Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown made his way to western New York after growing up 392 miles away in Hollis, Queens, another heavily African-American-populated and close-knit area in the Empire State.
The first Black mayor and the longest-serving in the city’s history, Brown understood the resilience of Buffalo’s residents – particularly those in the area where a racist gunman shot 13 people at the Tops Supermarket, killing 10.
“This is the people of Buffalo,” Brown remarked during an interview with the Black Press of America. “They are good neighbors, a welcoming community and warm and loving people. The east side community, the African-American community, is a praying community.”
To Brown, that goes a long way toward healing from one of the worst acts of domestic terror in the nation’s history.
“We are wrapping our arms around the victims’ families, wrapping our arms around each other. We are holding each other up during this difficult time and recognizing that we need to show the world that hate is not the answer,” Brown asserted during the 15-minute interview broadcast over the social media channels of the Black Press.
“Love is the answer. We have to stamp out hate in our communities and our country,” Brown insisted. “Hate is what took these beloved members of our community from us.”
The Tops Supermarket has stood for nearly two decades as the only source where residents in the 14208-zip code could buy groceries, fresh fruit and vegetables and fill prescriptions.
“The latest evidence collection phase inside Tops has concluded, and law enforcement has turned the supermarket back to Tops and that’s good news because the supermarket is critically important to the community,” Brown said.
“People rely on it for groceries and to fill prescriptions. So we’ve talked to the corporate community about investing in the 14208-zip code and other zip codes in our Black communities,” he continued.
“Corporate America has formulas for the kind of incomes they want to see,” Brown said. “So, they do studies and it’s not that they can’t make money but they feel people aren’t earning enough in certain zip codes so they can make as much money as they want to make.”
Brown said that’s always been a challenge.
He noted that nearly 20 years ago, when his administration convinced Tops to come into the neighborhood, officials spoke with numerous companies to get them to open a supermarket in the area.
“Our money is as green as anyone else’s,” Brown demanded. “Black people spend a lot of their disposal income on groceries.”
During his formative years, Brown served as a Boy Scout and kept busy in the Central Queens YMCA. After graduating from August Martin High School, he traveled to the western part of New York, where he attended Buffalo State College. He graduated in 1983 with a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and Journalism.
Later, he earned a certificate as a senior executive in state and local government at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. He made history in 2006, becoming Buffalo’s first African-American mayor. Now in his 12th year as mayor, Brown has seen a lot.
However, he quickly admits that he’d never witnessed up close the racially-motivated mayhem and murder heaped upon residents of his city.
“I’ve never gone through anything like this in my life; this is the worst mass shooting in the history of Buffalo and many of the victims of this racist attack in our community were people I knew and who lived in the same zip code,” Brown said.
He has spoken to or heard from President Joe Biden, U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland and New York Gov. Kathy Hochul, each of whom has offered a range of support.
“I think so many people in the community are traumatized and feeling the pain,” he said. “Even those individuals who would normally be out there shooting at each other are feeling the pain. So, I’m praying this will bring people together like never before.”
With a record amount of state and federal resources pouring into Buffalo in the shooting’s aftermath, Brown doesn’t want anyone to forget about his city once the uproar and media attention stop.
“This can’t be a momentary thing,” he said. “Families have been broken, people are grieving and the city is traumatized. People are afraid to go to work or do their grocery shopping anywhere in the city and children are afraid to go to school.
“We must have the resources to help with the healing process. This is an act of terror in this community. The attack should bring in the same kind of resources that you usually see after a natural disaster because of the devastation this has brought to Buffalo,” Brown said.