Sonny Singh: Sikh Sage Warrior

Musician Sonny Singh. Credit: Shruti Parekh

By Olivia Graffeo | olivia@queensledger.com

Pioneering his own unique blend of South Asian fusion, Brooklyn-based musician and activist Sonny Singh is continuing a decades-long mission of bringing people together. 

Singh was raised in Sikhism, a religion originating in the Punjab region of India that preaches meditation and equality of all people. Born of two Indian immigrants in North Carolina, Singh embraced his Sikh background as a way to cope with rising racial and ethnic tension in America. 

“When times were tough, I found myself gravitating towards some of the [Sikh] devotional songs I learned as a kid,” Singh said. 

Noting that the demographics of Charlotte in the 1980s was mostly white and Black people, Singh and his brother were the only children in their school who wore turbans. He described this as causing a deep feeling of isolation and otherness. 

“Kids on the playground would ask me, ‘are you white or black?’ and I wouldn’t know how to answer,” he said. 

Despite being part of a small minority in the American South, Singh found a way to feel he was a part of something. Exploring his heritage, and specifically the music of his ancestors, provided Singh an outlet to feel connection and peace within his community. Though there were not any gurdwaras (Sikh temples) in their area growing up, Singh was able to find meaning through playing music at small events, usually at community members’ houses. 

After making his career in music, which he calls becoming “a musician with a capital ‘M,’” Singh found success in trying out many different genres. Participating in bands that played mixes of ska, reggae, punk rock, and other fused genres, he has only recently returned to his roots in Sikh-inspired compositions. After the release of his first solo album, Chardi Kala, in 2022, Singh fully embraced the style of music that comforted him in childhood while putting his own flair in every song. 

Sonny Singh performing music from his debut solo album “Chardi Kala”

Singh’s second solo album, Sage Warrior, will be released on September 6th. While his recent work harkens back to the religious music of Sikhism, which he calls “sacred poetry,” Singh is not simply performing renditions of the spiritual hymns of his faith. His music combines different genres, languages and instruments to reflect the unique identity Singh has formed over decades of playing music. 

While classical renditions of Sikh music usually contain the Punjabi language and instruments such as the harmonium and tabla (a type of South Asian drum), Singh expands on this. He can be heard singing in Punjabi, Spanish, English and Hindi; in addition, Singh’s skill as a trumpet player is utilized often, creating a distinctive new sound. While Singh notes that some more traditional Sikhs may disagree with his interpretation of their religion’s music and teachings, he is sure that his work is having positive effects for their community.

“It’s a constant evolution… I’m making music that makes sense to me and my own heart,” he said.

A facet of Singh’s work that is especially important to him is its foundation in social justice and activism. Since becoming involved in social causes as a teenager, Singh has continually worked to help others not only through his music, but through activism work as well. A major tenant of Sikhism is the notion that all people are equal: providing justice to everyone is paramount. 

“This sacred poetry of our tradition, there is so much wisdom in it that’s applicable today… Sikh wisdom has always inspired me, has inspired my activism,” he said.

Through music and activism, Singh notes he was able to avoid falling into “despair and assimilation,” and keep his culture alive. During his live concerts, he gives context and history to the audience, most of whom are not Sikh themselves. 

Singh describes his current musical journey as “Coming back to my past, coming back to ancestral wisdom.” 

Sonny Singh’s new album Sage Warrior can be pre-ordered before release on September 6th at https://sonnysingh.com/

What to know about the G train summer shutdown

By Ana Borruto

The 11.4-mile long Brooklyn-Queens Crosstown G train subway service will be partially shut down this summer for track reconstruction and modern signal installation. 

Starting Friday, June 28, the G train will undergo the first phase of an extensive multi-week, 24/7 project to replace its 1930s-era legacy signal system with Communications-based train control (CBTC) — a wireless connectivity system that keeps trains in constant contact, and in turn, more reliable. 

Assemblymember Emily Gallagher, Senator Kristen Gonzalez and Councilmember Lincoln Restler hosted a town hall on Thursday, May 30 at John Ericsson Middle School in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, where representatives of the Metropolitan Transit Authority and New York City Department of Transportation explained how the shutdown will catapult the G train “into the 21st century.” 

The forum allowed for regular G train commuters to ask questions and express their concerns about the shutdown, which was described as a “huge inconvenience” to the Greenpoint community and beyond. 

