Legislator Miller-Williams Proudly Champions Frederick Douglass Affordable Housing in Buffalo

        Barbara Miller-Williams 

        Barbara Miller-Williams 

Erie County Legislator Barbara Miller- Williams has again shown her support and advocacy for the continued revitalization of her community at the November 16th session of the Erie County Legislature. Legislator Miller-Williams passed a resolution empowering the Erie County Executive and the City of Buffalo to enter into an agreement with Frederick Douglass I 2017 LLC to revitalize affordable housing projects on Jefferson Ave. and Clinton St., based on a payment of over $23,000 for 15 years, escalating 3% each year.

The arrangement will allow Erie County to receive 25% of each annual payment and the City of Buffalo 75%. To facilitate Phase I of the redevelopments, the agreement’s relief will help keep the projects afloat and avoid an unforeseen financial crux. The use of “PILOT” agreements, an abbreviation for payments in lieu of taxes, have been beneficial in keeping projects funded in the past, and the Erie County Legislature’s sustained embracing of them are a positive approach in spurring and maintaining development in the region. “I am proud to have supported this PILOT agreement to continue spreading prosperity to every citizen of the City and ensure each section is a vibrant part of the greater whole.

The renovation of these existing units will revitalize its surrounding neighborhood and hopefully spur better things to come in the future for our great City,” stated Legislator Miller-Williams. First constructed in 1999, the existing project site is an 87-unit multi-family rental housing project that utilizes low-income housing tax credit equity and other affordable housing funding sources. Since opening for occupancy in 2001, the buildings have experienced wear and tear that most buildings face.

With the new PILOT agreement, Legislator Miller-Williams hopes to bring the buildings and others like it back to life to allow them to continue housing their many families and residents.

Western New York Law Center: One Of Buffalo's Best Kept Secrets!

Organization Provides Legal Services to Residents  from Foreclosure Cases to Bankruptcy and More and It's All Free!

by Nanette Massey 

WNY Law Center .jpg

If your house was possessed by the city and sold at September's InRem auction, do you know you might have money due to you? That's right. The Western New York Law Center wants you to know that all proceeds beyond satisfying the back taxes and user fees belong right back in your pocket. It's true. And it's the WNYLC's job to give you the legal help you need free of charge. "For a lot of people, this can be a game changer," says Connie Joyce, the center's Community Outreach Communicator.

Many of these auctioned properties are in newly high demand areas where selling prices of over a hundred thousand dollars are not unheard of. The difference between that and what was owed, "that's money that can be used to pay debts, find a new place to live, to give somebody a fresh start." In December, WNYLC will be sending out a mass mailing to all those whose homes were sold. Enclosed you will find contact information and first steps to follow to get the process moving in your favor. You do not want to toss this out as junk mail, trust me, so be alert for it. Congress established the LSA Act of 1974. It set aside money to fund local organizations tasked with the purpose of providing equal access to justice in civil matters for low-income people.

Western New York Law Center is Erie County's manifestation of that 1974 law. Here you can receive help with consumer legal matters related to bankruptcies, foreclosures, wage garnishments, i.d. theft, default judgements, and more. Attorney Keisha Williams contends primarily with bankruptcy and foreclosure interventions. She sees a lot of cases where homeowners are served with an action and simply don't respond. Feeling overwhelmed and powerless, all they know is they can't afford private legal help. She recalls the story of a veteran we'll call Bob who lived in a house owned, on paper, by his deceased mother. He came to WNYLC when the house was scheduled to be sold out from under him with only two weeks to go. CPLR 3408 is a 2010 statute that entitles any person living in the foreclosed home a final settlement conference with the lien holder.

Sorting through the paperwork, Ms. Williams noticed that no such conference had occurred. She petitioned to stop the sale of the house and scheduled the conference. In the ensuing time, WNYLC helped Bob through the proper channels of Surrogate Court to acquire the deed. Then they introduced him to the Mortgage Assistance Program. NYS-MAP provides loans of up to $40,000 to qualified homeowners at risk for foreclosure. The interest rate for this loan? Zero. And the loan only becomes due down the line when the owner sells the house.

