By Annette Pinder

Last year, on a beautiful Saturday in May, a white supremacist shattered our seeming complacency with hateful bullets that killed 10 people and injured three others at Tops Friendly Markets supermarket on Jefferson Avenue. The shooter, just 18 years old, had written a manifesto documenting the rationale for his hatred, and yelled out racial slurs as he took the lives of his victims. He was sentenced to 11 consecutive life sentences without the possibility of parole, but his punishment has done little to assuage our community’s heartache. But we all promised to never forget.

The individuals who died were all Black, and included 55-year-old Aaron Salter Jr., a former Buffalo Police lieutenant who was working as a security guard when he confronted the shooter; Celestine Chaney, 65; Roberta A. Drury, 32; Andre Mackniel, 53; Katherine Massey, 72; Margus D. Morrison, 52; Heyward Patterson, 67; Geraldine Talley, 62; Ruth Whitfield, 86; and Pearl Young, 77. Meanwhile, countless others remain traumatized, and unable to enter the store where this occurred.

Now, one year later, I look at the ways in which our community has bonded to acknowledge our shared humanity and act accordingly. Diversity, equity, and inclusion now dominate the foundation of countless organizations locally and nationally in support of people of different races, ethnicities, religions, abilities, genders, and sexual orientations.

Still, despite the efforts of these organizations helping to lead the way locally, there is still so much work to be done. More than 215,000 Western New Yorkers are classified as poor, based on Census Bureau guidelines, accounting for one of every seven residents. Statistics show that 43% of our community’s children live below the poverty line and 5,000 people are homeless. As Chandra Redford, CEO of Buffalo Federation of Neighborhood Centers, pointed out during one of our first televised community conversations, “One of the most significant problems we have is a lack of affordable housing. If you have nowhere to live, you can’t get a job, eat, live, or take care of yourself and your family.”

I am aware of and applaud the many discussions that have taken place over the past year surrounding race, diversity, equity, inclusion, guns, equal access to health, and more. I am also proud of the community conversations we have televised with the help of WBBZ-TV’s John DiSciullo, Production Director and Andy Smyczynski, Technical Director. In fact, when I first thought about having televised shows at the start of the pandemic, I was advised to reach out to John DiSciullo, told he was someone I could trust, and described as a person who was always interested in helping the community. I am glad that I did, and could not ask for a better partner, with a heart of gold, and the utmost integrity, who always works hard to do the right thing.

And so began our heartfelt community conversations. After spearheading several town halls during the pandemic to help allay people’s fears regarding their safety, vaccines, and more, we addressed many other topics, including:

  • Finding a Way Forward to Heal and Hope Following the Shooting
  • Recognizing Our Individual Prejudices
  • An Inside View of Life on the Buffalo’s East Side
  • The Reality of Growing Up Black in Buffalo
  • The Importance of Affordable Housing
  • Mental Health Support for Black Men and Boys
  • A Vaccine for the World Featuring Nobel Prize Nominees
  • Understanding COVID Strains and the Bivalent Vaccine
  • Implications of Monkeypox on the LGBTQ+ Community
  • The Danger of Opioids and Other Drugs
  • Mental Health Working Together with Law Enforcement
  • Victims of Child Abuse and the Role of the Child Advocacy Center
  • CPR and Its Impact on Public Health
  • Mental Health First Aid
  • The Health of Refugees

Looking back, one of the most important things I have learned is that in this great big diverse world, there are those who believe in the goodness of people and in the common thread that binds us all. It is those people who I look to as leaders and change agents. I now look forward, not just to conversations, but also to action, knowing of course that talking, forgiving, and paving the way toward greater understanding is a vital step toward making a difference and finding our way together.