For many, home is where the heart is.
And for lifelong Queens resident Gregory Mays, that home is Jamaica, Queens.
Mays was born and raised in the Jamaica neighborhood of St. Albans and lives in the tony Jamaica enclave of Addisleigh Park.
A longtime community activist and presence, Mays has always looked for ways to better his community. When he was president of the Addisleigh Park Civic Association, he successfully advocated for his neighborhood–once the home of such luminaries as Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Jackie Robinson, James Brown and Count Basie–to receive historic landmark status from the city. It was the first and only Black neighborhood in Queens to obtain the status.
Five years ago, he founded the not-for-profit A Better Jamaica Inc., which works to strengthen Southeast Queens neighborhoods, which are generally predominantly Black communities.
“I have to give back things the way things were given to me,” said Mays.
With this organization, Mays has formulated several initiatives, working to keep Jamaica activated, educated and entertained. His first initiative was family movies in the park, a summer series where family-friendly movies are shown in various southeast Queens parks. He added a second film series called classic film Fridays, which offers more grown-up fare for adults.
A Better Jamaica also offers the community educational services, including a reading program for first graders called Jamaica Reads. In that program, senior citizens read to the children at local elementary schools. A second program is called Jamaica Solutions, a roundtable conference that brings together the leadership of various not-for-profits to share information and leverage their organizational capacities.
To get the word out on his organization’s work and other programs in the community, Mays started a website called Jamaica 311 (www.jamaica311.com), which features information on what is happening culturally, socially and in business in the Jamaica community.
“This gives me an opportunity to leverage my talents–problem solving, ability to analyze problems and come up with solutions. This is something I execute and do relatively well.” said Mays as he spoke about his organization.
Mays’ talents were apparent from a young age. He attended Bayside High School, went on to Howard University for his undergraduate work and, after a couple of years at a major accounting firm, where he obtained his CPA, he went to Harvard Business School to earn his MBA.
After Harvard, Mays spent several years at Black Enterprise magazine, then went out to California, where he worked in the movie business doing distribution for Columbia/Sony Pictures. He moved his career from the movies to the Internet, becoming part of a number of Black-owned entrepreneurial ventures, and over the years, he has also lent his talent and skills to a number of businesses as a consultant. But his heart has always been in serving and building his community, which is why he started his not-for-profit organization.
Over time, Mays has never seen his community reach ending at Jamaica’s borders. He has been active on the board of Harlem organizations, including the Classical Theater of Harlem, and for six years he was a director of the Harlem School of the Arts.
While A Better Jamaica sometimes seems all encompassing in Mays’ life, it is not the only pursuit. For more than 10 years he has been the primary caregiver for his nephew Doug, who is now 17 and whom he has raised with his mother for more than a decade. Mays says that being a parent is so much harder than building an organization because “parenting is so unpredictable.” Over time, Mays has brought as much passion to child rearing as he has to his professional life.
And if there are any simple words that would sum up Mays, they might be what you see at the end of his emails: “Lead, follow or get out of the way!”