Group holds Free Store pop-up in Ridgewood

Woodbine seeks to build autonomy, community, resilience

By Jessica Meditz

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Neighbors of Ridgewood and its surrounding areas arrived on Woodward Avenue last Saturday for an afternoon of giving back, taking what’s needed and engaging with the community.

Woodbine, a local organization powered by volunteers, identifies itself as an “anti-capitalist hub in Ridgewood, experimenting with free cultural programming to build autonomy, community and resilience.”

Staying true to its mission, the group held a Free Store pop-up in their space located at 585 Woodward Avenue, in which folks could donate items they no longer needed, but were too good to throw away.

The pop-up attracted a countless number of people, and many donated their gently used clothing, kitchenware, tools, electronics, books and toys for others to take home.


Woodbine’s Free store event was a success, and the group hopes to host another in November.

“Activities at Woodbine are meant to help us become autonomous from the state and from capitalist markets, which we see as oppressive systems that prioritize profit over people’s well-being. We can only become autonomous from these systems by taking care of each other and organizing ourselves collectively and cooperatively,” said Ella Fassler, an organizer at Woodbine.

“Free stores encourage us to pool our resources together to try to build resilience and to meet each other’s wants and needs. They are meant to encourage people to reimagine other possibilities for organizing the economy and social life,” she continued. “What currently exists is one way to organize a society of many, and it disproportionately benefits the wealthiest and whitest people. We envision a world where everything could be free and built on voluntary exchange of labor, resources and knowledge.”

The Woodbine collective says that their model of a pop-up free store model builds community in a novel way, since the opportunity invites participants to come together on a given day and interact with one another.

In addition, the Free Store offered various services and skill-sharing opportunities, including clothing repair and alterations, bicycle repairs and tune-ups and weight training tips.

Events of this nature have proven to be successful for Woodbine, as shown by their twice-weekly food pantry that’s been active since March of 2020.

“We run a free community refrigerator, we organize yearly seed exchanges right before spring planting season and in the past we’ve done a number of clothing swaps,” Fassler said.

“But this was the first event of this scale we’ve tried, in part inspired by our partners at the Fenix Taxi Stand and Bushwick Ayuda Mutua who have been doing a lot of free distribution events of clothes and essential goods the last two years.”

In addition, Woodbine runs fitness training sessions at their gym, organizes several soccer teams, holds Sunday dinners, arts and figuring drawing workshops, a weekly screening series, sewing workshops, poetry readings, a weekly research seminar and discussion group and kids workshops. All programs are free or by donation.

The group hopes to have another Free Store event in November to continue to engage the community.

For more information about getting involved with Woodbine, send an email to [email protected] or write to them on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.

High Line-esque linear park to come to Queens

Opposition says QueensWay is not the way

By Jessica Meditz

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Eric Adams paid a visit to Forest Hills for the announcement.

After over a decade of advocacy, the QueensWay is slated to make its way into Queens.

The city plans to spend $35 million to begin phase one of construction for a linear park along 3.5 miles of abandoned railroad tracks that run through Central and Southern Queens, Mayor Eric Adams announced last Friday.

Adams and other elected officials gathered on Trotting Course Lane in Forest Hills, just where the Metropolitan Hub, a portion of the QueensWay will be situated, to make the announcement.

QueensWay will be built along the former Rockaway Beach Branch line, which has not been utilized in more than 60 years. Once completed, the project will connect the neighborhoods of Rego Park, Forest Hills, Glendale, Woodhaven and Ozone Park, and provide a 47-acre park and seven miles of greenway.

“Phase one will convert abandoned railroad tracks which have been used as a dumping ground into a five-acre linear park and provide a safe way for residents to walk, jog or to enjoy the open space. We’ve learned during COVID-19 how important it is to have good quality open space, and it can’t be just in one part of the city…This park is going to be the center of the lives in this community,” Adams said.

Along with benefitting physical and mental health, Adams cited air quality improvement, increased visibility for small businesses, creativity and better accessibility to public transportation as upsides to the park’s development.

He added that linear parks have proven to be successful, as seen by the Highline on the west side of Manhattan.

“We can have High Line and High Times in the outer boroughs as well, and that is why we’re bringing [QueensWay] to this amazing community here in Queens,” Adams said.

“Because of the density of our city, linear parks penetrate deep into neighborhoods, and don’t just focus on one particular area, allowing us to go further in open space. It allows eyesores like what’s behind us to go from an eyesore to an oasis.”

Councilwoman Lynn Schulman, who represents the neighborhoods of Forest Hills, Rego Park, Kew Gardens and Richmond Hill in District 29, has been a key force in getting QueensWay off the ground — advocating for the project since her days at Community Board 6.

“I can’t believe that we’re here today…We are facing a once in a civilization public health challenge to save our planet from destruction within, and today’s investment by Mayor Adams in a linear park right here in Forest Hills, Queens is a huge step and meeting this challenge,” Schulman said.

