Solomon Goodrich is a man who won't take no for an answer. For a quarter of a century, he has been swimming upstream, fighting against a stubborn bureaucracy to build something of value for the families living in southeast Queens. Last week Solomon announced that he plans to retire in December from his position as president of the Roy Wilkins Southern Queens Park. It will not be easy to fill his shoes.
In 1974, the US Navy offered 54 acres of land attached to the St. Albans Naval Hospital to the city for use as parkland. The city said thanks, but no thanks. The property was home to rat-infested, dilapidated barracks that had not been used for years. It would have taken thousands of dollars to turn this property into usable parkland and thousands more each year to maintain the property. The city was not ready to make that kind of investment, not in southeast Queens.
Then Solomon, who had spent much of his young life working for the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), stepped up to the plate. He told the city that the people of St. Albans would build a park and care for it if the city would turnover the property to them. Our first challenge, he said, was to convince people that this project could succeed. It is not easy to say no to Solomon.
Solomon put together an association of dedicated residents who gave their time and sweat to turn that property into a well manicured, community-managed park. Today Roy Wilkins Park and the Roy Wilkins Family Center have become a vital part of the southeast Queens community. If something big is happening in St. Albans, it's happening at Roy Wilkins Park. The Family Center is busy from early in the morning until late at night. The indoor basketball courts and pool never get a rest. Each week, some 1,500 senior citizens meet there to do crafts, socialize and line dance. Newly arrived immigrants come there to learn the language and academic skills they will need to succeed in their new homeland. And the Black Spectrum Theatre Company has also made its home in the Family Center.
Solomon would be the first to say that Roy Wilkins Park is the work of many dedicated people. But those same people would be the first to say that this miracle could not have happened without the efforts of a tireless man with a vision and the courage to make that vision a reality.
Although Solomon deserves a rest, there is unfinished business. It has long been Solomons dream to create an African-American Hall of Fame on the Roy Wilkins Park grounds. The first pieces of the museum already exist in the Family Center. But thus far, Solomon has only been able to gather half of the $20 million it will take to make the museum a reality. Like the park and the Family Center, this is a worthy project and we hope that it will soon receive the funding it deserves.
Revive the AIDS center
Last week Queens College returned $4.5 million dollars that had been donated towards the building of an AIDS research center on the campus. It now appears that the plans for this much-needed center are dead in the water. And that is regrettable.
The donor in question demanded his money back when then-President Allen Sessoms was unable to secure the additional funding needed to get the $30 million facility off the ground. The college got painfully close. In the end, it was only $4 million short of the goal.
The research center would have been a shot in the arm for Queens College, bringing worldwide attention. The center would have attracted the best and brightest in medical research. More importantly, it would have given the college a role in putting an end to an epidemic that has devastated Africa and other parts of the third world.
If there is any chance to revive this important project, we hope it will be given a second chance.
©2001 Community News Group
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