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.”

A green and clean southeast Queens

Adams calls for beautification of southeast Queens neighborhoods

By Evan Triantafilidis

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Despite not attaining one percent of the city’s agreed upon $101.1 million budget for its parks and green spaces, Council Speaker Adrienne Adams spent her Saturday morning advocating for a greener and cleaner southeast Queens.

NYC H2O interns Adid Rahman and Yael Colchero go into Baisley Pond as part of Saturday’s cleanup event.

A rally held at Baisley Pond Park in Jamaica highlighted the need for community involvement in beautification projects and praised the ongoing efforts already underway for cleaner streets, parks, and open spaces.

Representatives from city agencies and community advocate groups were in attendance to cheer on each other before a community cleanup of Baisley Pond Park.

“For a long time, southeast Queens has grappled with issues of traffic in our neighborhoods, from consistent illegal parking to inadequate litter basket service,” Adams said. “During the height of the pandemic, the people of our communities have bore the brunt of this long-standing problem.”

Within the city’s budget for parks is $43 million added for upgrades and maintenance, and an additional $4 million is slated to bring 50 Urban Park Rangers for programming, wildlife management and staffing at nature centers.

The budget also calls for $22 million to increase litter basket service above pre-pandemic levels and funding a waste containerization study and 1,000 rat-resistant litter baskets for $5 million.

An additional $488 million in capital funds will go towards funding parks improvement projects, including planting 20,000 trees per year, and adding new greenways in Brooklyn and Queens.

The one percent threshold for parks was a campaign promise of Mayor Eric Adams that will fall short by a few hundred million dollars.

Carl and Zara Williams

“Our beloved green spaces and waterways like Baisley Pond Park also require improved maintenance and care,” Councilwoman Adams said. “They have been and continue to be a haven for all of us throughout this pandemic. So it is imperative that we invest in their upkeep.”

Adams, the former chair of Community Board 12, added that her former Community Board has one of the highest rates of illegal dumping complaints in the city.

New York State Senator Leroy Comrie says he believes in the leadership of Council Speaker Adams and Majority Whip Selvena Brooks-Powers, to transform southeast Queens’ open spaces into an example for both the borough and city.

He expressed the importance of community cleanups like Saturday morning’s event, where volunteers from the Carpenter Contractor Alliance of Metropolitan of New York showed up to pick up litter throughout the park.

“You want to be able to come to a clean environment, near your home, that is maintained by a community effort,” Comrie said. He also applauded the local initiatives that “increase the opportunity for local participation and do everything else necessary to make our parks beautiful.”

Brooks-Powers honed in on the local problem of illegal dumping that she called a chronic issue across the city, especially in southeast Queens.

She cited a recent cleanup on the boardwalk in Far Rockaway where organizers and volunteers collected over 80,000 pounds of trash.

“This surprising number is a testament to how serious the issue for our community really is,” Brooks-Powers said. “Every day, my staff and I field calls from constituents, reporting another incident of littering, and we are hard at work to respond to the dumping issues and cleanup requests.”

As part of Saturday’s cleanup, interns from NYC H2O went into the park’s pond to remove debris and garbage. Students learned about the history and ecology behind Baisley Pond, which was once a reservoir built in 1858 to supply what was at the time the City of Brooklyn.

The pond serves as a native habitat for wildlife including turtles, frogs and red-headed ducks, says Matt Molina, director and founder of H2O NYC.

“We are cleaning here today because we want students to see the beauty of the park rather than the garbage,” Molina said. “And these cleanups are something that we love doing because they bring out the best in the best New Yorkers.”

Jamaica Estates honors vets for Memorial Day

Residents of Jamaica Estates joined elected officials and community members to honor the neighborhood’s fallen soldiers with a somber Memorial Day ceremony this past weekend.

The ceremony featured City Councilman James Gennaro, New York State Assemblyman David Weprin, along with Jamaica Estates Association and Community Board 8 chair Martha Taylor, a trumpeter, a saxophonist, Queens College’s Color Guard, the Eagle Scouts Troop 96 and the youth from the NYPD’s Law Enforcement Explorers.