“It was 10 years ago that two friends and constituents…brought me their dream of creating a linear park where our kids could play, seniors could exercise and get fresh air and bicyclists could have safe bike paths. There were many obstacles to overcome, but I was determined when I took office in January that I would bring this extraordinary vision to fruition,” she continued. “The QueensWay will now become a reality.”

Approximately 322,000 people live within a mile radius of the QueensWay.

The proposed project would connect residents to 10 bus lines and four subway stations.

In addition, there are 12 schools within a five-minute walk of the QueensWay and two Little League field complexes directly adjoining it.

A map of the proposed QueensWay.

Assemblywoman Jenifer Rajkumar expressed her support for the plan, as she represents District 38’s neighborhoods of Glendale, Ozone Park, Richmond Hill, Ridgewood, and Woodhaven.

“This is a great day for my district. It’s a great day for South Queens,” she said. “QueensWay will draw 1 million visitors every year. It will generate $2.2 million in new revenue…also, all the major thoroughfares in my district will be connected to QueensWay. That includes Rockaway Boulevard, 101st Avenue, Jamaica Avenue and Atlantic Avenue. This is extremely exciting for my district.”

The announcement was met with some criticism and slight heckling from advocates of the QueensLink, a proposed 3.5-mile long transit and park corridor in the same space, which would connect northern and southern Queens.

The plan calls for both transit and park space in the community, and puts forth the argument that building only the park would “block any future use of transit on the line and deprive Southern Queens residents of a faster commute and less traffic while reducing pollution and carbon emissions.”

“We can have both, but if they design the park first without knowing where the train’s going to be, they might have to tear up the park to put in the train later. It makes no sense,” Miriam Bensman, senior adviser at QueensLink, said.

“They’re talking about transit, but they’re not doing anything about it. So the key is, if you really do care about public transit, and it’s not just a campaign slogan, then you need to take it seriously and study the integration of a Transit Link, which would be a subway and a park,” Rick Horan, executive director of QueensLink, said.

“Our goal is to try to see if there’s enough value in this project to get it there. But the only way we can do that is to study it,” he continued. “So we’ve been promoting an Environmental Impact Statement for QueensLink, which includes rail entry.”

QueensLink penned a letter to both Adams and Gov. Kathy Hochul last month in support of an EIS for the project.

Fifteen local elected officials signed off on the letter, including Rajkumar, Queens Borough President Donovan Richards and Assemblyman David Weprin — who were all present at Friday’s announcement.

Rajkumar told The Queens Ledger that she is still in support of the QueensLink, and that both plans are needed for residents of Queens.

“Together, these plans both create green space and meet our transit needs. Constructing the QueensWay while also reactivating the rail line to create the QueensLink is perfectly feasible,” she said.

“Rail service combined with greenway, known as ‘rails-with-trails,’ is incredibly common: there are 343 rails-with-trails in the United States alone, with a combined length of almost 1,000 miles,” she continued. “In fact, building the QueensLink along the QueensWay would be very similar to plans to add rail service to Atlanta’s BeltLine elevated park. I continue to support an Environmental Impact Statement on the QueensLink, which would fill our transit desert with a vital north-south Subway corridor.”

Queens kid makes it big as an influencer

3M followers and counting, Blaise Ffrench shoots for the stars

By Jessica Meditz

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Jamaica native Blaise Ffrench threw the first pitch at a recent Mets game.

When becoming acquainted with Blaise Ffrench, the typical icebreaker question of “What do you do?” simply isn’t going to cut it.

Ffrench, 32, says his multifaceted career as an online influencer cannot be summed up in a simple sentence.

“It’s not what I do, it’s who I am,” he said. “I’m not like a salesman or a marketing guy; Blaise Ffrench is a Renaissance man. I enjoy all the great things that life has to offer…I just found a way to monetize pretty much everything that I do.”

Ffrench’s social media presence on Instagram (@blaiseffrench) continues to grow by the day — with three million followers and counting.

He said that the best way to describe the type of content he posts is lifestyle, as he focuses on all things fitness, health, food, real estate, sports, motivation and inspiration.

Ffrench is a bicoastal businessman, as his work is based in both New York City and Los Angeles — but he said that his beginnings in Jamaica, Queens are what shaped him into the person he is today.

His career goals began to solidify when he attended Holy Cross High School in Flushing, played basketball and had the opportunity to meet Mike Repole, a Holy Cross alumnus who co-founded Glaceau, the maker of Vitaminwater.

“My teammates were ‘sleeping’ because they didn’t care about drinks, but I thought it was very interesting that this guy created a drink and ended up selling it to Coca-Cola. I was so intrigued, I asked him so many questions and was just bugging him,” Ffrench said. “I just really built that relationship and didn’t take ‘no’ for an answer.”

Ffrench and Repole became close by the time he got to college, which is when Repole started BODYARMOR SuperDrink.

“I was one of the first people involved with BODYARMOR, so I was able to get equity in the company. And then when it sold, God bless, because I was able to get a piece of the pie,” Ffrench said.