“When we got this news a few months ago, we pushed and prodded the MTA to consider if there are ways to do just overnight work, are there ways to limit this so we don’t have to endure a six-week full shutdown of this train line,” said Restler. “We haven’t been able to identify an alternative path forward, they are insistent that this is the necessary way to go.” 

Sean Fitzpatrick of the MTA explained exactly why the service outages are needed on the G train, the main reason being the age of the subway line. 

The G train has some of the oldest signals left in the New York City train system, which has caused “below average” performance times, according to Fitzpatrick. The current system is fixed-blocked signaling, which means the trains are divided and registered into fixed blocks with buffers up to 1,000 feet-long installed between them.

“It’s a marvel of early 20th century engineering,” Fitzpatrick said.

However, the drawbacks of this current system include not being able to pinpoint the exact location of a train, so trains run farther apart to create a safety buffer — creating service delays. 

The infrastructure for fixed-block signaling is also expensive to install and maintain. 

CBTC signaling allows trains to transpond to one another: in simple terms, the train’s position on the track is easily located because the section of track around each train moves with the train, rather than being on pre-defined, fixed blocks. 

“We are able to run them more closely together, more quickly, while maintaining safety,” Fitzpatrick said. “We also have a better view of the entire system so we’re able to respond better when there are incidents — it’s the single biggest investment that we can make to improve the reliability of a train.” 

This transition from a fixed-block to CBTC system for the G train requires the installation of new signaling equipment, replacement of 30 miles of track and more than a dozen switches and the integration and testing of the new system. 

Fitzpatrick said replacing the 1930s-period switches and tracks is particularly challenging, especially in the underground tunnels. To create a safe, workable environment for the project, the MTA said it has no choice but to shut down the G train line temporarily. 

With ridership lower in the summertime and school not in session, Fitzpatrick said it is the ideal time for the outage to take place. 

He added the MTA is promising to be finished with the reconstruction by Sept. 2. 

During the outage, shuttle buses will be available at impacted stations every one to four minutes during the weekdays and every five to 10 minutes on the weeknights. 

Shuttle buses can be expected to arrive at stations on weekend mornings and evenings every three to five minutes; every five to 10 minutes on late nights. 

Several tools will be implemented to keep traffic moving and areas clear for the shuttle buses, such as turn restrictions, daylighting, monitoring and automated camera enforcement. 

Here is the timeline of the shutdown and list of alternative shuttle bus transportation options: 

Phase 1: Friday, June 28 to Friday, July 5 

  • G trains won’t run between Court Square and Nassau Avenue 
  • Free B94 shuttle buses will run between Court Square and Nassau Avenue and make all ​ stops.

Phase 2: Friday, July 5 to Friday, August 12

  • G trains won’t run between Court Square and Bedford-Nostrand Avenues.
  • Free B98 shuttle buses will run between Court Square and Bedford-Nostrand Avenues and make all stops.

Phase 3: Friday, August 12 to Tuesday, September 3

  • G trains won’t run between Bedford-Nostrand Avenues and Church Avenue. 
  • Free B93 shuttle buses will run between Bedford-Nostrand Avenues and Jay Street-MetroTech, making all stops between Bedford-Nostrand Avenues and Hoyt-Schermerhorn. 

The overall long term work of the G train will continue into 2027. With this specific line becoming the go-to transportation option in some of the fastest growing communities in the state, elected officials are urging Governor Kathy Hochul and the MTA to further invest in the G train’s future. 

This includes extending the G train back to Forest Hills, Queens. According to Gallagher’s public campaign in favor of a full G train upgrade, the petition mentioned how up until 2010, the G train served parts of Astoria, Woodside, Jackson Heights, Elmhurst, Rego Park and Forest Hills.

“The G is our lifeline in this community,” said Gallagher. “It’s going to be a very long summer.” 

To find out more information about the G train shutdown this summer, visit tinyurl.com/ymv5b99c

Community, Politicians Call on Mayor to Make McGuinness Safe

 

By Jean Brannum | jbrannum@queensledger.com

Elected officials and community advocates spoke to the press at the intersection of McGuinness Blvd and Calyer St to advocate for a safer McGuinness Blvd after opponents lobbied against the changes.

