Queens group promotes civic engagement during Fall Harvest Festival

Aminta Kalawan, founder and executive director of SQMW (front,third from left), surrounded by members at the first Fall Harvest Festival to promote civic engagement in Queens.
Aminta Kalawan, founder and executive director of SQMW (front,third from left), surrounded by members at the first Fall Harvest Festival to promote civic engagement in Queens.
Courtesy SQMW

The South Queens Women’s March (SQWM), in partnership with the NYC Racial Justice Commission and the Asian American Federation, on Oct. 29, hosted the first ever Fall Harvest Festival in South Richmond Hill, Queens. The event occurred near the busy intersection of Lefferts Boulevard and Liberty Avenue, in the Leo Kearns parking lot located at 103-33 Lefferts Bld.

Founder & Executive Director, Aminta Kalawan said the festival, welcomed more than 120 community members who pledged to vote and inspired more community members during trick or treating hours at their office on Halloween to do the same. At the Festival, the organization shed light on some of the key issues that will be found on the back of voters’ ballots this election. The group mobilized community members to vote and remember the critical need to flip over their ballots. This year, the back of the ballot will feature four proposals, including three coming out of efforts by the New York City Racial Justice Commission.

The fun-filled afternoon distributed free groceries including contributions from the Campaign Against Hunger and culturally responsive goods such as curry powder and vermicelli sponsored by Singh’s Roti Shop and Bar. Fresh produce offerings, purchased by SQWM from Earnest Foods, included zucchini, carrots, and onions. Traditional Caribbean pastries including pine tarts and cheese rolls from Tropical Isle Bakery were distributed. The organization also distributed personal protective equipment (K95 and surgical face masks and sanitizers), at home COVID test kits, and feminine hygiene products.

Reading for Black Lives, an entity founded by SQWM member Fayola Fair of Rochdale Village, distributed free books written by BIPOC authors. Little Guyana Pharmacy provided free flu shots and beverages while Juice 101 supplied juice shots.

As with all their giveaways, SQWM distributed gender-based / domestic violence resources, and the main entrance of the Fall Festival displayed a beautiful painting by SQWM intern, Jennifer Padilla of South Queens dedicated to community members who were lost to domestic violence over the last several years, including Guiatree Hardat, Stacy Singh, Donna Rehanna Dojoy, Rajwantie Baldeo, and Mandeep Kaur. October marks Domestic Violence Awareness Month and since its inception, SQWM has sought to shift the patriarchal culture in its community to end violence against women and against all.

Kids enjoy face painting as part of SQMW's first Fall Harvest Festival to promote civic engagement in Queens.
Kids enjoy face painting as part of SQMW’s first Fall Harvest Festival to promote civic engagement in Queens. Courtesy SQMW

The event also featured local artists. DJ Keshan spun tunes from soca, calypso, chutney, and Bollywood. Gavin Mendonca of Creole Rock literally rocked the crowd with folk songs including “Small Days,” with elderly members of the audience swaying to his voice and guitar.

SQWM members Anjali Seegobin, Sabrina Mohammed, and Sacha Sulaiman performed a dynamic fusion dance. Reading for Black Lives founder Fayola Fair delivered a reading from “I Affirm Me,” a children’s book by Nyasha Williams. Kathak dancers Ambika Persaud and Durga Rathi, who are also SQWM members, did a demonstration beckoning many participants to the stage of all ages and walks of life.

South Queens Women’s March members Movina Seepersaud and Theresa Deepan co-chaired the event. Co-sponsors of the event included All-in-One Party Rentals, Ambika Henna Creations, Blaque Resource Network, Chhaya CDC, Caribbean Equality Project, Desis Rising Up and Moving (DRUM), Diverse Streets Initiative, Earnest Foods, Emblem Health, Guyanese Girls Rock Foundation, NYC Commission on Human Rights, Juice 101, Little Guyana Pharmacy and Cafe, MumsKitchens, P.O.O.J.A. Boys, Reading for Black Lives, Resilient Bridges, Safe Horizon, The Campaign Against Hunger, Singh’s Roti Shop & Bar, and Tropical Isle Roti Shop and Bakery.

Aminta Kilawan-Narine said, “This past year, we saw many of our rights being rolled back, including the dystopian overturning of Roe v. Wade. Voting has never been more critical for our underserved community, at every level of government – from local to national. South Queens Women’s March has been advocating to achieve true gender justice since our inception. We are hosting our first ever fall festival in furtherance of our mission: to meet our community where they are and to provide them with the tools and resources necessary to survive and thrive.

Dancers go through their paces at the first Fall Harvest Festival to promote civic engagement in Queens.
Dancers go through their paces at the first Fall Harvest Festival to promote civic engagement in Queens. Courtesy SQMW

“We’re thrilled to have so many community-based co-sponsors and culturally responsive performances as we celebrate this harvest season with a resource-rich festival and encourage community members to vote and flip over their ballots, especially to consider proposals related to racial justice in our city,” said Kilawan-Narine.

At the event, Kilawan-Narine called up all SQWM’s members, thanking them for their leadership and volunteerism over the last several years and encouraged more community members to join the SQWM movement.

“This weekend’s Fall Harvest Festival isn’t just a GOTV drive. It’s a cultural event that brings whole communities together with art, music, and dance and that connects people with critical resources like groceries, COVID tests, children’s clothing, books, flu shots, and so much more. Trusted CBOs like South Queens Women’s March are activating not just Asian American voters but entire communities ahead of these critical midterm elections that will decide who will represent us and the values that are important to us as a city,” said Jo-Ann Yoo, executive director of the Asian American Federation.

Christina Motilall, member of South Queens Women’s March’s civic engagement team said, “During times like these when we are going through inflation and worrying if we have enough money to buy groceries, to pay our rent, to just make it through the end of the month we often forget other essentials like voting. Exercising our rights as citizens and making sure we have a say in who makes decisions that affect our lives is very important. We may not be able to control everything that happens to us, and we may feel defeated due to our circumstances but one way to change that is to make the change and vote!”

“Flipping over the ballot in these upcoming elections allows citizens to uplift issues and support recommendations needed at the state and city levels. One of these proposals outlines the need to act against climate change with an Environmental Bond Act. The anxiety and fear around climate change is an alarming concern for New Yorkers, especially felt deeply in communities of color. This new proposal aims to implement funds towards renewable projects, improving storm water systems and zero emission school buses,” said South Queens Women’s March Civic Engagement Coordinator, Anjali Seegobin, who, in addition to performing at the festival, also encouraged residents to vote.
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