He’s also seen great success as an actor and model, working with brands such as True Religion, Puma, Banana Republic, Target and Saks Fifth Avenue, and in films including “Plan B,” “The Code,” “Marry Me” and “We Made It In America,” which will come to theaters this January.

Ffrench’s astrological sign is Taurus, and whether one believes in the fate of celestial bodies or not, there’s no denying he fits the stereotypes of being determined, hardworking, dedicated and stubborn in the best way.

In fact, instead of being approached by them, Ffrench reached out to the New York Mets and asked if “a kid from Queens” could throw the honorary first pitch.

Sure enough, earlier this month, he graced the field of his lifelong favorite team in a jersey with his name and threw that first pitch.

“[The Mets] replied, ‘Which game would you like to do it?’ That’s how my life has always been. I’m always asking and pushing the envelope, because no one’s going to come to me while I’m laying on my couch,” he said. “It was unforgettable. I’ll tell my kids about this one.”

Even though he spends a lot of time in LA and other destinations, Ffrench calls Queens home first and foremost, and loves engaging his audience with Queens-centric content.

Among his favorite places are Anassa Taverna in Astoria, The Door in Jamaica and Baisley Pond Park, where he learned to play basketball as a kid.

He reminisced on his childhood, especially visiting Cabana Nuevo Latino in Forest Hills with his mother — who he admires wholeheartedly and devotes his life to.

“I grew up with a single mom, who unfortunately passed away when I was 15. I was always close with my grandma, who’s my mom’s mom, and I started living with her until I got a scholarship to play basketball and pursue my entrepreneurial dreams,” he said. “Family is everything to me. My mom always wanted me to be an entrepreneur and never wanted me to work for anyone. So every day, I just really want to make her proud, my family proud and continue doing the right thing.”

Ffrench and his grandmother, Linda, continue to remain best friends to this day, and she makes cameos on his large Instagram account.

“She’s my lady,” Ffrench said. “We’re like two peas in a pod.”

Regarding advice to younger people who wish to take a similar career path, Ffrench emphasized the importance of networking, talking to people, being brave and not judgmental.

Most of all, he cites the responsibility of having a massive audience.

“It’s definitely a responsibility. I know that I’m a role model, I talk to a lot of people and kids, and I definitely want to uphold myself to a certain standard, and put forth a great example,” he said.

“I can still do that by having fun and saying what I want to say, you just have to be smart, how you articulate what you’re saying and make sure that it’s good to be consumed by the masses, so to speak, so, I love it.”

Metro Village hosts 2nd Community Day

By Jessica Meditz

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Rachel Kellner and Mark Libertini, the husband and wife team behind Aigner Chocolates.

This past Saturday, community residents from all walks of life gathered on Metropolitan Avenue in Forest Hills to celebrate Metro Village Forest Hills’ second annual Community Day.

Metro Village Forest Hills is a small business alliance founded by Rachel Kellner of Aigner Chocolates and Eileen Arabian of DEE’S Wood Fired Pizza + Kitchen, which was born out of high tensions amid the pandemic.

It was during this time where the businesses got the idea to host their first Community Day on the Avenue, and hope to continue the tradition for years to come.

“Aigner’s was robbed a few years ago during the pandemic, and the businesses really came out to support us. We decided to create an informal business alliance to provide support to each other and to preserve the richness of the community here,” Kellner said.

“We want to keep those businesses around, and so during the pandemic, obviously events had to be outdoors. So we had this idea to do a Community Day and we did it last year with 30 businesses participating,” she continued. “It went so well that we decided to keep it going. Now it’s going to be a tradition here.”

The Community Day spanned from Royal Collectibles to DEE’S, with businesses up and down the Avenue offering various treats, gifts and positive greetings to visitors.

In addition, 29 businesses participated in a scavenger hunt, where guests received a series of clues and had to guess which business corresponded with that clue, who would then mark it off.

The bingo board-like template was created by community member Samantha Weitzberg.

All guests who filled out their cards completely were entered into a drawing to win a $100 gift certificate to DEE’S and Aigner Chocolates. The winner will be announced by Metro Village this week.

Additionally, 150 prizes were given out at random throughout the day at all the scavenger hunt locations to participants.

Local elected officials took the time to soak up one of the final days of summer sun in Forest Hills, including Councilwoman Lynn Schulman.

Councilwoman Schulman and Alfred Vitsentzos of Nick’s Bistro

“It’s so important to have days like this with people coming out to see all the different kinds of stores, it’s very eclectic,” Schulman said.

“It’s so nice to have local owners and it’s really important to help them,” she continued. “It’s just such a community atmosphere here, and everybody’s just so nice and welcoming.”

Arabian is proud to celebrate the success and accomplishments of businesses on the Avenue, including DEE’S, which just relaunched its weekend lunch service since the start of the pandemic. She believes that this year’s Community Day had an even bigger turnout than last year’s, and hopes to see the event continue to grow.

She admires the diversity of the businesses and all that Metropolitan Avenue has to offer.

