The general sentiment was that after a whole year, not much has changed.

By India Walton

A year ago, RootsAction Education Fund established Roots Action Civic Engagement Buffalo. After the tragic events of May 14 last year took ten lives at a Tops Market in the city, I knew it was important to focus on the work of organizing people in my community – and RAEF understood also.

Memorial with flowers and candles to honor the victims of the mass shooting at the Tops market in Buffalo NY. A police SUV is turning the corner in the background

During an interview on Democracy Now! back then, I was asked how I felt about all the support Buffalo was getting. I said, “I want to see what happens when the cameras leave.” One year later, my reflection on my previous statement is “Not much.”

This past weekend I experienced so many emotions: sadness, grief, anger, and frustration — coupled with hope, love, warmth, and resilience. I watched as the parade of dignitaries were escorted to the fronts of churches and thanked for their leadership. While they sat under tents and congratulated each other on a job well done, I stood among the crowd of onlookers from the community. My five-foot frame didn’t allow me to see much, but my maternal ears allowed me to hear a lot, and my compassion made me more concerned about those who were left out than those who were invited in.

The general sentiment was that after a whole year, not much has changed. The Friday prior to the media spectacle – the city had a “Clean Sweep” of Jefferson Avenue, but on the blocks where the neighbors live, there is still waist-high grass on vacant lots with a sprinkling of dilapidated houses whose peeling paint and broken windows are a reminder of how far we have yet to go. There was a quote saying this Clean Sweep is a continuation of the city’s fight against “crime and blight.” I say our fight must be against poverty, substandard housing, underemployment, food insecurity, and disinvestment if we are truly interested in improving conditions on Buffalo’s East Side.

Many of the homes on the residential streets surrounding Tops Market on Jefferson are well maintained. It’s apparent that people are doing their best with what they have. And what they have isn’t much. Being one of the poorest districts in one of the poorest cities means that there is no library in your district, no full-service grocery store. It means that your sidewalks are dangerous, broken and filled with debris, it means there are few businesses and even fewer city investments into the neighborhood.

One in three households in the neighborhood surrounding Tops earns an annual income less than $20,000, and nearly half of all residents, renters and homeowners alike are housing-cost burdened. These issues are not new to any of us. We know that as soon as the cameras are gone, so will any semblance of caring. Even the millions in investments promised for the East Side of Buffalo are likely to line the pockets of developers and major donors to established politicians — while the people squabble over the crumbs that fall from the table.

That is why it is critical to have the necessary resources to continue to educate, organize, and activate residents of Buffalo who still feel unseen, unheard, and uncared for. In only a year, RACE Buffalo has hosted learning exchanges, registered new voters, educated college students and residents on civics, and supported multiple local issue-based campaigns.

If you can help these efforts with a tax-deductible donation, thank you!