In 1915, the 57 acres of land now occupied by the Southern Queens – Roy Wilkins Park was part of the Saint Albans Golf & Country Club. American icons such as Babe Ruth played golf and frequented the 125 acre grounds. Addisleigh Park, the historic African American community parallel to the property, was developed based on the same restrictive covenants of the Country Club. Close to a century later, the historic designation and the Park’s namesake, mark the irony of its bigoted origins.
In the aftermath of the Great Depression, the golf and country club failed. The owners unsuccessfully attempted to develop the land but it was seized by the federal government in 1942. Construction soon began on the St. Albans Naval Hospital, which opened in 1943. After construction was completed in 1950, the hospital had 3,000 beds and contained a network of 76 wards. When the hospital closed in 1974, the federal government assigned half of the property to the Veterans Administration and considered turning the remaining 54 acres of land into an animal quarantine.
In 1976, community activists successfully fought and lobbied all levels of government to abandon its plans and have the grounds classified as community space. The “community group” that led this effort included the Federation of Youth Organizations, which would later become the Southern Queens Park Association (SQPA). On 6 May 1977, the federal government formally deeded the land to the City of New York. The grounds were maintained by SQPA until 1980 when the City entered into its first public private partnership with SQPA, which remains as the steward of the Park until today. SQPA is a registered 501(c)3 not-for profit. On June 29, 1982, the City Council named the property in honor of Roy Wilkins, who had died a year earlier. Many long time residents still refer to the grounds as Southern Queens Park but it is more commonly referred to as Roy Wilkins Park.
SQPA was led by Solomon Goodrich, a self described Garveyite and Pan Africanist, who maintained the value of the grounds was more than “just a Park and a vehicle to community and individual improvement.” Goodrich led the agency until 2002. The Park experienced marked growth and was even considered as a site for an African American Hall of Fame. However, the fiscal crisis during the aftermath of September 11, caused a shift in priorities and funding. William Nelson assumed leadership in 2002 and led SQPA until his departure in October, 2007. Nelson’s tenure is best known for the large events hosted by Roy Wilkins Park, i.e., Irie Jamboree, which brought international recognition to the grounds. Hugh H. Haywood, best known for his commitment to technological literacy as a means for economic equity and access, led in an interim capacity until its third President was identified in September of 2008, Roger N. Scotland. As one who benefitted from SQPA’s programs, and believed the community to be falling behind, his goals were to implement qualitative, responsive, and relevant programs. “We must realize the potential of the grounds as a regional destination for comprehensive human services, premier athletic events, recreational outlets, and relevant cultural and social events.” The organization’s board has benefited from consistent community centered leadership, with few chairpersons in its history: James Hall, Paul Gibson Jr., Esq (the first black deputy mayor to the City of New York), Dorothy N. Ogundu, M.D., and Jacqueline Boyce.
SQPA was one of the first human service agencies in the City of New York to be awarded a Beacon Program. The Beacon Programs were developed by Richard Murphy, Commissioner of Youth Services (later merged with Community Development Agency (CDA) to become DYCD) and made possible by the leadership of Mayor David N. Dinkins. This youth development model was replicated nationally and affords communities the use of schools during off hours for after school programs and varied community enrichment activities.
SQPA’s mission is to coordinate and provide comprehensive programs to children, youth, adults, families and seniors residing in Southeast Queens. It also finds innovative ways to combine its stewardship of the 54-acre Southern Queens–Roy Wilkins Park with its mission to enhance the quality of life of residents. Our programs are offered at four sites, and services include: Youth Development, Basic & Continuing Education, Workforce Development, Family & Individual Supportive Services (Preventive & Intervention Services), senior activities, structured recreational outlets and team sports, cultural events, environmental programs, and technological literacy. Residents of all ethnic backgrounds access Roy Wilkins Park for its cultural events and to use its various facilities and amenities: gymnasium, natatorium, athletic track, serene walkways, handball, tennis, and basketball courts, football, cricket and soccer fields.
In addition to providing direct services, SQPA enables more than forty (40) stakeholders, community partners, and local educational institutions access to Roy Wilkins Park. We enrich the quality of life for all persons in Southern Queens, while also serving residents from Brooklyn and Nassau Counties.
SQPA is an anchor institution, which positively impacts the lives of more than 400,000 persons annually.