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Queens Impact Awards: Innovative activist involved in many non-profit causes

TimesLedger Newspapers

Greg Mays may appear to be sitting on a small fortune, considering he spends so much time doing work that doesn’t produce personal income. But the southeast Queens community activist said it only looks that way.

“People say I have the air of a trust fund baby,” Mays said in a manner that made you think it’s not the first time he had to dispel the notion. “Contrary to popular opinion, no, I’m not independently wealthy.”

Mays said a few investments made years ago by his parents, both lifelong educators, and his consulting work as an accountant keep the bills paid, leaving him plenty of time to be a professional do-gooder.

Founder and executive director of the non-profit A Better Jamaica, Mays is a familiar face throughout southeast Queens, particularly in a place where a problem calls for a creative solution.

A graduate of Howard University and the Harvard Business School, Mays left a career in the corporate world in order to be a caretaker for his young nephew. The idea to form a non-profit came in 2007 when the family went to watch an outdoor movie in Forest Park.

“I thought to myself, ‘Why do I have to leave my community for this kind of activity?’” he said. “It just sort of grew from there.”

Mays started his own outdoor film series and from there he went on to create the website Jamaica 311 — an indispensable source of information on programs, events and resources in southeast Queens.

Mays, who is also a member of Community Board 12 where he is chairman of the Parks Committee, said the many hats he wears put him in touch with other non-profit directors, and when he realized that many of them share the same challenges, he decided to start the Jamaica Ball — a fund-raising gala now in its third year.

Looking to put his broad background to use, Mays’ latest endeavor was last year’s run for City Council. Walking the district and knocking on doors gave him the opportunity to meet with people on a one-on-one basis.

“It provided me with deeper connections than I had previously,” he said. “There’s just something about walking door to door, block to block.”

He said the lesson he took away from the campaign was that he could have done a better job of connecting his works to himself, what he calls the “brand Greg Mays.”

But it wasn’t all for naught. Mays said he plans to take the lesson he learned from his foray into politics and share it with his partners in the non-profit world, teaching them to think of their works as brands others can buy in to.

After all, leveraging your assets to generate wealth is something Mays is familiar with.

“I’m not bashful about putting myself out there,” he said. “People invest in people.”

Reach reporter Rich Bockmann by e-mail at rbockmann@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4574.

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