Council Member Lincoln Restler calls on Mayor Adams to approve the proposed changed to McGuinness Blvd. Credit: Jean Brannum

Speakers addressed reporters in front of several posters with the names of people killed in traffic collisions on McGuinness Blvd. Organization Make McGuinness Safe started advocating for a safer McGuinness Blvd after the death of teacher Matthew Jensen in 2021. However, politicians and communities have fought since at least 2009 to make the road safer noting several collisions and near-misses. 

The organization pushed for several changes to improve pedestrian safety. Mayor Eric Adams initially agreed to the changes verbally, but walked back his agreement in 2023. He instead encouraged the Department of Transportation to work with both opponents and supporters of the plan, according to The CITY. The CITY reported that the campaign against the changes was backed by Broadway Stages owners Gina and Tony Argento. The film company has produced shows such as “Law and Order: SVU” and “Blue Bloods.” The Argentos have donated over $15,000 to Adam’s campaign. 

A modified plan was implemented, which included adding bike lanes on a part of McGuinness in the Summer of 2023. Despite the changes, community members want the bike lanes to extend to Meeker Avenue and for one traffic lane in each direction to be cut to ensure safer pedestrian crossing.

Community members hold up signs of people killed on McGuinness. Credit: Jean Brannum

But not everyone wants the plans the group is advocating for. Many businesses have joined to form the Keep McGuinness Moving organization, which wants to keep the four lanes of traffic and says that removing one lane will cause congestion and destroy local businesses in the industrial zone. The organization supports the safety of everyone who uses the boulevard, according to its website. 

One of the speakers, Bronwyn Breitner, mentioned that owners of the company Broadway Stages lobbied against the changes to Adams’ aide Ingrid Lewis-Martin, which reportedly caused Adams to walk back on his promise. 

A petition recently collected 10,000 signatures. Local City Council Member Lincoln Restler called on Adams to honor the demands of the residents who signed the petition, after Restler said there were rumors the mayor would never approve the changes.  

“I want him to know that if he fails our community, if he fails to make Greenpoint safer, we are going to keep organizing until we win.”

At the conference, several members of the community shared their safety concerns with the current state of McGuinness Blvd. 

Local resident Jordana Jacobs tells the story of narrowly avoiding a collision with a truck while crossing McGuinness with her son. Credit: Jean Brannum

Jordana Jacobs used to let her son walk to many places by himself, except places where he had to cross McGuinness Blvd. She discussed with her son several times how the street was not safe and one had to be hyper-vigilant to cross. 

She was about to cross McGuinness with her eleven-year-old one day when a truck nearly hit them. The walk sign was on, but Jacobs and her son knew the truck was not going to stop as it came barreling toward them with no sign of slowing down. Since then, Jacobs said her son does not feel safe walking around outside by himself. 

“My son was shaking. His entire body was shaking. Since then, my kid, who has always had a pretty healthy sense of independence, does not feel comfortable crossing streets by himself”

State Assemblymember for Greenpoint, Emily Gallagher, used to live next to McGuinness. She told stories of the injuries and deaths she witnessed outside her apartment. 

“I watched people get hit by cars,” Gallagher said. “I wiped up blood from the street. I brought my own dish towels out to hold against elders’ heads who got in a car crash right on this very intersection.” 

Jeanine Ballone, who has lived in the area her whole life, has helped several elderly people cross the street by stopping traffic on both sides. She has witnessed several cars be hit, and cars ride through stop lights.

 As someone who has seen many changes in the area, she said that something needs to be done to accommodate the new development. Saying that the area cannot accommodate the new growth and influx of outside traffic that speeds down the boulevard. 

Many residents and politicians at the conference pledged to keep advocating for a safer McGuinness. The Mayor’s office said the following in an emailed statement: 

“Traffic safety is public safety, and the Adams administration remains committed to making McGuinness Boulevard safer for all road users, whether walking, biking, or driving. Throughout this project, we have listened to community members about their needs and updated our design accordingly, and we will continue to weigh the needs of all area stakeholders as we continue to work on safety improvements.”

The DOT Commissioner Ydanis Rodriguez said in another emailed statement, “Traffic safety is a key priority for Mayor Adams, and we are delivering a redesign of McGuinness Boulevard that will make this corridor safer for everyone. Too many New Yorkers have been injured or lost their lives on McGuinness Boulevard, and working with the community we will continue to make significant safety improvements.” 

