Top 15 Movers & Shakers 2011
Millions of people call Queens home. A select few run the show. Call them the borough’s movers and shakers, behind-the-scenes entrepreneurs, artists and neighborhood leaders who push the envelope in positive ways. They set art and food trends, drive public discourse and work tirelessly to better their communities. Now it’s time they get their due.
#15 Peter Cardella
This Ridgewood patriarch is the man behind a bustling senior center that bears his name and an Italian-American federation that runs the annual Fresh Pond Road street festival. Cardella enjoyed a successful career in coat manufacturing before turning to the business of running the Peter Cardella Senior Citizen’s Center in the 1970’s. Since then he’s emerged as an influential spokesman for the greater Ridgewood area; an interview with him is a required campaign stop for elected officials and political hopefuls seeking office. And at 94, the hands-on do-gooder has shown no signs of slowing down: the senior center is expanding this year.
#14 Robina Niaz
Founder of Turning Point
When Robina Niaz started Turning Point for Women and Families in 2004, she never thought that the organization would gain as much acclaim as it has in its six-year existence. In recent years, Niaz, and her organization, have been recognized by CNN Heroes, NY1’s New Yorker of the Week, and last year she was named a recipient of the Bank of America Neighborhood Excellence Initiative Award, which recognizes local leaders who are making a difference in their communities. Niaz founded the organization when she reached her own turning point after a stormy marriage. The organization is the only nonprofit in New York City that caters to the needs of Muslim women regardless of ethnicity and addresses domestic violence in the Muslim community, offering free services. So far, it has helped over 400 women.
#13 Chana Porter
Growing up in Maryland, Chana Porter struggled with a stuttering problem, and so turned to writing and acting as a way to overcome her communication issues. What started as a emotional release has since turned into a career. So far she has written five plays, three of which have been performed on stage, and her latest, Besharet, recently was produced by AliveWire Theatrics and had a run at the 9th Space theater in March. Porter’s goal is to be a part of growing the art scene in Queens, and she says she is inspired by the diversity of her new home. “I want my plays to be about everyone, and Queens is the best place to start,” she recently told It’s Queens. “I really love Queens so much; you really get the sense of this is where people’s lives are. There are so many people who care and take pride in themselves and what they have.”
#12 Rekha Malhotra
Well known for her Basement Bhangra music that blends the South Asian style with hip hop beats, Rekha Malhotra might have been born in London but she is a Queens girl all the way. More famously known as DJ Rekha, she grew up in Queens and got a degree in Urban Studies from Queens College. In 1997, Rekha created a New York dance party which takes place every first Thursday of the month at Sounds of Brazil (S.O.B.’s). The party has since put Bhangra music on the map. She has collaborated with numerous artists and in 2007, released her debut album, DJ Rekha presents Basement Bhangra. But that’s not her only passion. Always an activist in college, Rekha is also involved with many nonprofit organizations including CHHAYA Community Development Corporation and Breakthrough, a human rights organization.
#11 Richard Mazda
Founder of The Secret Theatre
A London native who immigrated to New York in 2004, Mazda is the founder of one of Long Island City’s premier places to check out: The Secret Theatre. Located in the heart of Long Island City, the venue – formed in 2007 – shows that great theatre can happen in Queens. The theatre produces roughly seven to ten shows a year, with varying productions from outside companies. This spring it will host a production of Parade, the Musical. Mazda is a strong voice for the borough, which he says is often overlooked even though the neighborhoods of Long Island City and Astoria are no strangers to the film industry. “Anybody who has a business in Queens is fighting the perception that if you live in Queens you go somewhere else, and that’s really ridiculous,” he said last year at the press conference for the Astoria/Long Island City Film Festival. A record-producer and actor, Mazda is also currently the festival director of The LIC Arts Open, as well as the founder and an executive director of The Queens Fringe Festival, set to happen in May.
#10 Alia Akkam
Founder and Editorial Director, The Q Note
Want to be up to date on all of the ultra-cool and creative things, events, and people the borough of Queens has to offer? Well then, you better get on the mailing list of TheQNote.com right away. TheQNote.com is the brainchild of Alia Akkam, a Queens resident who spent her young years in Laurelton before being dragged to Long Island by her parents, but now she is renewing her love affair with the borough through her website. TheQNote.com features cultural happenings, tips on new places to eat, and will even let you in on something as mundane but necessary as a good hardware store. Queens may get overlooked by Manhattan and Brooklyn, but TheQNote is quickly working to change that.
#9 Nicki Minaj
Since Run-D.M.C. burst on the scene in the mid 1980’s, Queens has emerged as a training ground for some of hip hop’s biggest stars, from Nas to 50 Cent. They set music and fashion trends, dominate the blogosphere and rule the airwaves all summer long. The borough’s MC du jour is Nicki Minaj, a multi-talented transplant from Trinidad and Tobago who gained prominence after releasing her first mix tape in 2007. Today, she’s a major recording artist with a long career ahead of her. Here’s hoping she never loses her saucy Southeast Queens accent.
#8 Daniel Leone
Executive Director, Queens Public Television
Daniel Leone controls the airwaves in Queens. Well, actually, to hear Leone tell you, you control the airwaves, he’s just the man who keeps the shows up and running. Leone has been executive director of QPTV for the last 5 years, and in that time has worked to make sure QPTV reaches as a broad an audience as possible, one that reflects the diversity of the borough itself, and at the same time improving the quality of the programs and making them as relevant as possible.