“This is about the local community coming together to remember those that came before us and gave the ultimate sacrifice, so that we could be brave, and that our children and grandchildren could be brave and enjoy the life that we have,” Weprin said.

Weprin’s father, Saul, served in the United States Coast Guard in 1945 during WWII, before becoming the Democratic leader of the 24th Assembly District and later the speaker of the New York State Assembly.

Weprin praised the current Democratic district leader for the 24th Assembly District, Martha Taylor, with restarting the in-person Memorial Day ceremonies at Jamaica Estates.

“So many local boys fought in World War II,” Weprin said, standing in front of the memorial plaque, with the names of 10 men from Jamaica Estates who died in the line of service during World War II.

The ten names on the memorial plaque are John Adikes Jr., Sigmund Gillmore, Kenneth S. Kinnes, John B. Lovely, Paul W. Olson, Norman H. Puff, Peter P. Renzo, Joseph A. Scheibel, Donald J. Schneider and Charles J. Yodice.

Seymour Schwartz, a World War II veteran and Briarwood resident, recalled what it was like to serve in the Army and then on loan to the Navy.

“You have to remember that those of us who are still alive were witnesses to a lot of death and a lot of pain,” Schwartz said. “So I think of the bodies floating in the Pacific on the beach, with the blood flowing out. You think of the guys lying dead with their intestines exposed and I think of burying them, including buddies. Like one who was shot by a sniper right next to me.

Schwartz continued, “So these are things you never tell anybody. And for most veterans, you’d come home and you don’t want to talk about these things. You want to get a job and raise a family. And you don’t even think about being a veteran back then. But as you get older it has a lot more meaning and you do a lot more thinking.”

Schwartz was assigned to the Joint Command, Commander in Chief of the Pacific, and the 5th Amphibious Force. Upon being discharged and arriving back home in March 1946, he devoted his life to serving his neighborhood of Briarwood, later becoming the President of the Briarwood Community Association for over two decades.

Andrew DeNicola, a saxophonist and a Master’s student at Queens College, played the saxophone during the service while Sean Miller, a trumpeter and a sophomore at St. John’s University played taps to close out the Memorial Day ceremony.

Downtown Jamaica Improvement Council launched

New group will spur completion of projects in Southeast Queens hub

The formation of an inter-agency panel aimed at improving the conditions in downtown Jamaica has been launched by the Queens Borough President and a local City Councilwoman.

The new group, called the Downtown Jamaica Improvement Council, will be made up of community stakeholders, elected officials and members of city agencies.

Co-chaired by Borough President Donovan Richards and Councilwoman Nantasha Williams, the initiative will help streamline communication between all those involved, which will benefit ongoing and future quality-of-life projects, while also supporting the economic vitality of Downtown Jamaica.

The idea came to be after a walking tour of the district nearly two months ago. During the Friday, March 11 afternoon tour, Richards and Williams spoke with Small Business Services Commissioner Kevin Kim and other city officials about concerns of crime, sanitation, transportation and infrastructure.

“We carefully listened to the Downtown Jamaica community about the issues impacting the quality-of-life in the neighborhood and are committing to make sure they are addressed quickly and comprehensively,” Borough President Richards said. “Our Downtown Jamaica Improvement Council will work diligently to fast-track several projects that will improve conditions in Jamaica and make it an even better place to live, work and visit. The Council will not rest until Downtown Jamaica reaches its fullest potential as a thriving commercial, residential and transportation hub.”

Members of the newly formed council will include U.S. Rep. Gregory Meeks, Jr., State Senator Leroy Comrie, Assemblywoman Alicia Hyndman, City Council Speaker Adrienne Adams, and Councilwoman Selvena Brooks-Powers and Councilman James Gennaro.

Representatives from the Port Authority, the MTA, the NYPD, DOT, DSNY, NYCEDC, SBS, Community Board 12 and the Empire State Development Corporation will also be participating in the council. Officials from the offices of Governor Kathy Hochul and Mayor Eric Adams are also expected to be on the council.

Non-governmental stakeholders will include the Jamaica Center Business Improvement District, the Sutphin Boulevard BID, the 165th Street Mall Association, the Queens Chamber of Commerce, the South East Queens Chamber of Commerce, the Greater Jamaica Development Corporation, York College and the Association for a Better New York.