Once the settlement conference date came around, Bob had all his ducks in a row. He went from within two weeks of having nowhere to go, to being a full-fledged homeowner himself. This is the kind of hands-on help The Center provides for homeowners feeling at the end of their rope. "Zombie foreclosure" is the term used to refer to abandoned lots where no one is quite sure anymore who is responsible for the property. East Buffalo jargon would refer to these as "bandos." "You could lose your fire insurance given your proximity to a vacant house," explains Kate Lockhart, The Center's point person for these matters. "They bring down the value of other area homes and there's a whole domino effect."

She tells the story of a South Buffalo home in an area that flooded frequently. "The neighbors were draining the house themselves because it caused such a problem." The WNYLC went on the hunt for the property's owner. Western New York Law Center: One Of Buffalo's Best Kept Secrets! Organization provides legal services to residents from foreclosure cases to bankruptcy and more. And it's all free! By Nanette D. Massey Sometimes that trail is quite the web to unravel, as banks sell and otherwise transfer that mortgage debt over and over again. Additionally, what often what happens is the bank will reflexively send a foreclosure notice, then back away after assessing the property not worth their effort to pursue.

Not realizing this, the owner will have already vacated the property to avoid the humiliation of that impending 11th hour summons tacked to the door by the sheriff's department. Such was the case with this South Buffalo house. The Center tracked down its owner, an investor living in California who believed his claim to the property to be long gone. With WNYLC's help, the investor transferred the house to Habitat for Humanity as a donation---and a tax write off. The street now has a tax generating property protecting the vitality and value of the neighborhood. Ms Lockhart and WNYLC were also instrumental in helping another woman we'll call Sandy.

Sandy too was lost in the maze of a mortgage that had been transferred many times. She wasn't getting anywhere on her own trying to track down the final lien holder, and lived in constant fear of the sheriff's knock. With WNYLC’S help, she found that indeed the bank had discharged the loan all together, and she no longer owned anyone anything. Sandy said she was finally able to sleep peacefully in her home for the first time in over six years.

Some weeks ago, The Challenger reported that a lawsuit is moving forward against the City of Buffalo in response to complaints about traffic checkpoints being disproportionately set up east of Main Street and WNYLC is one of the legal entities involved.

"These checkpoints are directly harming Buffalo's low-income communities of color," says Keisha Williams. "How many people have lost their license because they couldn't afford to pay tickets issued at these checkpoints?" The claim is that the checkpoints have a disparate effect on a particular group given their uneven distribution throughout the city.

East side residents who have an account to share about their experience at one of these checkpoints are urged to call the special hotline number set up at (646)680-8906. The suit is in need of stories that will help give specific anecdotal might to its claims.

This is only a sampling of the legal help available to the public at no charge through the Western New York Law Center, probably one of Buffalo's best kept secrets. In part two we will talk more about consumer debt legal counsel.

More Good News From the WNY Law Center: Walk-In Legal Clinics!

Now that we have introduced readers to the Western New York Law Center and the work it does dispensing legal help in civil law matters to area residents at no charge. We continue our coverage by highlighting WNYLC's regular walk-in legal clinics.

The project is called Civil Legal Advice and Resource Office, or CLARO. These two hour open sessions are held Tuesday evenings at BFNCH Hope Center on Jewett Avenue, Friday mornings at Buffalo City Court downtown on Delaware, twice a month at ACCESS of WNY in Lackawanna, and once a month at the Willie Cotton Community Center in Lackawanna. People needing legal help with matters such as judgements against them, garnishments, utilities collections and a host of other issues can get straight answers here. The clinics are staffed by lawyers and law students.