“This day brings a lot of exposure to Metropolitan Avenue, which is so important because everyone knows about Austin Street, and they don’t always know about Metropolitan,” she said.

“It really has everything to offer: retail, restaurants, barber shops and hair salons, nail salons, butcher shops, attorneys, everything. So it’s a great way to draw people in and open up the doors of opportunity for other businesses.”

A community of MisFits unite

Business owner creates safe space through health, fitness

Anthony Oll-adikankwu Jr. started MisFits Nutrition with the intention of creating a safe space.

By Jessica Meditz

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Growing up, Queens Village native Anthony Oll-adikankwu Jr. always felt like he didn’t fit in, or a misfit, if you will.

He has since reclaimed the word and turned it into something positive for himself and others when he opened MisFits Nutrition on Queens Boulevard in Forest Hills.

Although MisFits Nutrition is listed as a vitamin supplement shop online, Oll-adikankwu Jr. said that his business’ mission encompasses so much more.

As a licensed practical nurse since 2012, health has always been important to Oll-adikankwu Jr. While one’s physical health is essential to their state of being, he also emphasizes the importance of mental health and having a life outside of work.

That is a main component of what motivated him to open up his business.

“People on Wall Street are committing suicide. You make tons of money, but your relationship with your child is strange, you’re never there, you can never make practices, you’re never there for your lover. It takes a toll. That’s not the kind of life that I want.” he said.

“It’s not just about making money…there’s plenty of things I could do just to make money,” he emphasized. “It’s about creating a space where people can come. A lot of people are dealing with depression. I’ve had people come in here, not even knowing me, they just come in, they feel good.”

Oll-adikankwu Jr. said that many people have entered his business to purchase an energy drink or snack, and have felt comfortable confiding in him about their hardships, which is exactly what he hoped for when envisioning MisFits.

MisFits Nutrition’s storefront.

The storefront is adorned with a Black-owned business flag and LGBTQ Pride flag, and the interior features a wall of positive affirmations in different languages to symbolize the diversity of Queens.

“I’m creating a space that’s not just a shake spot, but where people can come in and feel better and talk to a stranger in here. In Starbucks or Dunkin’ Donuts, for example, people are very secluded and they just want you out the door,” he said. “People come in here, not knowing each other and they’ll be friendly enough to talk to each other. I’m creating a space, a safe haven, a judgment free zone where people can come to.”

Oll-adikankwu Jr. opened MisFits Nutrition four years ago, and runs the business on his own — along with the support of his family and the community at large.

As an Herbalife nutrition club, MisFits Nutrition offers a variety of healthy consumption options on its menu, including energy teas, shakes, bowls and donuts. Oll-adikankwu Jr. also sells a wide variety of supplements to promote a healthy lifestyle.

As a former personal trainer, Oll-adikankwu Jr. offers dance cardio classes every Tuesday and Saturday to keep the community active.

To contribute to the welcoming atmosphere of MisFits, he also offers various activities for people to take part in, including karaoke, game night and Sip N’ Paint, which is co-hosted by Tahina Marcette, who operates Marcette Studio.

MisFits Nutrition’s decor creates a welcoming vibe for all who enter.

“I wanted to create an outlet that’s family-oriented and not alcohol-centered for people to bring their family, kids and friends to be with one another and talk to other people,” Oll-adikankwu Jr. said.

Reflecting on his time spent donating drinks to healthcare workers at local hospitals, he brought up how the sudden switch up on the “healthcare heroes” trend of the COVID-19 pandemic left a bad taste in his mouth.

“People started appreciating nurses, and the pandemic created this trend of ‘healthcare heroes.’ I was collecting donations to deliver drinks to the hospitals not only to promote the business, but to kind of show that I’m trying to do something as well,” he said.

In fact, Goldman Sachs reached out to him with a proposition to contract him to deliver 100 shakes per day to the hospitals.

This was a challenge due to the fact that MisFits Nutrition is a one-man operation.

“I would always get new customers, but it was stressful,” he continued. “Goldman Sachs then extended the contract for another month, but when COVID numbers started dropping, and they canceled the contract.”

He wishes people on a larger scale would support healthcare workers and appreciate their work without an extenuating circumstance.

However, his customers are extremely supportive and believe in his mission.

“I go to Aesthetic Solutions right here, and I passed the shop. I saw the Black-owned sign and immediately went in. I just started my fitness journey, so I’m looking for all alternatives and not giving up my favorite, good foods and sweets,” said Maddie Felton, a regular customer.

“It’s a part of my routine, coming here. There’s just so many options and it makes it easier to stick to my meal plan without giving up the stuff I love.”

A fitness lover or not, Oll-adikankwu Jr. encourages all who are interested in nutritious drinks and snacks along with fun, interactive activities to stop by.

For updates and more information, follow MisFits Nutrition on social media.

Maspeth honors Squad 288, Hazmat 1 firefighters 21 years later

Memorial ceremony remembers those lost on 9/11

By Jessica Meditz

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The young nieces and grandchildren of deceased firefighter Dennis Carey of Hazmat 1. (Photo: Walter Karling)

In true “Maspeth is America” fashion, residents gathered on Grand Avenue to remember Sept. 11, 2001, 21 years later.

