As a married father of three daughters who has spent my entire 59 years in Buffalo, I have witnessed turmoil and growth.
In the late 1960s my grammar school, School 79, was integrated during the forced busing era. While our school seemed diverse to us, our new schoolmates were being bused from the East Side. We were scared because of the demonstrations and riots going on in Buffalo at the time of racial unrest and protests over the Vietnam War. Those being bused into a new school and to what must have been perceived as a far-away neighborhood were equally scared.
The nervousness eventually turned into friendship over time, although there was still turmoil at some of the schools. Eventually forced busing was accepted, helped along by a national model of magnet schools.
Over the course of my lifetime I’ve seen various forms of racism and lack of acceptance of others who are “different.” Some relatives and acquaintances have expressed intolerance at times and working 10 years in the City of Buffalo Affirmative Action Office drove home the fact that while gains have been made since the ’60s, we still have work to do on the acceptance of those different from us.
Certainly, there has been increased integration of neighborhoods and suburban communities, but Buffalo is still a relatively segregated community. Acceptance of “mixed” marriages and same-sex couples is more widely spread, but again, there is still work to do.
Recognizing the work that still needs to be done, over 120 partner agencies and 5,000 individuals linked hands along the length of Ferry Street May 17 for Hands Across Buffalo, an event designed to celebrate our region’s diversity. Hands Across Buffalo had strangers not only linking hands, but speaking to one another, singing, dancing and laughing together as we showed not only Buffalo but the world that there are people united in the goal of acceptance of one another.
The positive feelings from this event still resonate today when people talk about it. A quote from one of the participants sums it up best: “I held hands with a stranger but left with a new friend.”
May 17 should go down in Buffalo history as such a positive event, but the disappointing part of Hands Across Buffalo was the relative lack of media coverage. The 5,000 people who gathered peacefully got less coverage than one ranting racist woman in a YouTube video or a misguided owner of a basketball team. The local media could have presented Buffalo as a national model for acceptance, but instead they chose to propagate a negative image of Buffalo by widely publicizing negative actions rather than positive.
I’ve always thought that the negativity that seems to reign in Buffalo has given us a “Charlie Brown mentality” that nothing can ever go right for us. If Lucy ever let Charlie Brown kick the football, it most certainly would go “wide right.”
The “official” Hands Across Buffalo video will be released shortly. When it is, this video needs to be as widely viewed as the ranting racist woman video. The seeds of how the world perceives Buffalo have been planted. Which seeds are going to be watered and nourished? You can determine how the rest of the world views Buffalo.