Clients have the opportunity to meet with them one-on-one to discuss individual particulars of their own predicament, and there is no limit on the number of visits. Come prepared, hypothetical questions will only lead to incomplete information and the necessity for a second trip. The lawyers ask that clients bring all papers, bills, relevant correspondences, and a complete copy of any related court file in their possession.

A common conundrum lawyers at these clinics see are cases where very old debts seem to spring out of nowhere. Too often this scenario happens with elderly people. You will receive a call saying you owe $1500 to J.C. Penney. You know you used to have a credit card with them so it all seems legitimate, and you go ahead and agree to a payment plan. Kate Lockhart of WNYLC says should you get such a call, "don't pay it! Get it in writing and bring it to us first!" Routinely, these debts have long been written off as a loss by the original creditor, but the right to continue attempting to collect on it has been sold to a collection agency for pennies on the dollar. If you do not answer them, they will usually move along to another debtor. If you do pay even five dollars towards it though, that debt becomes reactivated and will likely show up in your current credit history again as outstanding.

Through the CLARO clinics, a lawyer can get a copy of your credit report at no charge and help you determine your next course of action. In fact, as is the case for many seniors, circumstances may render you "judgement proof." Creditors cannot garnish your money if you have no assets and your income comes from sources such as social security benefits, veteran's benefits, civil service retirement benefits, or child support. "Don't pay a dime until you talk with someone" restates Ms. Lockhart. Connie Joyce, Community Outreach Coordinator for WNYLC, recalls the story of a war veteran who got such a notice in the form of a letter, leaving him quite unsettled. He lived in a rooming house and collected bottles to afford cigarettes. The letter offered to get this debt squared away for around ten dollars a month, which he would likely have been paying for decades to come.

A concerned neighbor brought the veteran to one of the open clinics where they were able to run his credit report, compare it to the demand in the letter, and determine that in fact he had no obligation to this collector. The veteran was grateful for the help of the lawyers and his neighbor, without whom he may never have heard of CLARO. The CLARO clinics see a lot of newly settled refugees to Western New York. Ms. Joyce recollects the circumstance of parents from Syria who were having trouble with their new baby's birth certificate. The first and last names had been alternated, causing havoc for the family in even the most mundane of undertakings. This daunting problem was solved by WNYLC with a few simple phone calls. Another refugee was up against a $1200 fine while trying to import cocoa bean hulls, a common gardening mulch in his home country.

The mulch appeared to look like wood chips, requiring an entirely different shipping protocol. WNYLC was able to help this man get the package released with a written letter from a lawyer to the proper authorities. Ms. Joyce punctuates that "not everything we do here is necessarily about working miracles. Sometimes all that is needed from us is just the untangling and the heavy lifting. We want people to know that even for the simple, day to day things you can come to us and we will say 'yes, we can help you.'" The Western New York Law Center is at 230 Main Street in downtown Buffalo. Their phone number is (716) 855-0203. You can find them online at wnylc.com or, of course, on Facebook.

Photo by Ron Tillman

Photo by Ron Tillman

by Nanette Massey

Pylicia Dove is the winner of the "Main Street" category of The Pitch, a part of Buffalo's 43North entrepreneur competition. The accompanying prize for her first place win was a hefty $15,000. On top of that, Mrs Dove was awarded an additional $10,000 for winning the vote as the audience's favorite presenter of the evening bringing her grand total winnings to $25,000!

As her name was announced, the assembly went wild while she slowly fell to her knees in a moment of both disbelief and gratitude. Her ever supportive husband, Averill Dove, was at her side expressing equal measurements of joy and bewilderment himself.

Phylicia just opened her SoHo inspired boutique, Black Monarchy, this past August on W. Utica at the west side's famous 5 Points intersection. Her store is an eclectic potpourri of jewelry, clothing, fabrics and mementos with an African and "World Beat" feel. Some are pieces she's created. Some hale from exotic locales like India, Argentina, Senegal and The Philippines, brought back by buyers on their visits. Her vision for the store is to become THE go-to place in town for culturally diverse fashion. Just as we now think light fixtures--Home Depot, Phylicia plans that you will think first of Black Monarchy when shopping for a look that is unique and striking.