In the near future, the council will tackle issues including creating a localized small business grant program and business incubator, tweaking the Jamaica Avenue busway, identifying safety improvements at the Jamaica Center and Sutphin Boulevard-Archer Avenue subway stations, establishing an Open Street on 165th Street, and beautifying the Jamaica bus terminal.

“I am excited about this new task force,” Williams said. “The creation of this task force is another step towards making Downtown Jamaica a thriving hub for people to work, play, and dine. Jamaica is one of the most important economic hubs in South East Queens and plays a vital role in New York City’s economy. This is an opportunity to improve Downtown Jamaica by leveraging our collective resources. I look forward to working with community leaders, my colleagues in government, city and state agencies, and the business community to make sure this vibrant part of our borough is even better than what it already is.”

Nonprofit provides green space to underserved communities

Seven years ago, Jamaica resident Alicia White realized that there was green space in her community that wasn’t being used to its fullest potential.

She noticed that Railroad Park was being used as a dumping ground and that a few community members did what they could to keep it clean on their own.

“So one day, when I was on my way home, I asked one of them, ‘Is there a way I can help?’And they told me they would love for someone else to come and help clean up the space,” White said.

“Long story short, I had a volunteer project there that next Saturday, and I came with volunteers to clean it up,” she said. “From there, I was trying to figure out what more I could do.”

After various neighbors and friends saw what White had done for her community, they began to ask her for help with other green spaces with great potential.

By following that calling, White went on to create Project Petals, a nonprofit that devotes itself to creating and maintaining green spaces in New York’s under-resourced and BIPOC communities.

Project Petals has grown from that one project in Queens, to 10 projects across the five boroughs including the Mill Brook Houses Garden in South Bronx, Bergen Street Garden in Crown Heights, and Paradise Garden in Jamaica.

Prominent personal care brand Tom’s of Maine recently awarded Project Petals a $20,000 grant as part of their “Giving For Goodness” program.

“It’s empowering that Tom’s of Maine sees the impact Project Petals and our community of volunteers have at a local level,” White said. “These green spaces we develop provide food, wellness and will be there, benefiting the community for years to come.”

White added that the team has already started utilizing the funds to further expand their initiatives by providing tools, gardening materials, and other resources for programming in each garden.

Sonia Ferraro, a gardener who works the day-to-day at Paradise Community Garden is thankful for White’s efforts to provide environmentally equitable spaces to those underserved — especially during such difficult times.

“Alicia White and Project Petals helped us when we were struggling,” Ferraro said. “I was going to give up and was ready to throw in the towel. No one was giving us tools and resources, then Alicia and Project Petals came, and our garden really got started. Now we are thriving because of their help.”

Paradise Garden in Jamaica serves as a “learning garden,” where people can learn to grow their own food and distribute fresh produce to the community.

The garden also recently held an event where PPE was distributed, including masks, hand sanitizer, and COVID tests, as well as providing a space for mental health and wellness for community members.

White said that she’s happy to see BIPOC communities benefiting from the efforts of Project Petals, given where the organization is based geographically.

“A lot of the communities we work in are food deserts, and that access isn’t there. The gardens also act in a way so people can learn,” White said. “Growing your own food is not a skill that many people in New York City have, which is something that we help with, but I would say the most important feature of the spaces is that we’re creating healthy spaces. Usually, a lot of Black and brown communities in New York City lack green spaces, compared to Manhattan or other zip codes that have more funding. So it’s essential and vital that these spaces are there just for health and wellness purposes as well.”

White encourages representatives from any local green space in need to reach out to [email protected] via email, and for any potential volunteers to log on to Project Petals’ website and sign up.

Fatal shooting at Parsons Blvd/Archer Ave subway station

A 24-year-old Brooklyn man was fatally shot in the chest inside the Parsons Boulevard/Archer Avenue subway station on Monday afternoon.

Police say that at 4:30 p.m. on Monday, a verbal dispute quickly turned physical, eventually leading to five shots being fired inside the subway station.

