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Just Kings Social Club

Just Kings gives back to community with free backpacks and school supplies for local students

By Howard B. Owens


Members of the Just Kings Social Club gave back to their community on Saturday, handing out dozens of school backpacks, and other school supplies along with free hot dogs, hamburgers, and chicken at Austin Park.

There were also free haircuts from the Royals Barbershop for kids getting ready to go back to school.

Just Kings member Victor Thomas explained that the leadership of Just Kings are men who grew up in Batavia and have been part of the community their whole lives, so one of the organization's goals is to give back to their community. 

Just Kings grew out of the March for Justice in Batavia in June 2020.

The people showing up for the supplies and food made up a diverse cross-section of Batavia's community, and Thomas said he and the rest of Just Kings like to see that.

"That was a visual of what Batavia represented and what we represent," Thomas said. "That day, at that march, we saw 400-plus people and only a handful of us. We're just all mixed in with each other, you know? So we're a product of our environment. Yes, we are here for the black community and the black community knows that. We stand up for them whenever we can. We speak out against anything that's happened against our people. But as far as the community goes, this is what our community looks like. So we have to embrace what our community looks like. So I'm glad that they're embracing us and coming back and making this crowd look so diverse today."





Photos: Juneteenth Celebration in Austin Park

By Howard B. Owens


Batavia's Just Kings Social Club hosted their third annual Juneteenth Celebration in Austin Park on Saturday.

Juneteenth commemorates the day -- June 19, 1865 -- that Federal troops forced the traitors in Texas to free the last of their still captive slaves, ending slavery as practiced in the United States up to that time. President Abraham Lincoln freed the slaves in the still rebellious, traitorous states with the Emancipation Proclamation on Jan. 1, 1863. Slavery would become unconstitutional with the passage of the 13th Amendment in December 1865, fulfilling the promise of the Declaration of Independence that all people are created equal with the unalienable right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. 

The first Juneteenth celebration by Black Americans was held on June 1, 1866.  It became a state in 2020 and a federal holiday in 2021.

Since Juneteenth this year falls on a Sunday and Father's Day, Just Kings held their celebration on Saturday.









Batavia native found his life path in the military, becomes a mentor to young people in community

By Joanne Beck


The word haven means a place of safety, a refuge.

And so it is with Batavia native Haven Armstrong. Despite his rocky childhood — dropping out of high school and a constant journey of getting into “a little bit of trouble” — Armstrong has since become a leader in the military, with his family, and for the community.

The 36-year-old Irondequoit resident has fulfilled the very reason his dad named him Haven.

“It means a safe place; he liked that word. My dad taught me how to carry yourself like a man,” Armstrong said during an interview Wednesday. “I just want to be as honest, as real, as open as I can be.”

A Rocky Beginning

It took him a while to reach this point. As a teen, Armstrong dropped out of school at 16. Admittedly, he was “running with the wrong crowd, skipping school” and believing he was a man before his time.

“Thinking I was grown up before I was grown up,” he said.  “My mother didn’t let me get away with a lot. She guided me.”

His mom, Patricia Armstrong of Batavia, not only devoted her support to her eldest son and his siblings, but to Haven’s daughter. At the precarious age of 15, he became a father to Makayla. That was “a definite eye-opener,” he said and began his slow trek into adulthood. He eventually got his General Education Diploma (GED) and worked “every job” at various places, from gumball factories and roofing companies to fast-food restaurants.

He acknowledges now that he probably should have listened to his mom more than he did. When his second child, Hasan, was born in 2007, Armstrong genuinely tuned into reality, he said. At 23, he decided to enlist in the Army National Guard. He never looked back.

Falling in Line

“I saw the way my life was going,” he said. “I kind of just took right to it. It’s always something I wanted to do. I believe it was the structure I was yearning for. It was a personal journey that helped me as a father, helped me as a brother, helped me as a son.”

Geographically, he said, the role of infantryman has taken him to Germany, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Ireland, and just about every state in America. Once a kid on the street looking for trouble, Armstrong, a Staff Sergeant in line for a promotion to Sergeant First Class, has established a solid career. Much of his work has been to evaluate infantry units and train them for deployment. His team trained 50,000 troops across the country, he said. While overseas he helped to shut down highways and safeguard vehicles carrying ammunition.

“We made sure it was a safe route for the ammo to travel,” he said. “We were getting proficient and becoming experts in what we did. It taught me a lot.”

Two years ago he took another opportunity with National Guard to become a recruiter. Based in Geneseo, Armstrong visits schools throughout Genesee County and a portion of Wyoming County during the school year. Summertime means seeing prospective recruits at festivals and fairs. Although he misses the hands-on duties of his infantryman status, Armstrong enjoys sharing his own story with youths who may be experiencing a similar upbringing. The Army National Guard has given him a needed outlet, he said.