#7 Dr. Uma Mysorekar
President, Hindu Temple Society of North America / National Spokesperson for Hindu Religion
For the past 17 years, Dr. Uma Mysorekar has been president of the Hindu Temple Society of North America, a position that includes managing the day-to-day operations of the 30-employee organization, which oversees, organizes and assists with major Hindu events and celebrations throughout New York and the country. Mysorekar, a Flushing resident, is widely regarding as the spokesperson for Hinduism in the United States. She must be articulate, spiritual, highly communicative and be an unwavering leader. Mysorekar fits the bill flawlessly. Articulate and spiritual, Mysorekar is continually initiating discussion forums, organizing awareness campaigns and diversity programs, and meeting within cultural and political circles in order to quietly and effectively approach issues which promote diverse religious tolerance and acceptance. Her appearance on “The Colbert Report” in June of 2008 is a telling example indeed. Although host Stephen Colbert tried quite hard to poke fun and trivialize the Hindu religion, Mysorekar took it in stride, held her own, and in fact was able to use the show to educate.“The mind commits sins, not the soul” she told Colbert’s rabid audience.
#6 Katha & Don Cato
Film Festival directors
Long-time Jackson Heights residents Don and Katha Cato made their mark in March when they revamped last year’s controversial International Queens Film Festival, transforming it into the Queens World Film Festival with over 400 films from all parts of the globe. Don Cato is an award winning filmmaker and has made over 35 films of all different lengths, styles and genres. Katha Cato is the director of After-School and Camp Services at Henry Street Settlement. Both are passionate artists and relish working together. The Queens World Film Festival was an opportunity to bring all of their passions together and contribute to the cultural fabric of Queens.
#5 Gabriela Granados
Dancer and Artistic Director of American Bolero Dance Company
Gabriela Granados is a Flamenco firestorm. The Peruivan-born dancer put Queens on the map as a destination for a good night of Flamenco dance and song when she opened the Long Island City-based American Bolero Dance Company in 1996. Since then, the acclaimed performance of Tablao Flamenco is a much anticipated event each spring where the audience enjoys a table seat while local and national singers and dancers gather in a one-of-a-kind showcase of the intricacies and beauty of the classic Spanish dance at the Auditorium Centro Espanol in Astoria. Growing up in Peru, Granados knew her life would involve dance. She studied Flamenco in Spain before moving back to Queens to start the company, which also offers classes. She has plans to take Tablao Flamenco to different boroughs soon, even though she is glad to have made her start in Queens. “Queens is a good place to be,” she said. “A lot of people here support what I do.”
#4 Kristie Foster
The owner of KrisTEES boutique in Astoria, Kristie Foster has been in the fashion industry for 13 years. The contemporary boutique started four and a half years ago, creatively weaving fashion into community by collaborating on events with other local businesses. Keeping in line with Astoria’s diversity, KrisTEES showcases small designers from around the world in a gallery-like style while also working with main-stream fashion industry professionals like Peruvian stylist Peter Valcarcel. Since opening KrisTEES in 2006, she has enriched the neighborhood creating a platform for young emerging local and global designers to shine while focusing on understated looks that have a contemporary edge. In addition to unique pieces to wear, Foster seeks out local artists to display their work alongside her collections, blending seamlessly. To Foster, fashion and art go hand in hand, so why not show them together? Foster has been featured in Lucky Magazine and Time Out NY. She has also been recognized numerous times by Mayor Bloomberg for her commitment to enriching Astoria.
#3 Tom Finkelpearl
Executive Director, Queens Museum of Art
When Tom Finkelpearl took over the Queens Museum of Art in Flushing Meadows Corona Park, the museum was mostly known as the home to the scale model of New York City known as The Panorama and as an homage to the two World’s Fairs held in the park decades ago. Today, it is respected in the New York City art world as a museum at the cutting edge of modern art, hosting exhibits and shows that draw serious art connoisseurs from all over the city. And the museum is currently undergoing an expansion that will double its size, and no doubt its reputation as one of the top museums in New York City.
#2 Lidia Bastianich
Lidia Bastianich may not have been born in Queens, but she’s become a Queens girl through and through. At the age of 14, Bastianich and her family moved to Astoria, where she began working in Italian restaurants, her first introduction to the food industry. In 1971, she opened her first restaurant, Buonavia, in Forest Hills. From there, the Bastianich restaurant empire continued to grow throughout New York City, and in 1999 the James Beard Foundation named Bastianich the best chef in New York City. In 1993, Bastianich was invited to appear on Julia Child’s cooking show, and her own successful television career soon took off. When it came time to film, Bastianich shunned a studio kitchen and instead filmed her show in her own kitchen in Douglaston, the neighborhood she still calls home.
#1 Darryl Strawberry
New York Mets Outfielder / Restauranteur
Darryl Strawberry may have finished out his career with the other New York professional baseball team (we think they’re called the Yankees), but to most baseball fans, especially here in Queens, Strawberry will always be the property of the Mets – the ‘86 World Championship Mets, to be exact. As passionate on the field as off it, Strawberry was hated by opposing teams, but adored by Mets fans. Long since retired, Strawberry is making more news in Queens, opening Strawberry’s Sports Bar & Grill earlier this year. So head out to Douglaston and bask in the memorabilia of Straw’s days with the Mets (and some from his days with the Yankees, too), and enjoy a cocktail and one of the best pulled pork sandwiches in the borough.
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