Jamaica, Queens has been a part of my life for over two decades. I’ve spent nearly 30 years both working and living in and around this community. As The Child Center of NY’s Associate Executive Director for Youth Development and Community Engagement, I’ve had the privilege of experiencing it not only from my own perspective, but also from that of the next generation. I’ve seen firsthand that Jamaica’s young people are very talented, willing to work hard, and eager to make the most of any opportunity to make a better life for themselves when opportunities are given to them. Such opportunities have been admittedly scarce for them, but a new effort seeks to change that.
It’s called the Jamaica Now Action Plan, and it provides a blueprint for economic growth and development. It was created by the Jamaica Planning Initiative, a neighborhood-based process launched by Borough President Melinda Katz, and it will be overseen by the Jamaica Now Leadership Council. Last month, the Borough President named the appointees to the Council. I am honored to be one of them, because I believe this effort is uniquely well poised to succeed.
First, the will is there, on the part of the people and elected officials. Borough President Katz is one, but by no means the only, example of the political will. Equally dedicated to the cause of economic revitalization in general–and Jamaica specifically–is the Deputy Borough President, Melva Miller. She became Director of Economic Development for the Queens Borough President’s Office in 2007 and remained in that role in 2013, when Mayor Bill de Blasio took office and Ms. Katz became Borough President. At that time, Mayor de Blasio asked the Borough Presidents to lead initiatives that would restore the economic viability of certain communities, Jamaica being one. Ms. Miller approached this task with a personal stake in the work, as she is a resident of Southern Queens. Having worked directly with her in support of our Borough President’s vision, I am grateful for the recognition of Jamaica’s untapped potential, as well as her and Ms. Katz’s support of The Child Center’s efforts to tap it by strengthening children and families with skills, opportunities, and emotional support to build healthy, successful lives. The leadership at Queens Borough Hall truly understand that the youth and young adults we serve are hard to reach but well worth the effort and play a key role in Jamaica’s revitalization.
Second, the Council brings together stakeholders from every service sector to forge a collective impact. One glimpse of the list of the appointees proves this: private businesses, nonprofits, community leaders, and concerned residents are all well represented. This assures a variety of viewpoints and ideas, and the ability to achieve real outcomes.
There are many other reasons why I believe the Council is poised to make a real difference, but perhaps the most important one is that it’s focused on exactly the right things. A lot of the dialogue has centered around 16-24-year-olds who don’t have a degree or employment. A clear focus of the Council is getting these young people back to the workforce: in meaningful employment in the short term, and to work with local community colleges to create certification programs and help them find careers that will allow them to earn a living wage and enjoy a high quality of life over the long haul.
I have seen these efforts work. A 16-year-old who loves baseball can be introduced to a career in sports management or field maintenance and one day oversee the maintenance of CitiField. A 20-something who’s never had meaningful employment and doesn’t see herself capable of having it can be introduced to the health care industry, with its many pathways and huge need. These are careers that the young people of Jamaica may not think of as possibilities when they graduate (if they do, in fact, graduate) high school, but they can make them a reality, with the right support.
In the social service and youth development world, we call these young people “opportunity youth.” I like the phrase because it focuses not on what these young people don’t have or can’t do, but rather on the fact that they’re full of potential.
We all want Jamaica to be a place where people live, work, and stay. There’s no better way to achieve that goal than by investing in its young people—and engaging them where they are. In doing so, we create a cycle of opportunity in which today’s young people stick around and eventually give back to the community and make it stronger.
Our youth, adolescents, and young adults—like the communities they grow in—may endure difficult circumstances that make it tough for them to succeed, but abandoning them or giving up hope is never the answer—bringing out the best in them is. I look forward to the Jamaica Now Leadership Council bringing the youth and families of Jamaica streamlined and clear services, opportunities, and supports needed to tap into the community’s vast potential.
Associate Executive Director, Youth Development and Community Engagement