“I didn’t know how to channel that energy,” he said. “That’s why I got in trouble.”

Gaining a Voice

His story’s latest chapter is to become part of the Just Kings Social Club, a 10-member organization to help raise up the community. It began with Armstrong’s brother, Brandon, and a few of his friends who organized a march last year in memory of George Floyd and to raise awareness of “why people are upset,” Haven said. Unlike many other rallies that scored big publicity for wreaking havoc on the streets, this one was meant to be peaceful and powerful, Haven said. And he got caught up in the emotion of it all.  During the march, he seized the opportunity to speak his truth.

“I grabbed the bullhorn and shared my story,” he said. “We wanted it to be as non-violent as possible.”

As part African American, he has experienced and observed racial profiling — getting pulled over and searched by law enforcement more often than other ethnicities — and watching as minorities received heavier penalties than white people for similar offenses, he said. His military service has brought enlightenment that it doesn’t have to be that way, he said.

“I’ve seen the most diversity … black leadership with white subordinates and white leadership with black subordinates. We don’t see color; everybody’s green. That was the real way of doing everything. When doing a job, we were all treated the same.”

Establishing a Foothold

He is careful to ensure his children, which also include Haven Jr., receive a well-rounded education and not just what is in traditional history books, he said. He wants to instill “a moral guideline” along with providing valid information about his family’s heritage.

“To give them everything I can give them in this crazy world we live in,” he said. “I don’t hide anything from them.”

He also brings that truth to Just Kings, a group of humble beginnings purposely devoid of a leader in lieu of a board of peers. Just is for justice and Kings is a term of endearment in the black community. Juneteenth celebrations, chicken barbecues, Thanksgiving food drives, and a school backpack program have served as fundraisers and philanthropy efforts to help bring about change and let people know that someone has their back, he said.

“We’re just trying to be that extra support for the community. People felt like they’re not represented,” he said. “We felt like we needed to put our foothold down in the community.”

The group’s mission statement is “to provide a voice for the local black community. We work to educate and mentor the youth, our neighbors, and ourselves as we continue to fight to end Racism (White Supremacy).”

Haven praised the generosity of local individuals and businesses and law enforcement. Just Kings has forged relationships with Batavia City Police Chief Shawn Heubusch and others in the criminal justice system. The outreach has been “overwhelming,” he said, and these efforts have given people a voice.

“We’ve been silent for so long,” he said.

For more information about Just Kings, how you can help, and future events, check out:

Photos courtesy Haven Armstrong.


Fighting Irish donate to Just Kings to continue the battle against racism

By Press Release


Submitted photo and press release:

Notre Dame High School is pleased to announce a donation of $345 to Just Kings.

Just Kings is a Batavia-based organization whose mission is to provide a voice for the local Black community. They work to educate and mentor the youth, our neighbors and ourselves as we continue to fight to end racism.

Nya Thomas, a senior at Notre Dame, led the donation drive in honor of Black History Month.

Check out the important work they do at their Facebook page.

Photo: front row, from left: Alonzo Story, Mark Sanders, McKenzie Nenni, Nya Thomas, Ben Skanly, and Principal Wade Bianco; back row: Just Kings -- Eric Ricks, Victor Thomas, Robert Thurston, Oraid Edwards, Terry Smith, Otis Thomas and Brandon Armstrong.

Just Kings and Adam Miller Toy and Bicycle team up for toy drive

By Press Release

The Just Kings Community Organization and Adam Miller Toy and Bicycle are teaming up to make the Just Kings Toy Drive as easy as 1-2-3 to donate.

Adam Miller is offering $30 Gift Certificates for $20.20, and has extended this offer to anyone who wishes to buy one for the Just King’s Toy Drive. Simply stop by the store at 8 Center St. or call (585) 343-0548 and they will be happy to take your order over the phone.  

Adam Miller’s is a hometown favorite, featuring classic and educational toys, activity kits, bicycles, puzzles and the most interesting collection of stocking stuffers around. This charming, old-school toy store comes complete with old wood floors that squeak a bit -- a quaint welcome as you walk through the doors and browse

The Just Kings continue to work and mentor youth in our area, and have held a host of community outreach events and fun activities like their Trunk or Treat Halloween, Thanksgiving Food Drive, Book Bag Giveaway, and neighborhood summer celebrations galore.

You are also welcome to donate gently used toys for newborns to age 12. They will brighten some child's Christmas morning.

The toy drive is underway through Dec. 21.

Toys can be dropped off at Royals Barber Shop, 317 Ellicott St., Batavia.

