Simmons with motivating him to get involved in politics: "Joe May was always encouraging me to participate civically and politically and Robert Simmons constantly pushed young people above himself. Together they helped show me and other young people the importance of getting involved in the political system."

Meeks says that another vital role model who helped him become the man he is today is Josephine Johnson. "She committed her life to the betterment of her community," he says, "and taught me the positive effects one individual could have on the lives of others."

Despite his personal success, Meeks has never forgot the community he grew up him. He still lives in Far Rockaway with his wife and daughters and works daily to help improve the quality of life in the area.

He stresses that, "Black History Month is for everybody. This is a chance for everyone in the nation to share in the great diversity we have. Everyone should use this month to learn and celebrate the accomplishments of the African-American community in America."

Curtis Archer, the executive director of the Rockaway Development and Revitalization Corporation, (RDRC), says that it sounds "clichE9," but that his parents were his real role models when he was growing up.

"My mother’s people were from St. Kits and my father’s from Georgia and North Carolina," he said. "They were self-sufficient people who did not be lieve in taking assistance if they could work for themselves.

Archer tells a story of his maternal grandfather, who was a "Garveyite," a follower of Marcus Garvey, a man who wanted Black people to leave Amer ican and make a nation for themselves.

He says that his grandfather had a saying that Archer still lives by.

"Don’t ask for other to give you what it is that you will be given," Archer says by rote. "Self-reliance is the only way that we can be a free and independent people."

"They were defined by the work that they did," Archer adds. His father was a longshoreman who worked for many years for the Penn Central Railroad and his mother was a dental assistant nearby Yankee Stadium in the Bronx.

Archer came to Rockaway to work for the then Borough President, Claire Shulman as her Director of Economic Opportunity.

From there, he went back to Man hattan to head an empowerment zone project.

When Jamel Johnson decided to leave Rockaway, he called Archer and told him that the job was available.

Archer jumped at the chance to move to Rockaway.

He came to Rockaway in August of 1998 and has been here ever since.

"Rockaway is unlike any other place on this planet," he says with a laugh. "It’s like living in a small town fish bowl, but I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything."

Archer says that, when he was growing up, the Black people that he knew had two or three pictures on their walls. One was Abraham Lincoln. The others were the Kennedy brothers – Robert and John.

"Black people were always Repub lican because of Lincoln until Eisen hower," he says. "Then JFK came along and that all changed."

He says that the Republicans must broaden their base to take in the growing Black middle class.

"I guess I’m getting more conservative as I grow older," he says.

Archer asked Wave Managing Editor Howard Schwach if he remembered the first time they met.

Schwach did not.

"It was in front of 6200 Beach Channel Drive when we announced the plan to develop that site for the new Addabbo Family Health Center," Archer said. "You thought that it would never get off the ground."

Now, Archer says that it is one of his proudest achievements as the RDRC head.

The groundbreaking for the new medical facility will take place next Friday.

"Rockaway is on the way up," he concludes. "And we will ride with it all the way."

You never see the name Greg Carter without the appellation, "Coach" before his name. This is a case where the career defines the man who has been working with Rockaway kids for more than 15 years.

Carter was at Far Rockaway High School in the late 1960’s and like most young men, he was interested in sports.

"I played cornerback and wide re ceiver for the football team," he re members, "and first base for the baseball team."

That’s where Carter met the two men who, along with his mother and grandparents, form the cadre of those role models that affected him most when he was young.

Jake Miller and Jack Kerchman were like gods to me," he remembers now. "They stood out in my mind."

He remembers Kerchman’s status as the legendary football and baseball coach.

"If Kerchman talked to you in the hallways or in practice, it was a big think," he says with a laugh. "I was taught by my grandfather to look the coaches in the eye, to give them a firm shake. Kirchman was something else."

Carter points out that Miller was a true teacher and leader, assisting him in getting into college.

One of his fondest memories of high school, however, is playing a game against Canarsie High School at Yankee Stadium.

"We were the first high school teams to play at the stadium and we won 6-2," he remembers.

The Yankees were due to play Min nesota later in the day and famed player Harmon Killebrew came into the dugout to speak with them. A short time later, a young man, about the age of the high school players, came into the dugout to speak with Killebrew.

"Do you know that this kid is your age and plays for a major league team, Killebrew asked. It was Bert Blyleven, who had just signed a major league contract at the age of 17.

Carter wound up with a football scholarship at the University of Montana.

"I could have gone to Pittsburgh," he remembers, "but they were terrible that year."

The next year, however, Pitt got Tony Dorsett and became one of the best teams in the nation.

The coach blew his knee in his senior year and went into the Navy.

As an electronics warfare specialist, he served at Whidbey Field.

After his stint in the Navy he moved to Seattle, Washington. He spent many weekends in Vancouver, Canada and still calls that city "the best kept secret in the world."

After seven years, he returned to Rockaway. One day he was at the bank when he saw a group of IS 53 female students fighting in the street.

He wondered why they acted that way and decided that he would try and change things by bringing his first love – sports, to the children of Rockaway.

The rest, as they say, is history.

Today, he runs leagues in the traditional sports and has added lacrosse to his list.

The name "coach" fits Greg Carter.

Ed Williams

NAACP Chapter Chair

(Ed Williams serves as the Chapter Chair of the NAACP as well as Congressman Gregory Meeks’ Executive Assistant. Williams is also the president of ENPHRONT, a national organization representing 2.2 million people in public housing and defending their interests.)

Ed Williams has lived in the Rockaways for the last eight years. A lifelong New Yorker, Williams moved to Rockaway to recuperate at his sister’s home after losing his leg. In those eight years since his operation, Williams has plunged headfirst into politics and activism in the Rockaways.

"I’ve always been an activist," says Williams. "I still see the civil rights of many poor folks in public housing being violated."

While Williams works tirelessly to improve civil rights nationally, he points to the Rockaways as a model for cooperation. "When we’ve come together as one, and for the better of the community, we have had some successful results," says Williams.

With a resume fitting the mold of a politician, Williams prefers to work behind the scenes with Congressman Meeks. "I think I can effect more change working for Congressman Meeks. He is more of a statesman than a politician."

Always an optimist, Williams sees relations in the Rockaways and nationally improving, but warns "there’s still a lot of work to be done, although I do see the light at the end of the tunnel."

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