Queens Council Member Miller applauded for funding, engagement approach


    Councilmember Daneek Miller (front) marches in the 2019 African-American Day Parade. 
Photo courtesy of the New York City Council.

In Southeast Queens, Haitian Americans United for Progress (HAUP) is the sole organization providing educational, immigration, and translation services to Haitian-Americans. This fiscal year, HAUP received significant support from Councilmember Daneek Miller, who represents nearby City Council District 27. The $36,000 from Miller’s discretionary fund will be used toward HAUP’s domestic violence program.

Although HAUP is located outside of Miller’s district, Executive Director Elsie  Saint-Louis said the funds are vital for helping Haitian-Americans in her district and surrounding areas. The support also reflects the relationship Miller has built with the community, she said.

“He responds, he visits, he’s a fixture in the community and he’s done more than I can say for a lot of the others,” Saint-Louis said.

Councilmember Miller’s office declined to be interviewed for this article, but others who spoke about him were nearly unanimous in praising his funding and community engagement efforts.

Out of an allocated budget of about $1,456,500 for fiscal year 2021, Miller has given $657,500 inside of his district and $799,000 outside of his district, according to the New York City Council Expense Funding database. Of the $799,000 allocated outside his district, $130,000 goes back into programs that benefit the communities of Cambria Heights, Jamaica, Hollis, St. Albans, Queens Village, and Springfield Gardens. 

These southeast Queens neighborhoods are home to an estimated 14,861 Haitian-American families.

Haitian-American and Caribbean residents have said he has consistently been supportive of their communities both through his discretionary funding and his outreach in the community, despite allocating over half of his budget to organizations outside the community. Local politicians representing communities in Miller’s district said taking the in-district and outside-district funding at face value does not tell the whole story. 

“HAUP right now is not in the district, so we’re assuming in-district is more effective,” said Clyde Vanel, New York State Assemblymember for District 33. “There are groups that don’t technically fall within the lines of the district, but the impact is greater than providing for certain programs within the arbitrary lines of what we call the 27th or the 33rd.”

Vanel said that Miller is keen to collaborate with him on a variety of outside-district programs that benefit the community, including CUNY Citizenship Now, an initiative that provides free legal services for TPS and DACA recipients. 

Saint-Louis said she would like to receive additional funding for their ESL and immigration initiatives. Nonetheless, she said is thankful for everything she receives from Miller and couldn’t think of anything else he could do in terms of community support. 

Rudolph Shaw of the Caribbean American Repertory Theatre said Miller was directly involved in choosing the district school where he should hold theatrical workshops. Although it came as a surprise when he got his assignment, he said it has ultimately been rewarding. 

“When I got the contract, we were assigned to go to Ronald McNair School and I said, ‘Hey, something is wrong here,’”said Shaw, the Executive Director at the Caribbean American Repertory Theatre. “It was a little tough at first, but they needed the help.”

He had been assigned to the Ronald McNair School by Miller, a school where test scores frequently fall below the state average. Shaw said that Miller’s encouragement to go to Ronald McNair School was because he believed in the power of art and theater to make a positive impact in his district. 

Shaw’s theater received $40,000 this year from Miller, which he emphasized as crucial for their goal of bringing Caribbean cultural productions to schools and senior centers throughout the district. 

Braata Productions, a theater company also located in Miller’s district, received $20,000 this fiscal year for funding their Bankra Caribbean Culture Festival in St. Albans Park. Like Shaw and Saint-Louis, they also expressed support for Miller and said he goes out of his way to be involved with their outreach.

“At the time when he started supporting our work, we were very much a fledgling organization and Daneek was the first city councilmember to fund us,” said Andrew Clarke, the Founder and Executive Director of Braata Productions. “We’re not just another organization that he’s throwing money at because he really believes in the work that we’re doing.”

Haitian-American community members have a good impression of Miller as well, believing he is generally well-liked by residents.

“I think he is good for the Haitian community,” said Edmund Mondely, owner of Benediction Bakery. “A lot of people say positive things about him.”

For residents like Shaw, Miller’s funding has helped keep his theater afloat and the chance to share live productions with kids from schools like Ronald McNair has been rewarding.

“Miller’s funding is empowering students in our community through expansive theater experience,” said Shaw. “It warms my heart to look out and see these kids, some of whom are seeing a professional performance for the first time.”

This article was originally published in The Haitian Times.