Just Kings having positive impact on Batavia through volunteer efforts

By Lauren Leone

Batavia, New York, residents young and old donned Halloween costumes of all colors, shapes, and sizes at the Trunk or Treat event hosted by Just Kings Social Club, a newly formed racial justice group that advocates for community members of color. Outreach events like Trunk or Treat are part of the organization’s initiative to mobilize for criminal justice reform, a political issue at the forefront of the 2020 election.

Though the group is not affiliated with Black Lives Matter, Just Kings has shown its solidarity with nationwide police reform movements following the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Just Kings has organized outreach events like the June 7 “March for Justice” protest in downtown Batavia and Juneteenth “Teach Thy Neighbor” celebration at the YWCA of Genesee County.

Over 400 demonstrators attended the March for Justice, and the organization has received an outpouring of community support on its Facebook page. In addition to large gatherings, Just Kings works with those in need of financial assistance and emotional support on an individual basis. 

“From giving free haircuts and back-to-school bags to selling chicken barbecues to put on things like [Trunk or Treat], the community’s responded, and it’s been awesome,” said Just Kings member Otis Thomas. “They’re enjoying the movement, and we’re going to keep pushing forward and hoping for bigger and better things.”

Eventgoers spoke highly of the grassroots organizing work that Just Kings is doing to bring all Batavia and Genesee County, New York, residents into a cohesive discussion about racial justice.

“Every single member of Just Kings really has their heart put into this,” supporter MaKayla Armstrong said. “They’re really trying to make Batavia a better place, a safe place.”

Vocalizing Underrepresented Concerns About Police Reform

Three Just Kings members are on the City of Batavia Police Collaboration Advisory Stakeholder Group, a board of local leaders and residents tasked with reimagining the city’s policing practices. One of the original objectives of Just Kings was to join the board. Group members said it is meaningful to be engaged in dialogue with the Batavia Police Department.

“To be invited, to have a few of our members on that board, was a huge accomplishment for us, not for the clout but for the actual voice that we can have in the community,” Just Kings member Haven Armstrong said.

As one of the first community groups for people of color in Genesee County, which is a predominantly white, conservative region, Just Kings has been spearheading efforts to gain representation for Black and brown residents and confront the racial disparities that exist in local policing policies.

“We felt for years being from here and living here so long that our voice was kind of suppressed,” he said. “Having the members that we know that are out doing the right things or trying to make an actual reform happen … was huge for us and the community.”

Gaining Representation and Reform Through the Vote

Criminal justice reform has also been taking place at the polls. Encouraging voting among its supporters is a component of Just Kings’ work to educate youth and raise awareness of racial inequalities at the local level.

“When it all comes down to it, this is a good place to be,” Just Kings member Oraid Edwards said. “We want to prove that but, at the same time, make changes so that way equality spreads throughout.”

To facilitate those changes, Just Kings has shared voting resources with its supporters so they are informed about how to cast their ballots this election season.

“We believe the local government — your governor and your local things in your city — is what’s really going to matter for us right now,” Thomas said. “… Get out and vote. Push the [police reform] issue. If you’re 18 or over and you have that voice, use it.”

Lauren Leone is a journalism student at Ithaca College, a graduate of Batavia High School, and a former intern for The Batavian. This article originally appeared in Ithaca Week.

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Bottom video by Howard Owens/The Batavian. The video was runner-up in the Best Multimedia Competition in 2020 sponsored by Local Independent Online News Publishers (LION).

Just Kings distribute 80 backpacks containing school supplies

By Howard B. Owens


The Just Kings Social Club distributed 80 backpacks containing school supplies to children at Austin Park on Friday evening.

The club raised funds to support the project through sales of chicken dinners and other fundraising events. 

A member of the club said there are still some funds available for school supplies if there were any parents who could not bring their children by for a backpack. The Kings can be contacted through their Facebook page.


Just Kings to submit Victor Thomas' name to serve on expanded Batavia Police Advisory Stakeholder Group

By Mike Pettinella

Just Kings, a newly formed organization dedicated to achieving equality and racial justice in Batavia and Genesee County, today said they plan to submit a letter to Interim City Manager Rachael Tabelski to have a representative on the City’s Police Advisory Stakeholder Group.

“We have discussed this at length and have talked to Chief (Shawn) Heubusch about it, and would like to participate,” said Victor Thomas, adding that he has been selected by Just Kings’ 10-member board of directors for consideration by city leaders.

If chosen, the 36-year-old Thomas, a lifelong Batavian, would be one of six citizen members on the committee, which is being formed in response to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Executive Order No. 203.