At a ceremony held by Maspeth Federal Savings at Maspeth Memorial Park, the community honored the firefighters of Squad 288/Hazmat 1 who perished in the terrorist attack on the Twin Towers.

Squad 288/Hazmat 1 had the single largest loss of firefighters of any FDNY firehouse.

Kenneth Rudzewick, emcee of the event, cited the importance of holding memorial ceremonies like this one every year, “We gather here in Maspeth and across America to mark the unfinished work of remembering. There will never be a time when this work is finished.”

“I’m sure you, as I do, remember what you were doing and how you received the dreadful news on 9/11. That day changed the lives of everyone in America,” he continued.

Like Rudzewick, other longtime guests took part in the event — including Msgr. Joseph Calise of St. Stan’s; Vincent Tomeo, retired high school teacher and poet; Bill and Liz Huisman, a husband and wife musical duo; Mike Aylward, who read the names of the fallen first responders; John Christ, who performed “Taps” and Kathleen Nealon, who sang the national anthem.

Kathleen Nealon and the St. Stan’s Players sing the National Anthem as two members of the audience salute. (Photos: Walter Karling)

“It’s an honor to sit here today in memory of all those who lost their lives on 9/11 as well as those who continue to die of 9/11-related illnesses,” Nealon said. “I keep them and their families in my prayers always. God bless them and God bless America.”

The memorial especially honored Maspeth residents who perished as a result of the 9/11 attacks.

Firefighters lay the wreath in honor of Squad 288/Hazmat 1.

Local elected officials joined the community in remembrance, including Assemblyman Brian Barnwell, State Senator Joseph Addabbo, Councilman Robert Holden and State Senator Michael Gianaris.

They discussed the importance of not only remembering and honoring the lives lost in the present, but also how to carry out their memory to future generations.

“For these memories to live on, for the sacrifices to be remembered, they have to be taught…I saw as the flags are being laid so many future generations here, and it’s on us to make sure they don’t forget what happened,” Gianaris said.

“It’s important to learn the lessons of those days, the lessons of sacrificing for freedom, the lessons of selflessness and of giving one’s life to save others,” he continued. “As time goes on, it will be on us to find people who didn’t experience it, who will continue to teach the lesson.”

Holden echoed his sentiment, and emphasized his wish to see the Maspeth firehouse recognized as a landmark.

He alongside the Juniper Park Civic Association have fought for this, however The Landmarks Preservation Commission turned down their request, because it has been less than 30 years — much to his dismay.

He also reminisced on the sense of solidarity among New Yorkers and Americans following the attack, and hopes to see it return.

“Remembering the days following 9/11, everybody was together, everybody was cheering on first responders. Everybody was thanking them. We were united; we were a true United States,” he said.

“We have to get that back again…in my lifetime, I’ve never seen us so divided. We probably haven’t been this divided since the Civil War,” he continued.” So we have an urgent responsibility as elected officials to unite our constituents on a common cause to keep us safe.”

Joe ‘the Dancer’ Ferrante, the true star of local concerts

By Jessica Meditz

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Joe ‘the Dancer’ Ferrante of Flushing attends nearly every community concert or event.

If you live in the area and have attended a free, local concert or parade, chances are you’ve seen Joe Ferrante in action.

Ferrante, 72, who calls himself “Joe the Dancer,” has an appearance you just can’t miss: usually sporting a bright yellow muscle tee and denim shorts along with his long ponytail adorned with colorful hair ties from start to finish.

He can be spotted easily at the front of any public event that has music, truly dancing like nobody’s watching.

A resident of Flushing since 1958, Ferrante travels across the five boroughs and Long Island to attend free concerts.

In true New Yorker fashion, Ferrante does not drive, and uses his own two feet and a MetroCard to get around — with the occasional ride from his many friends.

“I started gathering information about free things to do in New York and found out about all the parks, like Eisenhower Park and Bryant Park,” he said. “I said to myself, ‘Why would people pay when there’s so much free stuff to do in New York?’” 

“Now I have people that have computers and send me print outs sometimes or they call me. I keep my ears open,” Ferrante continued. “Every single day I find new things to do.”

One of Ferrante’s personal goals is to attend as many free events as he can.

Before the pandemic wreaked havoc, he attended 321 free events in 2019. This year, he’s already up to 165 events.

Although Ferrante has never taken formal dance lessons, he has been freestyling his moves at shows for as long as he can remember. He also learns from watching other people dance.

A die-hard fan of the Rolling Stones and Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band, Ferrante lived through the time where Motown and doo-wop classics were big, as well as the golden era of classic rock.

In fact, he attended Woodstock in 1969 while he worked for the U.S. Postal Service as a mail carrier.

“Festivals were a new thing at the time and nobody knew what was going on. That was the first time I did acid, which I did for three days, and I still was good to go to work on Monday,” Ferrante said.

