Jamaica enjoys neighborhood unity

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The ordinarily lazy rhythm of Saturday afternoon was forsaken this weekend in two south Queens neighborhoods, where the deep pulse of hip-hop and R&B stirred the midsummer air for celebrations of community unity.

Residents of 225th Street and their neighbors took to the streets Saturday for the third annual block party sponsored by the 224th/225th Street Block Association of Laurelton, while only a few miles away the nearly 30-year-old Brinkerhoff Action Association hosted its fourth annual gathering along 175th Street in Jamaica.

Praised by residents for making a palpable difference in the quality of life for the neighborhoods they serve, both organizations put on the parties to celebrate community unity and allow residents to build on their neighborhood friendships while giving kids a safe, fun way to spend a summer day.

Advocacy by the 2-1/2-year-old Laurelton association has resolved a number of community concerns and recently succeeded in adding a mobile post office on 233rd Street and Merritt Boulevard to relieve congestion at the main office.

“People feel like they can go to someone now,” said Delores Bennett, the organization’s assistant secretary, now that the community is more united.

“It’s slow, but people are feeling more comfortable. They feel safer,” she said.

In addition to providing a political outlet for community action, the 300-family organization also serves a social function by uniting longtime neighbors who might never otherwise have an opportunity to meet one another.

“People now know each other,” said Vernel Bennett, president of the association. “Before you walked by and ignored him, but now — ‘Hi, Mr. So-and-So,’” he cried out, lifting his hand in mock imitation of a neighborly greeting.

It has also improved residents’ relationship with the police department. Bob Olivieri, a 14-year NYPD veteran who patrols the neighborhood as its community police officer, stood by the grill on Saturday flipping hamburgers and cooking hotdogs, surrounded by a group of neighbors proud to say their local officer knows them by name.

The party brought the entire neighborhood out of their homes and into the streets, where young children crafted face masks in the shape of butterflies and their older counterparts played basketball or zoomed along on razor scooters.

At the Jamaica celebration, a wide street and extensive yards provided ample room for older residents to enjoy each other’s company along lawn tables and chairs, while the younger set partook in basketball matches and glided repeatedly down a two-story inflated slide.

Brinkerhoff President Manual Caughman said the party is designed to give the neighborhood children “a day out just to enjoy themselves.”

The activities at both parties were underscored by the deep bass of music piped loudly along the street, transforming the tranquil neighborhoods into a virtual nightclub for the likes of Starmarie Jones, 21, and John Price, 24, who danced effortlessly along the Jamaica sidewalk.

State Sen. Malcolm Smith (D-St. Albans) stopped by both events Saturday, providing a motivational message to the children who danced to the deejays’ rousing mixes.

“It’s not enough to simply shake your body,” he told them, instructing the young dancers to focus more heavily on shaking their minds.

For Smith, the block associations encourage a sense of unity that pushes young residents towards that goal.

“The impact is one that brings the community together and clearly will work towards improving the neighborhood as a whole,” Smith said. “This coming together represents all that Queens should be about.”

Reach reporter Dustin Brown by e-mail at or call 229-0300, Ext. 154.

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