By MacKenzie Brady
John Queen, a 10-year resident of Chestertown and community leader, is heavily involved in numerous organizations that service Kent County.
Queen is the president and co-founder of Bayside H.O.Y.A.S., the owner of Allied Shore Solutions, chairman of the Black Union of Kent County, spokesperson for the Juneteenth Festival for Chestertown, is on the Equity Advisory Committee for Chestertown Unites Against Racism, and will open his tourism company, The Smallest County, in May 2021.
According to Queen, who was born and raised in Washington, D.C., fate and childhood friends brought him to Chestertown. Together, they founded the Bayside H.O.Y.A.S. in 2013.
“I just came out here to visit one day. When I came to visit, I wound up actually staying and moving out here. Moved out here, met my wife, had two kids, and that was 2010,” Queen said.
H.O.Y.A.S. stands for Helping Our Youth Achieve Success, and the non-profit focuses on educating and inspiring at-risk youth in Kent and northern Queen Anne’s Counties.
According to their website, “The Bayside H.O.Y.A.S.’s mission is to promote academic excellence, positive character development, and civic responsibility among secondary school age youth and young adults.”
For Queen, “youth” is defined as 24 or younger, and there are different programs available for youths within various age ranges, including the Junior H.O.Y.A.S. program for youths in elementary school.
Not only does Bayside H.O.Y.A.S. service youths but it offers services to their families as well.
“We’ve done things like pay grocery bills, keep your lights on, things of that nature to help that family and the situation where they need help. I find people jobs all the time — the oldest have been 36-years-of-age. Even though we’re a youth community organization, the community sees myself and our program as a resource that can kind of cut through red tape and get them right into the moment. I have a lot of employers who call me directly and say ‘Hey, do you have anybody who’s looking for a job?’ And I will directly plug, so to speak, that person into Human Resources and that person will start working immediately off the strength of John Queen and the Bayside H.O.Y.A.S. and our image and our name in the community,” Queen said.
Bayside H.O.Y.A.S. is about building a family, and according to Queen, youths who join the program are involved in it for as long as they want to be. There are programs on college preparedness, the history of Kent County, nutrition, economic mobility, and more.
“Poverty is a real big issue [in Kent County], and nobody has really given the attention to that that the H.O.Y.A.S. have really gave in the past and continue to do,” Queen said about the need for their economic mobility programming.
One of Queen’s newer projects is the Black Union of Kent County, which started in June of 2020 partially in response to the death of George Floyd and the social injustice and uprisings in the world as a way to unify the white and Black communities by educating white members on how they can help the Black community and building trust and relationships with them.
“I felt like, as a community leader, I had to give my answer. I had to give my solution, and a lot of my solutions are action-based,” Queen said.
“[The Black Union] was never created to fight injustice to Black people, by Black people. It was more of a program for white allies,” he said, explaining that white allies consist of people who want to help the Black community but do not know how.
According to Queen, the Black Union of Kent County attacks the five major issues that plague the Black community: mass incarceration, access to wealth, miseducation, police genocide, and gentrification.
These issues are attacked using an empowerment scale, starting at the base of the foundation, which is the community — building trust, relationships, and then reinforcing those. With the community as a frame, Queen helps members understand the scale starting with economics and understanding how money spread within the community. When they understand how economics affect the community, program members build up to politics, the judiciary, the media, and finally education.
The Black Union is currently addressing the community stage, focusing on gentrification and access to wealth within Kent County.
There are small activities Queen conducts to help get members comfortable discussing issues of race, using real life situations to ready members to operate out of a place of trust — including having people raise their hand as they associate something with being done by a white or Black person.
According to Queen, these exercises are not meant to call anybody out, but instead get them to start thinking.
