Meng Awards 1 Million for Small Business Legal Desk 

Congresswoman Grace Meng allocated one million dollars for the Queens Chamber of Commerce to start a Small Business Legal Desk. Photo by Iryna Shkurhan

By Iryna 

Small businesses in Queens will soon have access to free legal advice in five different languages through a new pilot program spearheaded by the Queens Chamber of Commerce. 

Congresswoman Grace Meng, who represents much of the borough, awarded the Chamber with a check for $1 million outside the Small Business Development Center at Queens College in Flushing. 

“This will consist of pro-bono, professional support to help small businesses avoid costly issues and mistakes that could impact the force and the strength of our workforce,” said Meng at the event on Thursday. “It will especially help small immigrant owned small businesses and link the small business community that I’m proud to represent.” 

She also pointed out that when business owners run into legal hurdles, they may not know exactly where to turn. Without resources to have a lawyer on retainer, or prior experience dealing with legal issues, they can fall victim to scams and end up in a worse situation than before. 

With the funding, the chamber will bring aboard lawyers, accountants and human resources professionals who can advise business owners in times of need, and in multiple languages – Mandarin, Korean, Bengali, Russian, and Spanish. 

Tom Gretch, President and CEO of the Queens Chamber of Commerce, recounted that during the pandemic, many business owners lost out on available government assistance, such as the Paycheck Protection Program loan, due to language barriers and a lack of expert advice. 

“We see the importance, especially in places like downtown Flushing, and other areas of Congresswoman Meng’s district, the importance of outreach, which is why we have people that speak different languages on staff,” said Gretch, who noted that Asian-American communities are growing in size and influence, both locally and across the nation as indicated by the 2020 Census count. 

Queens Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Tom Gretch applauded the initiative. Photo by Iryna Shkurhan

The Queens Chamber of Commerce represents over 1,400 businesses that employ over 150,000 Queens based employees in a range of industries. 

As the daughter of small business owners, who went from working in one of Flushing’s first Chinese restaurants to owning their own, Congresswoman Meng says the cause is personal. 

“They are helping to create jobs, they are helping to provide much needed services and goods that otherwise we would lack in our local neighborhoods,” said Meng. “And they provide a source of comfort.”

The Chamber is not the only group helping business owners take off, and stay afloat, in the borough. Several speakers at the event pointed out that the Small Business Development Center has been a key supporter of entrepreneurs and small businesses owners for over two decades.

Since 2001, advisors at SBDC have worked with close to 8,000 businesses, and helped invest over $100 million in the local economy, according to their website. They help business owners navigate a range of actionable steps, including setting up a business plan, marketing, securing funding, exports goods and adhering to regulations. 

“This is news that’s important not only for the Chamber of Commerce, but for everyone who lives and works in the world’s borough,” said Frank H. Wu, President of Queens College, at the gathering. “Small businesses are the lifeblood of this community.”

Gopee inducted as NYS Supreme Court justice

Becomes first Indo-Caribbean judge to serve on Supreme Court

Family, friends, local elected officials, and other community members gathered at Queens Borough Hall last week to celebrate Karen Gopee’s induction into the Supreme Court of the State of New York’s 11th Judicial District.

Gopee ran for one of the six open seats in the district on Nov. 2, 2021, and won with 11.6 percent of the vote.

Her victory makes history for New York State, as she is the first Indo-Caribbean judge to serve on the Supreme Court.

The Gopees first came to Southeast Queens in 1973 from Trinidad and Tobago, when Judge Gopee was a year old.

Her father, Prakash Gopee, said that their entire family endured many hardships, but worked tirelessly to support themselves.

“From a young age, Karen worked very hard. She went to school, and she never wanted to go out with her friends — she only liked books and studying,” Gopee said. “I am so very proud of her; I cry inside with joy today.”

Gopee went on to earn her bachelor’s degree from Binghamton University, and her J.D. from St. John’s University School of Law in 1997.

Prior to her appointment to the Queens County Criminal Court, Gopee worked for the Brooklyn District Attorney’s office and for Red Hook Community Justice Center under Alex Calabrese, Acting Supreme Court Justice.

Calabrese, along with other colleagues of Gopee’s, remarked on her character, contributions to the law field, and achievements.

“She is a natural leader and leads by example. She doesn’t see the accused in court defined solely by the charge, but takes a holistic view of that person who may be a father, mother, caregiver, or friend,” Calabrese said.

“She controls her courtroom not by yelling or cutting off attorneys, but by listening to everyone,” he continued. “Judge Karen Gopee treats people with respect, gives them a voice, listens to them, and makes sure that everyone in the courtroom understands what is happening.”

“Karen is more than just a colleague, she’s someone you can rely on and trust,” said Michelle Johnson, Justice Supreme Court – Criminal Term. “In my capacity as a supervising judge, she was the person who came as a new judge and said ‘I want to build programs for young drug offenders in Queens,’ and she did.”

Gopee also helped form the South Asian and Indo-Caribbean Bar Association of Queens, where she serves as president.

Paying homage to her Indo-Caribbean roots, Gopee invited singer Evana Labban to sing Trinidad’s national anthem, 1 Taal Academy of Tassa for a musical performance, and her former intern, Shivana Subir for a traditional dance number.

“While I grew up and assimilated into the United States, the Caribbean and Trinidad is my heritage. I wanted to bring that here with me today to the individuals here who may not have ever experienced that,” Gopee said.

“Every day, I thank God for the blessings He has bestowed upon me. I am left with a loving and big family, friends, help, a happy home, and a career that is beyond anything that I ever dreamed of as a little girl,” she continued.

“This nomination is life changing for me and my family, and it is equally life changing for my community and for others who look and sound like me.”

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