2008-10-17 / Top Stories

Meeks: Communication Is Peninsula's Top Problem

By Miriam Rosenberg

Congressman Gregory Meeks and community representatives begin to search for solutions to the problems facing Rockaway. Congressman Gregory Meeks and community representatives begin to search for solutions to the problems facing Rockaway. What was billed as a meeting to discuss young people and guns in Rockaway schools, turned into a general gripe session driven by residents from throughout Rockaway, including community leaders and clergy, who joined Congressman Gregory Meeks to talk about the multitude of problems facing the peninsula.

After Tuesday's meeting in Far Rockaway, Meeks told The Wave "I decided that there's more problems [than school violence]. I looked around the room and saw that we had a good cross section of individuals from the community, that there's no need in squandering this opportunity."

He then detailed what he believed are the main problems that came out of the meeting.

"There's a huge lack of communication," said Meeks, as he was about to leave the First Baptist Church meeting room. "One person that never knew another person existed as far as a program is concerned [have to get to know each other], so that we can provide services on a unified basis. Then, of course, that a lot of our young people don't have jobs and are not skilled or trained for the [available] jobs and it's a unifying issue that came out of this room."

Ernest Brown of ENACT talked about the communication issue.

"The average thing that happens, we've found, that when you have a meeting like this is it's always what our children don't have. What we as a community don't have," said Brown. "Yet, if you look just a little bit under the cover you'll find that on the east end most of your athletic fields are located, parks and fields, most of your services … on 1600 Central Avenue it is a beehive [of services]."

Brown suggested developing a black book that lists "every service that exists on the east end. The programs [and] the names of people to be contacted. We're constantly dealing without information."

While representatives of Ocean Bay Development, Rockaway Development and Revitalization Corporation and some others spoke about their job programs, others talked about the future of the area's children and the violence in the Rockaways.

Alex Wright, the director of the Far Rockaway Employment Center, said, "Kids have no role models except drug dealers. We all have an interest in this."

Peggy Thomas, the president of Hammel Houses' resident council, spoke about the never-ending violence in her housing development.

"On the average of 10 times a day shots are fired," said Thomas, whose own granddaughter was a victim of gun violence. "You have kids as young as five years old. They drop and they roll. Why should a five-, eight- or nineyear old, who should be able to be safe within where they are living, have to drop and roll?

Thomas said people living in Hammels are afraid to go from one end of the complex to another.

"There is so much territorial dispute going on in the Rockaways amongst the young people. They won't even shop. You have people living in Hammels in the back that won't shop on [Beach] 85th, 86th Street because they've been warned to stay away. You have people living on [Beach] 86th Street who can't go to 81-01, to the back buildings because somebody's laying in wait for them."

"Why should our kids have to live like that? Why should we have to live like that?" asked Thomas.

Meeks assigned a committee of four locals - Pat Simons of Ocean Bay Development Corp.; Rev. Lionel Clark of Rockaway Inwood Ministries; Rev. Barrielevia Evans, who heads the Sayahword Ministries at the Carmel Baptist Church; David Hooks and a representative from his staff - to help open communications among organizations, community members and other interested parties in Rockaway to search for solutions. In addition, Meeks plans to get the other elected officials in the area involved.

In forming the committee Meeks said he wanted, "people who are living in the community, are on the ground, who would meet on a regular basis to make sure this is coordinated and then insist that I come and others come to these meetings."

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