“I didn’t see every band that was there, and there was a lot of stuff going on…you wandered around, you went to the lake,” he continued. “I remember Santana, The Who, Jefferson Airplane, Joe Cocker and Ten Years After. It was excellent.”

Ferrante attended Woodstock a month before he was drafted to the Army.

He served in Texas from 1969 to 1971, and feels “lucky” that he wasn’t sent straight to Vietnam, like many men were at the time.

“I lucked out because I took typing in high school and went into a company which had over 90 percent college graduates. I got hired because I knew how to type and they said they were losing the guy from New York, so they got another guy from New York,” Ferrante said. “My job was in Congressionals, and I was a fact finder. I would find information about what really happened…you really could hardly help anybody, but once in a while, you actually got to help someone out.”

After he came back from serving in the Army, Ferrante continued to attend concerts and other places where he could dance, such as the Dr. Pepper Music Festival in Central Park, clubs during the disco frenzy and at various locations in the Hamptons, where he and his friends would rent houses for cheap.

Ferrante busting a move in Juniper Valley Park at a concert featuring band Half Step.

Today, his moves range from one best described as the fish swim, where he puts his arms together and swirls them around as if he’s swimming, to skipping around the front of the stage.

“I love to skip because it’s so much fun. I think I started doing the skip a few years ago,” Ferrante said. “It makes you feel young. When you’re standing in one spot and you skip around, you get more refreshed because you’re in a brand new spot.”

Ferrante said that many people have come up to him over the years at shows to compliment his routine and even join him while he dances.

His signature look, along with his moves, symbolize his free-spirited personality.

Ferrante has not had a haircut in about 15 years, and underneath all the rainbow scrunchies on his ponytail is his own hair. He’s been sporting the look for around eight years.

“It was just so dark and dreary, I had to add some color to it,” he said.

Although he’s probably one of the most positive people in the borough, Ferrante didn’t always have the best outlook on life.

In the past, he suffered from alcoholism and drug addiction, and is now almost 20 years sober.

When Ferrante first became sober in 2005, doctors discovered he had esophageal cancer.

He also experienced cirrhosis of the liver as a result of drinking, which left him unable to walk for quite some time.

“I had to use a walker to walk, and eventually graduated to a cane. Now look at me. I’m 16 years cancer-free,” Ferrante said.

He added that after he got sober, he was in a 10-year slump, but eventually realized he had to turn himself around.

“My whole life, I always felt like I should have died many times, and God has given me something to do,” Ferrante said. “He must want me to inspire people.”

As an Italian-American, Ferrante’s Catholic faith is important to him and brings him peace, along with his own spiritual readings and meditation.

He has been retired for the last 19 years and is very happy to live a blissful life with no cell phone or computer.

As he gets closer to his 73rd birthday in October, Ferrante encourages younger folks to be more optimistic and see the good in their day-to-day lives, as you never know when your last day will be.

“When I go to sleep at night, I ask myself ‘Did I do the best I could today?’ And 95 percent of the time, the answer is yes,” he said.

He went on to debunk the typical “glass half empty or glass half full” question that’s supposed to determine if someone is an optimist or a pessimist.

The glass is always full,” Ferrante explained. “Even if it’s only half filled with liquid, the other half is still filled with oxygen. So it’s always full.”

Flight attendants say, ‘Assault Won’t Fly’

By Jessica Meditz

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Photo Courtesy: Twitter, Transport Workers Union.

Last week, flight attendants from around the country gathered at one of the top destinations, John F. Kennedy International Airport in Queens, to educate fellow workers and passengers about airline assaults.

Transport Workers Union’s “Assault Won’t Fly” campaign was launched in response to a drastic rise in assaults by unruly passengers during the COVID-19 pandemic, which has recently been fueled more by increasing flight delays and cancellations.

This outreach was conducted in preparation for Labor Day weekend, a time where airline workers see increased amounts of travelers — opening the door for higher tensions. 

In fact, the New York Post reported that on Sunday, hundreds of flights in and out of the U.S. were delayed and dozens more canceled.

“We’re worried about Labor Day weekend, but we’re really worried about any time where there’s going to be increased travel,” said Thom McDaniel, a flight attendant for Southwest Airlines and TWU International Vice President.

“We’ve seen that people will go after whoever’s in front of them. It is against the law to interfere with a crew member’s duties, but it’s seldom enforced,” he continued.

McDaniel said that in 2021, there was a stark increase in airline assaults with nearly 6,000 assaults. Only 1,300 of those were taken through and prosecuted.

“This year, there’s still been over 1,800 assaults, and this is without a mask mandate,” he said. “They were happening before, they’re happening after…the law has always been there, but no one’s ever enforced it. The extent of it has been that you take someone off the plane, just so that they can walk across the hall and get on another plane.”

TWU supports the Protection from Abusive Passengers Act – legislation introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives this April to ban abusive airline passengers from flying.

The union continues to call on politicians to enact the first-ever Flight Attendants Bill of Rights to secure universal safety protocols, reporting guidelines for assaults and self-defense courses for all flight attendants.