The 5 Points retail store is only a part of her over all brand, IAmPhyNomenal, which will also encompass personal styling, online shopping and events. She has always had a fervor for design. But her initial schooling and career trajectory were sending her in a completely different direction.

Originally from Brooklyn, her undergraduate studies took her to Geneva, N.Y. She met her husband there, a Buffalo native, and eventually followed him back here where she finished her master's degree in Executive Leadership and Non-Profit Management. She began building a career in the non-profit sector but as the grants for each project dried up, Phylicia found herself sending out resumes again, by now with two small sons in the picture. She credits her husband with keeping his eye on her true calling. Over the years, Averill would find store fixtures, mannequins and other necessities on the cheap and store them in the garage for future use. "He held my dream for me until I could hold it myself" she says. In the meantime, Phylicia did vendor tables at various shows and events around Buffalo making a name for herself and garnering a bit of a following.

Finding herself again in that familiar place of having to dust off her résumé, she gave up, spent a year in depression and soul-searching, decided to just open the paper, find any job, and call it a day. Averill convinced her to look at just one more store front site. This particularly lovely space on W. Utica called to her. She recalls thinking the windows, even the sidewalk in front, appeared to be everything she'd asked for. She and her husband pooled the last of their resources, hauled the stored artifacts out of the garage, and determined to give it a go. Only by happenstance did she come to enter The Pitch, a friend sent her the application info. In fact, her entry was originally rejected. Phylicia found herself having to put together a presentation together in one day after getting word that a new spot had opened.

After four years of looking, her store was finally a reality. The $25,000 windfall from the September 28th presentation is the icing on the cake. Phylicia now has the ability to make money moves that start her from a new tier all together like investing in trademarks, patents, and search engine optimization. (Not to mention mannequins that actually have heads...) And, of course, more inventory. She is happy too that she can now pay it forward in real cash to those who have helped her before, an integral component of her business and over all life philosophy. That means more money to the Ghanaian refugee seamstress who makes her clothes, and perhaps even hiring one more, improving their lot along with her own. And being able to double her t-shirt order with the artist that stenciled her windows. "I believe when I get up, we all should get up. It's all about redistributing."

In keeping with that theme, look for what she calls "Monarchy Market" in the future. Phylicia plans to make a portion of the space in her store regularly available to other local vendors whose product lines are in keeping with her boutique's global artisan fashion offerings. The biggest take away from winning The Pitch for Phylicia has been not just the money, but the affirmation. "It's believing in your dream and realizing the city believes in it too. They buy into your vision."

A Message From Jennifer Parker, Founding Organizer of "The Pitch"

"The Pitch is an opportunity for local small business owners to thrive and young entrepreneurs to visualize business success. "

As an entrepreneurial leader, I am motivated by making a difference and connecting community partners and resources to create positive and impactful solutions. The Pitch, a collaborative initiative that includes the City of Buffalo (Mayor Byron W. Brown, 43North, Erie County Industrial Development Agency (ECIDA) and New York Business Development Corporation (NYBDC), was created to encourage an entrepreneurial spirit among Buffalo area minority and women business owners. Seeing the excitement and entrepreneurial spirit among local small business owners was a dream come full circle. As the founder of the Black Capital Network I have always been a champion for minority and women small business enterprises.

I have always believed that Buffalo was a Mecca for innovation and that there were opportunities for minority businesses to grow. I feel blessed to see this vision come true. The Pitch is an opportunity for local small business owners to thrive and young entrepreneurs to visualize business success. As the inclusion consultant for 43North I saw that this popular entrepreneurial competition was leaving many local small businesses behind. The competition did what it was created to do - it sparked a culture of entrepreneurship and branded Buffalo nationally as an innovative tech startup city. However, the problem was that not all entrepreneurs were tech or life science startups.