“It’s trying to get people into a state of union, to be honest, and saying, ‘Yes these are the issues with the history of America, but how can we work here in the community together to not only resolve these issues, but give these solutions that can go forward for us working together and building together…in order for me to learn these things about an individual, we must build a relationship and we must communicate. So, I’m very big on communication and your honesty. We’re not always going to agree, on nothing — whether it’s H.O.Y.A.S., Black Union, community leader, activism, we’re not going to agree — but the ultimate goal is how do we come to the table with solutions that are like-minded to move everything forward,” Queen said.
The Black Union has been in the works for years, and all of its programming comes from other programs Queen is a part of and runs, catered more specifically to that particular audience.
Outside of leading Bayside H.O.Y.A.S. and the Black Union of Kent County, Queen, as the spokesperson for the Juneteenth Festival, has already begun planning the 2021 celebration.
According to Queen, they have begun planning for the 2021 Juneteenth Festival, which will cater to people of all ages and races, with music, events, food, and more, all of which surrounds Juneteenth and its pillars.
“We’re going to showcase Black businesses and we’re going to showcase some things in the Black community where we possibly can do a Black hair show, where a lot of people might not understand cornrows are not just cornrows, they’re our culture — and do it in a kind of way where everyone feel welcome and it’s not just a Black event,” Queen said.
“It would be great if these college kids helped me plan Juneteenth. I know some of these kids won’t be here, but your perspective and your youth and your energy is needed in this town,” he said.
The next meeting to plan for the Juneteenth Festival is Nov. 17. It will occur on Zoom and anyone is welcome to join and give input — reach out to Queen for the link.
Queen is interested in working with Washington College, but said that, for the most part, the College wants help from the Chestertown community but is not willing to help it in return.
While there are some partnerships between groups on WC’s campus and the Bayside H.O.Y.A.S. — the College Preparation Intervention Programming initiative includes 15 WC students each year who engage with the community, and the Black Student Union and Cleopatra’s Sisters have helped with tutoring — when there were racial bias incidents on campus last year, Queen felt like WC wanted the community to help, but then left before there could be a real dialogue about what to do.
Queen cited the Town Council Meeting where WC students and administrators spoke about the racial bias incidents, but then all of the WC community members in attendance left during the meeting for another event on campus before the Chestertown community was able to speak.
“You want us to stop what we’re doing to fight with you — which we have no issue doing — but when the fight get heated, you’re gone after you make your stance. And they haven’t came back to the community since,” Queen said.
Queen encourages students who are interested in getting involved in the Chestertown community, Bayside H.O.Y.A.S., or Black Union of Kent County to email him at email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, or email@example.com he will put you in the network in which you are interested.
“Come to me and you will be more than pleased with what I let you do. You want to volunteer? Cool, what about this. You want to work with kids? Come do Junior H.O.Y.A.S. with us. Come on this cultural field trip with us. Tutor this kid,” Queen said.
Queen hopes to redo the program with the College to reconnect and build the community bond they once had.
According to Queen, the College would get a larger community turnout at events if they embraced the community more.
“For young students, especially college students, the world is yours to change,” Queen said.
Queen encourages college-age student activists and community leaders to question why they are interested in that line of work: are they doing it for praise, or to help other people. He also emphasized the importance of not being peer-pressured into changing your thoughts and views and staying strong in your character.
“Do what you want to do in your life — it’s yours. And we try to teach that to the youth and give them the guidance of positivity and reinforce mentoring and leadership development, and just well-rounded social skills to keep them on that track to make the best decisions in life,” he said.
Queen also said it is important to have youths involved in the planning of events and programming so that the older generations know what younger people are interested in.
For more information about Bayside HOYAS and the Black Union of Kent County, follow them on Facebook at Bayside Hoyas and Black Union of Kent County and Instagram @bayside_h.o.y.a.s and @blackunion_of_kentcounty.
Featured photo caption: John Queen is a community leader in Chestertown. He is involved in many community organizations, including Bayside H.O.Y.A.S., of which he is a co-founder, and the Black Union of Kent County, of which he is the spokesperson. Photo Courtesy of John Queen.