According to the DOT, construction resumed last week to improve conditions on McGuinness Blvd and add speed limit enforcement equipment. The DOT also said that it added traffic counting equipment to analyze traffic volume changes since last winter in addition to data collected in 2021.


ODTA and NYCHA Sued for Discrimination and Deprioritizing Residents For Pandemic Rent Assistance

By Jean Brannumjbrannum@queensledger.com

The Fordham Law Clinic filed a lawsuit on April 30 against the New York City Housing Authority and the Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance due to its deprioritization of Emergency Rental Assistance Program funds for people in subsidized housing.

The complaint alleges that even though federal guidelines made many NYCHA residents eligible for Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP) funds, tenants were left with pending requests for two years or told they were not eligible due to being in subsidized housing. In addition, NYCHA did not reevaluate the income of families who lost jobs due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“You could either apply and be put at the back of the line, or you were discouraged from applying at all at the point where the money was dwindling,” said housing advocate and Fordham Professor Norrinda Brown. 

According to the complaint, the ODTA was in charge of distributing ERAP funds to people who were having difficulties paying rent after pandemic-related job loss. The ODTA was supposed to help people regardless of whether they were in subsidized housing or not. 

Danielle Johnson, who lived at Astoria Houses in Queens and is one of the plaintiffs, met the federal eligibility criteria for ERAP.  She was laid off from her role as a medical biller during the pandemic. The widow was the only source of income for the unit she shared with her son.  She was allegedly discouraged from applying and never told she was eligible, according to the complaint.

ERAP applications opened in June 2021 and most of the funds were committed by October 2021. Brown said that while the amount of money was significant, there was not enough left for those receiving housing assistance. 

“It was no surprise that the money would run out, and the money did run out before subsidized tenants could receive any aid,” Brown said

Out of the 39,000 applicants for ERAP from NYCHA housing, only 15,000 were approved as of April 2024, the complaint says. 

The lawsuit also alleges that the ODTA’s and NYCHA’s prejudice was a violation of the state’s lawful source of income protection. The lawful source of income protection means that people in New York cannot be discriminated against due to receiving government assistance, including housing assistance. 

People can also not be discriminated against due to race, which is another part of the suit. 

As of February 2023, rental data says 44 percent of NYCHA tenants are black and 45 percent Hispanic. Brown said that since most residents affected by the deprioritization of ERAP were of this demographic, this is grounds for racial discrimination. 

“If what happened was that NYCHA and the state had said, all black people will have to wait until whites and others are paid, and if there’s any money left, your hardship can be considered,” Brown said. ” We all have a gut reaction to that and realize that that was illegal and against the law.”

Tenants Were Expected to Pay Rent Based on Income They No Longer Had

In addition to being denied assistance available to everyone else, the complaint alleges that NYCHA did not adjust the rent for many residents who lost their jobs due to pandemic layoffs. 

According to the NYCHA FAQ page, rent for residents is adjusted based on income to no more than 30 percent of gross income. If someone is unemployed, then the rent should be adjusted to zero. The rent adjustment is supposed to be adjusted by the first of the month after the income change if the resident reports the change within 30 days, the NYCHA website says. 

Plaintiff Wanda Baez was a teacher but her school ceased operations during the pandemic. She applied for ERAP but was deemed ineligible to apply due to her living in a NYCHA residence. During this time she experienced illness and her sister died from COVID-19. She applied in August of 2021 not knowing that her application would remain pending until this day. 

On top of that, NYCHA left her responsible for her rent based on a $55,000 annual income, which was no longer the case after she lost her job. She emailed NYCHA twice about her application for rental assistance. The lack of communication and income readjustment left Baez “alarmed, confused, and helpless.”

She eventually heard back from NYCHA but in the form of a consumer debt lawsuit for not paying the rent adjusted to her not-ceased income source. Her case is pending and proceeding to mediation according to court filings in February. She owes over $46,000 to NYCHA for her residence in the Bronx from March 2020 to November 2022. 

Johnson also has a consumer debt case against her for the $28,000 she amassed in rent during the pandemic. Like Baez, her case is pending. 

James Rodriguez from the Residents to Preserve Public Housing, an advocacy group and one of the plaintiffs in the case, said that he sees NYCHA “pointing the finger” at residents for many issues they could not help, including unpaid rent and long-needed maintenance. 