Just Kings was instrumental in conducting a peaceful March for Justice in downtown Batavia on June 7 and held a community Juneteenth celebration at the YWCA on June 20.

They are hosting a drive-through cookout, offering BBQ chicken or pulled pork dinners, this Saturday from noon until sold out at 25 Harvester Ave. The cost is $12.

Thomas said that he is encouraging people of color to submit a letter of interest to fill other slots on the advisory group.

One person of color already appointed to the group is Batavia City School District Superintendent Anibal Soler Jr.

"Well, I think I do add some diversity to the group. I'm a Latino, bilingual ... I'm not what the perception would be, another Caucasian male," Soler said. "So I think I will bring some of that diversity, to the credit of the police chief to make sure that I'm on this group -- representing the school district and our kids of color."

Soler said that growing up as a Latino male in the City of Rochester, he carries "some experiences with law enforcement that I've had that hopefully can help the group do its work better."

He shared that people of color -- biracial, Asian, African-American and Latino -- comprise about 25 percent of the student population in the Batavia City School District.

The executive order, “New York State Police Reform and Reinvention Collaborative,” stipulates that police departments must adopt a plan by April 1 to be eligible for future state funding.

It includes wording that stakeholders should include “but not (be) limited to membership and leadership of the local police force, members of the community with emphasis in areas with high numbers of police and community interactions, interested non-profit and faith-based community groups, local office of the district attorney, local public defender and local elected officials.”

Toward that end, Tabelski issued a press release about an hour ago declaring that the City of Batavia will add four additional community members, increasing the number of residents from two that were on the original list of stakeholders to six.

Tabelski said the city will strive to ensure proper representation for all.

Per the press release, “The advisory group will open dialogue and add value to the relationships between City government employees, the police department and community residents,” Tabelski said. “As we move forward, the stakeholder meetings will be open for the public to attend, while adhering to COVID-19 protocols.”

Heubusch, in the release, said he is looking forward to starting the process and engaging with citizens in the community.

“The City Police Department is comprised of men and women who take the job of protecting and serving our community very seriously,” he said. “We all look forward to working with the stakeholder group to improve our already robust service and training.

“All individuals should be held to the same standard. No one is above the law; whether civilian, law enforcement or government official and those that break the law should be held accountable.”

With this expansion, the Police Advisory Stakeholder Group will now consist of 19 members, including:

  • City Manager;
  • Police Chief;
  • Assistant Police Chief;
  • City Attorney;
  • One City Council member;
  • Six citizen representatives;
  • Batavia Housing Authority Director;
  • Director of a not-for-profit that serves human interests (e.g. YWCA);
  • District Attorney representative;
  • Public Defender representative;
  • Batavia Police Benevolent Association representative;
  • Batavia City School District Superintendent;
  • Community religious leader;
  • Business leader representative.

Furthermore, Tabelski said the stakeholder group will help identify recommendations for more effective strategies, policies, and procedures to better serve all residents within the City of Batavia. This plan will be developed over the fall and winter, and must be adopted by the City of Batavia by April 1 per Executive Order No. 203.

Citizens interested in being a member of the Police Advisory Stakeholder Group should send their name, phone number, address and email address to the office of the Interim City Manager, Rachael Tabelski. Address: City of Batavia, One Batavia City Centre, Batavia, NY 14020 or via email:  [email protected].

Juneteenth celebration at YWCA going on until 7 tonight

By Mike Pettinella



Dionna Thomas, in top photo, sells tickets for the door prize raffles while others enjoy a ride on the horses this afternoon during the Juneteenth celebration promoted by the Just Kings Social Club at the YWCA of Genesee parking lot at 301 North St., Batavia.

The event, which also is featuring live entertainment and a chicken barbecue, will run until 7 p.m.

Photos by Mike Pettinella.

VIDEO: The first day of the first-ever Juneteenth celebration in Batavia

By Howard B. Owens
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The four local men who organized the March for Justice in Batavia on June 7 have joined together with eight more local residents to form Just Kings Social Club to help promote racial equality in the city. Friday, they hosted their first event at the YWCA: Day one of a two-day Juneteenth celebration.

Today (Saturday), the event starts at noon and runs until 7 p.m. There will be food and beverages, live entertainment, as well as vendor booths.

The YWCA is located at 301 North St., Batavia.

The end of slavery in the United States is not marked by one single date.

Juneteenth evolved out of the cooperation of June 19 in Texas, the day slaves were freed in the former rebellious state in 1865, two years after Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation freeing slaves in territory still held by Confederates.

It wouldn't be until December 1865 that the 13th Amendment was ratified banning slavery in the United States. Many believe the struggle for equality and liberty for black Americans has yet to be fully realized.

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