NYPD Transit Chief Jason Wilcox said that the victim, Marcus Bethea, was standing near the token booth when the suspect initially approached him. When police arrived, first aid was rendered and Bethea was transferred to Jamaica Hospital where he was pronounced dead.

“During the course of that fight, the suspect pulled out a firearm and fired several rounds that hit the victim in his torso,” Wilcox said during a Monday night briefing on the incident.

Camera footage was captured inside the subway station, police say, and it is currently under review by the department.

There is no arrest as of press time. Police urge anyone with information to call Crimestoppers at 1-800-7577 (TIPS).

Business Districts to merge in Downtown Jamaica

The bustling business district of downtown Jamaica could soon be overseen by a single business improvement district, or “BID,” as consolidation efforts are underway.

Support has been shown for the merger of the Sutphin Boulevard BID, the 165th Street Mall Special Assessment District and the Jamaica Center Special Assessment District, with many elected officials giving their blessing to the concept at a Committee of Finance meeting last week.

The bill itself, Int. No. 103, would alter how the district is assessed by expanding the boundaries of the existing Sutphin Boulevard BID.

Council Speaker Adrienne Adams, also the former co-chair of the Jamaica Now Leadership Council, offered her full support of the legislation to create a unified business improvement district. It was during her time as co-chair of the Jamaica Now Leadership Council when the merger was first proposed.

“Our downtown area will have a singular brand and voice, which will facilitate more opportunities for investments and large-scale transformative projects,” Adams said. “It will reduce any overlap in responsibilities among the current BIDS, and will more strategically position Jamaica to meet the ever growing needs and challenges of our small businesses, residents and visitors.”

Adams, a Southeast Queens native, says that a unified effort will mean consistent programming and services, as well as greater input for the concerns of businesses in downtown Jamaica.

“I’m excited about the future of this area that I’ve called home for so long, and the potential for positive change this proposal will bring,” Adams said.

As it currently stands, the Sutphin Boulevard BID encompasses Sutphin Boulevard and properties south of Archer Avenue. The Jamaica Center BID, which is technically a special assessment district, includes businesses along Jamaica Avenue starting at Sutphin Boulevard and ending at 169th Street. The 165th Street Mall Special Assessment District includes businesses extending along 16th Street from Jamaica Avenue to 89th Avenue, with over 160 stores in its current footprint.

Councilmember Nantasha Williams, representing the 28th district, said that the merger will be beneficial to all parties involved, and that the move could reduce some administrative costs, such as rent and insurance. Although the conversations about merging predate her time in City Council, she said she is proud to carry the efforts of former Councilman I. Daneek Miller.

“The pandemic has decimated our commercial districts and if the unification means our businesses will be paying less and receiving more services, then this is a no-brainer,” Williams said. “I am in full support and I look forward to working with the BID on future projects.”

Alix Duroseau Jr., the board chairman of the Sutphin Boulevard BID, told the Ledger that he is “cautiously optimistic” about the merger, and he is looking forward to what the endeavor could bring to downtown Jamaica.

Jennifer Furioli, the executive director of the Jamaica Center BID, spoke on behalf of President Michael Hirschhorn during the Finance Committee meeting.

“We want to nurture a thriving downtown, and by partnering with our peers on 165th Street, I believe we can,” Furioli said.

Speaking for Hirschhorn, Furioli added that the Jamaica Center BID has been extremely limited in what it can accomplish due to rising administrative expenses. This year, over a quarter of the organization’s operating budget is allocated to liability insurance expenses,

In the 2022 fiscal year, the Jamaica Center BID says they expect to pay $222,905 for their insurance policy, not including nearly $40,000 for deductables and possibly more depending on legal outcomes.

The Downtown Alliance, the largest BID in the city with a $20 million budget, only paid about $113,000 for their yearly insurance.

“By unifying under Sutphin’s legal structure, as is proposed, the liability would be eliminated and the new BID would not have any legal exposure that the Jamaica Center now contends with,” Furioli said.

Property owners within the new expanded district will be mailed a survey, with at least 51 percent of property owners needed to be in approval of the merger. A City Council vote could come in May or June, which would make the merger official as of January 1, 2023.

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