“We don’t even get self defense courses every year,” said Raychel Armstrong, a flight attendant for Allegiant Air. “The last time I was fully trained was 11 years ago. I want to be able to defend myself against someone that’s trying to assault me sexually, or even threatening my life, but most of the time we’re just out of luck.”

Armstrong said that because her line of work is female-dominated, she and her colleagues are often questioned whether or not they are exaggerating what they go through.

“A lot of the people who are assaulted won’t speak out about it because they’re so embarrassed,” she said. “We are trained to be empathetic and understanding, and that is also used against us. I would constantly question the legitimacy of my own experience. A lot of times, they take the passenger’s side.”

Armstrong said that not only are unruly passengers a threat to airline workers, but passenger on passenger violence is also common.

For this reason, TWU encourages folks to be vocal about the presence of airline assaults, write to legislators to co-sign the Protection from Abusive Passengers Act and of course, be kind to your flight attendants.

Relatives of killed DoorDash worker demand justice; Tran family speaks out

By Jessica Meditz

[email protected]

Locals built a memorial for Be Tran at the intersection of Myrtle and Seneca Avenues in Ridgewood.

Anh Tran wanted nothing more than for her 74-year-old father, Be Tran, to come home to Flushing and relax on the evening of Aug. 14.

She pleaded for him to stop working as a DoorDash driver so she could take care of him — in return for all the years he did the same for her.

“Don’t worry,” her father said to her in a text message.

Little did she know that those would be the last words she would ever hear from him.

During what is believed to be his last food delivery of the night, Be Tran was struck by a hit-and-run driver in a black BMW with Florida license plates at Myrtle Avenue and Hancock Street in Ridgewood.

Tran was pronounced dead at the scene.

The suspect is still at large and the case is being investigated by the NYPD Highway Collision Investigation Squad.

Tran’s death sparked feelings of shock, anger and sadness within the community, and activists rallied to demand more action from the city they live, work and commute in every day.

Nearly two weeks after the hit-and-run collision, community members and volunteer activists Chong Bretillon and Elizabeth Amber Gomez organized a candlelight vigil with the Tran family to honor his life and legacy.

“Thirteen nights ago on this very street, a man I called father, a man who spent his lifetime paying for his family, building and living the American dream, today we have gathered to celebrate his life,” Anh Tran said to the small crowd at the vigil.

“The cruel individual who killed my father and inflicted this pain upon my family and I is still out there,” she continued. “We have been shedding light and raising awareness about this horrific tragedy through the news, media and social media to bring justice and a semblance of peace in our hearts.”

Tran and her sister, Tina expressed their gratitude to the community for the endless support, including the memorial built by local activist groups on Myrtle and Seneca Avenues and all the donations that went toward their father’s funeral.

Tran started a GoFundMe page for her father on Aug. 15, where she described him as a “kind, caring, charismatic, funny and extremely hard-working individual.”

Close to 900 people donated — from other local DoorDash drivers to Tran’s high school classmates from Vietnam — to support the family, quickly raising over $40,000.

Early last week, Tran’s funeral was held at Quinn-Fogarty Funeral Home in Flushing.

His younger sister, Truyen Swinger, flew to Queens from her home in Florida when she heard the news about her brother.

She, Tran and their six other siblings were born and raised in Vietnam. Swinger said that Tran was in law school before he was drafted to the Vietnam War, where he served as a lieutenant.

“We went through thick and thin together…we survived the Vietnam War before we came to America,” Swinger said.

“My brother is a very hard worker and a very devoted father. This loss is just such a shock.”

Truyen Swinger and Anh Tran demanded justice for their brother and father, Be Tran.

Swinger said that “something must be done” for street safety citywide, especially to protect the elderly and disabled, and wishes people would drive slower and more carefully.

Her words struck up conversations on possible options for the DOT to implement to end traffic violence and accidents.

Juan Ardila, the Democratic candidate for Assembly District 37, which represents parts of Long Island City, Maspeth, Sunnyside, Woodside and Ridgewood, pointed out that there are five roads at the intersection where Tran was killed, and only four traffic signals.

“We all deserve to have safe streets and be able to work with peace and dignity. Especially coming from an immigrant background, where being a delivery worker is one of the few occupations that is attainable for working class people,” Ardila said.

“This is something that impacts all lives…immigrant populations, people of color and working class people,” he continued. “We need to ensure that we are responsive to this situation, that we understand the need and the demand because right now, we are asking for robust infrastructure and robust protection,” he continued. “It’s the No. 1 rule to look out for each other.”

Bretillon argued that this incident is being underrepresented, and believes that if it were a gun-related matter, it would have made state or national news.

Transit activist Chong Bretillon co-organized the vigil and advocated for the Tran family.

“Traffic violence happens every single day in this city and disproportionately impacts senior citizens, immigrants and people of color. The police do not enforce dangerous driving behavior, such as speeding and failure to yield. The DOT designs clearly dangerous intersections and terrible curb conditions despite years of complaints, crashes, injuries and deaths,” she said.