Therefore, I felt there was a need to encourage local minority business growth and cultivate new business owners. On September 28 it was all about entrepreneurship and celebrating diversity - creating a stronger Buffalo one region and one business at a time," said Jennifer J. Parker, 43North Inclusion Consultant, owner of Jackson Parker Communications, and founding organizer of THE PITCH.

Congratulations 2017 Black Achiever Awardees!

45th Annual Gala to Honor 32 Outstanding Citizens

 Four Special Awardees and Two Buffalo Public Schools

Black Achievers, Inc. will host the 45th Annual Black Achievers Awards Banquet on Saturday, October 7 at the Adam’s Mark Hotel, 120 Church Street. The organization will recognize 32 outstanding individuals, all of whom have inspiring stories of personal, professional, spiritual and community achievements. The event, an evening of fine dining, networking and entertainment, will begin with a Red Carpet Ceremony at 5:30 p.m. and cocktails at 6p.m. Dinner and award presentations will follow starting at 7 p.m.

The 32 outstanding Black Achiever awardees and their sponsors include: Ras Jomo Akono, Sponsor WUFO Mix/ Power 96.5 Darnell Barton, Sponsor NFTA Landrum Beard, Sponsor, John W. Danforth Company Dawn Marie Bracely, Sponsor The Buffalo News Jessica L. Bryson, Sponsor M&T Bank Tyrone F. Christopher Jr. Sponsor Belmont Management Company Congratulations 2017 Black Achiever Awardees! 45th Annual Gala to Honor 32 Outstanding Citizens, Four Special Awardees and Two Buffalo Public Schools Nancy R. Crenshaw, Sponsor Roswell Park Cancer Institute Janique Curry, Sponsor Uniland Development Co. Drea D’Nur, Sponsor Challenger Community News Vernon Duncan, Sponsor Willie Hutch Jones Educational & Sports Program Misty Garrett, Sponsor Entercom Buffalo (AM 1400) Curtis Tony Grant, Sponsor General Motors Tonawanda Engine Plant La ‘Ree Hendricks, Sponsor Adam’s Mark Hotel Darnell J. Haywood Jr., Sponsor Bank on Buffalo Anthony Johnson, Sponsor Drescher & Malecki Pastor Dwayne Jones, Sponsor Mt. Aaron Baptist Church Marty McLaughlin, Sponsor Five Star Bank Renee D. Moody Sims, Sponsor People Inc. Janiah Patterson, Sponsor Lawley Insurance Stephan Lamar Perry, Sponsor Thomas T. Edwards Funeral Home Reverend Willie Pulliam, Sponsor Belmont Housing Resources For WNY Karl Shallowhorn, Sponsor GHD Charlette Smith, Sponsor JMS Bros. Construction Dr. Cleveland Southern, Sponsor True Word Anointed Ministry Karen Stanley-Fleming, Sponsor Northwest Bank Lindsey Taylor, Sponsor Hodgson Russ, LLP Jared Threat, Sponsor Key Bank Andre Tucker, Sponsor La Nova Pizzeria Deatra L. White-Paris, Sponsor Design, Development & Compliance. Inc. Dionne Williamson, Sponsor Bellamy Enterprises, LLC Reggie Witherspoon, Sponsor Evans Bank

In addition to the 32 Black Achiever Awards, four special awards will also be presented at the banquet. Rev. Mark E. Blue, President of the Buffalo Branch NAACP, will receive the Community Service Award; Rhonda A. Ricks Ph.D., President and CEO of R+A+R Development, Inc., will receive the Entrepreneur of the Year Award; Nekia Kemp, Executive Director of the Police Athletic League of Buffalo, will receive the Mayor’s Youth Award and former Buffalonian, Rona Drinkard, a Senior IT Project Manager with Leidos, will be honored for a lifetime of achievement with the Homecoming Award. Also to be recognized at the banquet will be two Buffalo Public Schools, City Honors and the International Preparatory School.