Brown also said that NYCHA leaders have blamed residents for unpaid rent when they were ineligible for federal assistance and lost their income source. One of her reasons for filing the class action lawsuit was due to the NYCHA media stories about unpaid rent and debt. 

The State Admitted to This Mistake

A New York State Comptroller’s report from July 2023 said that people in public housing were not prioritized in the rental assistance program. The report acknowledged that many in public housing have not received any funds and that New York was one of the last states to finish distributing funds. 

As a result, the state reportedly provided $356 million in additional funds for ERAP applications existing at the time of its release but said that it may not have been enough to address the high rent burdens affecting residents. 

In June of 2021, the ODTA page for ERAP said that those in public housing would only be considered for assistance after all other applications. This was not consistent with the federal guidelines from the treasury department, which said that public housing residents should be considered along with other applicants. 

The Fight for Justice

The class action lawsuit has only just begun and Brown said that there was a long process ahead, but Rodriguez said that the fight for help has been ongoing to the point that it took time away from other priorities with his organization. 

Brown has filed an injunction to keep ODTA and NYCHA from pursuing evictions and consumer debt cases until after the court reviews the complaint. Meanwhile, Brown said that NYCHA can still recertify income changes and provide retribution for those who fell behind on rent during the pandemic. 

“This whole scheme is sending families further into deep poverty when it could have been handled so so much differently,” Brown said.

NYCHA and the ODTA denied a request for comment citing a policy against commenting on pending litigation. 

Greek Kitchen Opens in Greenpoint

By John Sanchez & Yasin Akdag 

New Fast-Casual Mediterranean Restaurant, Greek Kitchen, delivers a healthy alternative on a block lined with fast-food chains

The Brooklyn Star News team visited Greek Kitchen, a new Mediterranean fast-casual restaurant at 912 Manhattan Ave.in Greenpoint, Brooklyn.

Led by partners Lukas Georgiadis and George Konstantaras, Greek Kitchen is a sit-down restaurant that offers fresh Mediterranean cuisine with a modern Greek-themed interior.

Greek Kitchen is passionate about representing Greek culture, and it truly shows in the effort that was put into its interior design. As soon as you step foot inside, the bright blue and white colors and the photos of Greece make you feel as if you have been transported to Greece.

Cooking is a tradition in their families, and many Greek Kitchen recipes were handed down by the yia-yias (grandmas) in the family.

With over 25 years of experience in the food and hospitality industry, Georgiadis and Konstantaras have built strong relationships with the best food vendors in the country; including Optimo and Mega.

“Sourcing ingredients such as virgin feta cheese, organic honey from Crete, olives, and oregano straight from Greece helps us attain the high quality that our customers deserve“, said Georgiadis.

“There aren’t a ton of fresh and organic food options on this block, so we’re excited to bring a fresh Mediterranean experience to Greenpoint – right next to the G train,” said Konstantaras.

The stars of Greek Kitchen‘s menu are The Gyro and The Souvlaki; loaded with fresh and generous cuts of lamb and chicken, respectively, creamy tzatziki, onion, and crispy french fries.

I loved the tantalizing blend of flavors and textures of The Classic Lamb Gyro, and John indulged in the juicy marinated meats of a Chicken Souvlaki. Each bite was a “symphony of Mediterranean goodness,” John exclaimed.

Definitely don’t sleep on Greek Kitchen’s Whipped Spicy Feta—a creamy blend of tangy feta cheese and fiery spices that packs a punch. We spread it on warm pita bread and it was a uniquely delicious kick to the mouth.

Greenpoint is populated with many European immigrants, especially Polish residents, but as the community continues to grow, Greek Americans and other nationalities have found their way to Brooklyn.

Beyond the food, Greek Kitchen embodies the spirit of community and culture. “It’s not just a place to eat; it’s an immersive cultural experience that invites guests to savor the flavors of Greece while celebrating the diversity of Greenpoint,” said Georgiadis.

Georgiadis and Konstantaras brought on long-time friends, Manny Lazanakis and Jimmy Stathakis, to become partners in Greek Kitchen; and all of the partners add value in unique ways.

With its dedication to quality, flavor, and community, Greek Kitchen is poised to become a beloved neighborhood institution. 

Be sure to visit Greek Kitchen located at 912 Manhattan Ave in Greenpoint for more tasty Greek food!