by Patrick O'Connor and Ben Thomases for The New York Daily News
November 19, 2020
Thursday night at 7:00 p.m., we will gather virtually with over 1,000 leaders from 42 congregations, unions, schools and non-profits virtually to launch a new citizens organization: Queens Power. Our mission is to organize Queens residents to build the leverage needed to fight for and win justice for themselves and the communities they live in.
If Queens were a separate city, its 2,278,906 residents would make it the fifth-largest in the nation, right behind Houston, and the second-largest borough, right behind the 2.6 million people who live right next door in Brooklyn.
And over the last four decades, Queens has become a place of almost unlimited diversity — fueled by the fact that nearly half of its residents, including one of us, were born in other countries. It is approximately one-quarter white, one-quarter Asian, more than one-quarter Latino and slightly less than one-quarter African-American or Caribbean-American.
But Queens often hasn’t acted like the fifth largest municipality in the nation, with challenges and opportunities unique to its residents. It certainly is not seen that way by those in the public and private sectors who have made most of the important decisions about what happens and what does not happen in our borough, leaving everyday Queens residents left to deal with the consequences.
Queens Power intends to change that and, in fact, quietly and deliberately, already has.
During the first phases of the recent pandemic, the institutions we represent, working with our sister organization East Brooklyn Congregations, initiated the first walk-in COVID-19 testing sites. These sites, housed in trusted local congregations and associations, attracted thousands and thousands of New Yorkers.
Queens Power will continue to address the challenges that the pandemic creates for Queens residents — including working with others to make sure that a vaccine that can be trusted is distributed widely and equitably.
Michael Dowling, CEO of Northwell Health, will join us for our virtual assembly. Northwell is a key partner with New York as the state prepares for the next phases of the pandemic and the creation of a secure and widespread vaccine distribution strategy.
In addition, Queens Power leaders will explore ways to respond to the worsening state of housing — less and less affordable — in the borough, as well as ways to improve criminal justice and mental health systems and public transportation. The nearly 3,000 affordable homes and apartments sponsored by East Brooklyn Congregations in Spring Creek and built by several developers is a model of what Queens Power hopes to create in its borough.
And our leaders recently met with a national leader in criminal justice and mental health reform — Judge Steven Leifman of Miami-Dade County — and we intend to press for the integration of the innovations tried, tested, and proven there into the criminal justice culture of Queens. Queens Power intends to reach out to power players in other sectors and in other parts of the country to design and implement solutions that have thus far eluded the borough.
The predecessor to Queens Power, the Queens Citizens Organization, launched in 1977, another period of intense financial and social crisis. That effort, with other Metro IAF affiliates, helped lead New York out of crisis and into a period of revitalization and rebuilding. The leaders gathering Thursday evening intend to do the same.
O’Connor is the co-chair of Queens Power and pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Jamaica. Thomases, the other co-chair, is the executive director of Queens Community House.