Odessa Harris already had her hands full before another tragedy struck her family this week.
She had been taking care of three grandchildren who lost their mother when she succumbed to injuries from a 2001 house fire on the East Side.
Now she has four more grandchildren to raise, after their mother was shot and killed early Tuesday in the city’s latest homicide.
Harris was in Mississippi attending another daughter’s wedding when she got the news that her daughter, 28-year-old cab driver Shameka Harris, was fatally wounded, along with Shameka’s boyfriend, Joshua “Bigs” Eatmon, 23. The couple were in a cab in front of the family’s home at 455 Minnesota Ave.
“I’m OK right now,” Harris said Wednesday. “I just want [police] to find out who killed them.”
Harris is not the only one with a tough road ahead. Civic leaders who have worked for years to address the steady stream of homicides and other violence in the city fear a continuation of the carnage. Along with Harris, they gathered Wednesday morning at the scene of the latest slaying and vowed to work more closely together to make a bigger impact.
The anti-violence rally was attended by relatives and neighbors of Harris and Eatmon, as well as community leaders, concerned citizens and elected officials. Erie County Legislature Chairwoman Betty Jean Grant was among them, and she announced a new initiative aimed at safety issues.
The Erie County/Buffalo Safe Neighborhood Initiative is an ad hoc committee, Grant said. It is made up of elected officials from the city and county, law enforcement, block club presidents, pastors and various community organizations, including MAD DADS, FATHERS, Stop the Violence Coalition, Buffalo Peacemakers, Buffalo United Front and Buffalo Promise Neighborhood.
The coalition will meet monthly beginning next month, Grant said. The aim is to identify concerns of specific neighborhoods; address crime issues and find solutions; identify resources for youth, including job training; provide counseling and mentoring to youth; and to work with the Buffalo Board of Education to provide GED and educational support programs.
Another goal of the coalition is to work with corporations and businesses who will hire young people under the Work Opportunity Tax Credit. The credit is designed to promote the hiring of individuals who qualify as a member of a target group, such as qualified military veterans and ex-felons. In return, the state Department of Labor will reimburse the employer.
Meanwhile, city workers sealed the Minnesota Avenue apartment to prevent anyone from going inside, Odessa Harris said.
“The house was boarded up,” the grandmother said, and her daughter’s four children need clothes, food and Christmas gifts. “They only have what they had on,” Harris said. “I need some help with the kids.”
The children are Taikia Harris,11; Bobby Purdue Jr., 9; Menisha Stitt, 4; and Elizah Stitt, 2.
Since 2001, Harris also has had custody of three other grandsons after their mother, Tameka Tyus, died in a house fire. The boys were 4, 2 and 3 months old at the time.
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