“Mr. Tran was a delivery worker and essential worker. Unlike people who work in offices, schools or buildings, his workplace was the streets. He brought hot, fresh food to people who are safe in their homes, who order online, who aren’t even thinking about the dangers that delivery workers face,” she continued.

“Lack of safe infrastructure and lack of speed limiting street design means delivery workers are placed in unsafe conditions every single day. Not only that, but they’re vulnerable to violence, robberies and assault by other people. Their bikes are often stolen and lastly, they’re subjected to harassment and ticketing by the NYPD themselves.”

Anh Tran said that she wishes it didn’t take someone losing their life to resolve these issues.

“I just hope this incident can actually bring light to this, and hopefully they can take this seriously,” she said. “We don’t need any more New Yorkers to get killed, and I wouldn’t want any other family to go through what I’m going through.”

Tran said that she and her family will not stop searching for justice, and had just four words for the person who killed her father, “You will be caught.”

Shawn Eldot: The local king of chess

Forest Hills teacher inspires students through chess

By Jessica Meditz

[email protected]

Shawn Eldot of Forest Hills was recognized as one of the nation’s leading chess instructors.

Although some teen movies portray the game of chess as a thing for “nerds,” Shawn Eldot strives to prove to kids how cool it can be.

The Forest Hills resident works full time as a chess instructor, teaching people of all ages the ins and outs of the board game that’s been around for centuries.

Eldot first discovered his love of chess at the age of nine.

He played in tournaments throughout his childhood and teen years, racking up numerous awards for his impeccable performance.

A Bayside native, Eldot attended Benjamin N. Cardozo High School, where he played less frequently due to the stress from college applications, SATs and other exams.

However, he did play one High School Championship and won.

“Chess is an art and a science, and it shows a lot about a person. It teaches many disciplines,” Eldot said.

“It also builds critical thinking skills and builds friendships because a lot of people learn to play at some point. Chess has so many benefits and beautiful aspects,” he continued. “It’s a beautiful thing for kids to learn as well because parents don’t want kids to play video games all day. Chess is not only fun, but it shows a competitive spirit.”

Eldot, who has a background in mathematics, earned his master’s degree in higher education administration at Queens College and is in a PhD program at Liberty University.

His ultimate career goal is to one day be a dean of a university, but teaching children will always remain special to him.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, he ran a large chess program at P.S. 196 in Forest Hills for years.

But similarly to the way he’s pursuing his PhD, Eldot quickly began to see the benefits of the technology right at his feet.

He offers online chess lessons to both adults and children via Zoom, and teaches students from coast to coast.

Eldot teaches chess to people all over the country.

“I try to bring a fun aspect to the game, because chess was always kind of a competitive sport. But I try to make it a fun thing where it doesn’t matter if one wins or loses. It’s all about having fun, enjoying and thinking,” Eldot said. “Any time that anyone learns something new is always a beautiful thing. Once you start learning, you enjoy the beauty of it.”

Eldot added that his students are always extremely appreciative of his efforts, and make it known to him that he’s the best chess teacher.

On top of that, the video chat giant, Skype approached him in 2016 to write an article about his work as a chess instructor.

The article named Eldot as one of the nation’s leading instructors.

“A lot of my references are not only from New York, but all over the U.S. — California, Arizona, Texas. Everyone gave positive feedback…for example, ‘I had chess instructors before but Shawn’s different.’ It makes me feel good,” he said.

Eldot taught chess to students in public schools across Brooklyn and Queens prior to the pandemic.

“Even when I would walk inside the elementary school, the kids loved me so much,” Eldot continued. “As soon as I stepped foot in there, I made such an impact because I understand what it means, maybe not to have the nicest teacher. I want to make everyone comfortable and provide a learning environment.”

Along with technology on his side, Eldot is grateful for the grassroots and word-of-mouth support he’s received from students and parents, helping him gain exposure for the services he provides.

He offers single-person lessons as well as “chess buddy” lessons, where two people can join the lesson at one time to play with one another. Each session lasts about an hour.

Eldot says he’s happy to be able to teach people the art of chess who may have never had an opportunity to learn the game before.

“It’s such a benefit to one’s life and it shows a lot about personality. When you play a chess game, it shows who you are as a person. Even if you don’t know a person, but you sit in front of them and you play them, you know who you’re dealing with, whether they’re a giving person, a creative person or a tricky person,” he said. “Without words, chess could tell you a lot about a person, even if you speak two different languages, but we both know how to play, a friendship is built on that.”

He appreciates the fact that the game brings communities, families and friends together, and continues to highlight the benefits of playing chess.

“My main goal in life is just to help someone learn and have fun,” he continued.

“When someone ever calls me and says, ‘Shawn, what’s the difference between you and someone else?’ My answer is always the same: ‘Do one lesson with me, and you’ll be the judge.’”

For more information on Eldot’s chess lessons, give him a call at (347) 471-4890 or visit his Craigslist page.

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