The Co-Chairs for this much anticipated event are history making business executive, Sheila L. Brown, Manager and Principal Owner of Visions Multi Media Group, LLC, and Robert Mootry, Jr., the Regional Director of CSEA Western Region and President of the Buffalo Chapter of the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists. For more information on the gala or to purchase tickets, call 884-1490, or visit the Black Achievers, Inc. web site at www.buffaloblackachievers.com. Tickets may also be purchased at Doris Records at 286 East Ferry.

Zandra Brings Artisan Skin Care to Whole Foods Market Buffalo

                        Zandra Azariah

                        Zandra Azariah

Zandra introduces its award-winning artisan skincare product line to the New Whole Foods Market Store in Buffalo New York on September 15th  & 16th. Zandra, a leading all-natural artisan bath and body product range for educated and empowered girls on the move, partners with Whole Foods Market as it opens its new store in Amherst at 3139 Sheridan Drive, Buffalo on Friday, September 15 and Saturday, September 16.

To mark the first time that Zandra products will be available in Whole Foods, Zandra Azariah Cunningham the Teen-Founder, and CEO will offer product demos, samples, and promotional offers to customers from 11 am to 3 pm on Friday and 3 pm to 7 pm on Saturday. “We are so excited to offer Zandra’s unique brand of American made fun, fresh, natural bath and body products at our very own local Whole Foods to girls in Buffalo.

We know that Zandra customers want the convenience of being able to shop for our high-quality skin-healthy products in more stores and, with partners like Whole Foods, we’re making that happen,” said Zandra the 17-year-old entrepreneur. To start, Whole Foods Market Buffalo will stock several Zandra products including: Hair & Body Soufflè - a moisturizing, nourishing and repairing formula made with skin-loving whipped butters and oils; Sugar Scrubs - designed to exfoliate body and lips for a natural Zandra's favorite botanicals and fair trade Shea butter, and a gorgeous range of Hand & Body Lotions.

Each collection is available in refreshing scents including Mint, Kumquat, Lavender, and Lemongrass and all are free of chemicals. Prices range from $8.00 -$20. From its Buffalo-based lab, Zandra combines the art of STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) to create 40 nutrient rich skin care products; each naturally proven to nourish, heal and improve teen-sensitive skin. Natural ingredients are the bedrock of Zandra skin care and a lasting alternative to commercial products with yucky unhealthy ingredients.

Rhonda Ricks, Buffalo’s First Certified Minority and Woman Owned Development Firm Leads Project To Redevelop Former Buffalo Public School 59 Into Affordable Parkview Apartments

RIBBON CUTTING: Rhonda Ricks, fourthfrom left joins Mayor Brown, Assemblywoman Peoples-Stokes and others in last Thursday's ribbon cutting.

RIBBON CUTTING: Rhonda Ricks, fourthfrom left joins Mayor Brown, Assemblywoman Peoples-Stokes and others in last Thursday's ribbon cutting.

Last Thursday,  New York State Homes and Community Renewal (HCR), R+A+R Development and SA+A Development formally celebrated the opening of Parkview Apartments, an $8 million project that converted the vacant Public School 59 building in the East Side community of Buffalo to 26 units of affordable apartments for low-income New Yorkers. Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul, joined HCR, R+A+R, S+A, Mayor Byron Brown, Assemblywoman Peoples-Stokes, Senator Tim Kennedy, and development and community partners for a ribbon cutting ceremony.

             Buffalo Developer Rhonda Ricks

             Buffalo Developer Rhonda Ricks

For Rhonda Ricks, Buffalo’s first certified minority and woman owned development firm, this project is a dream that has been years in the making. Ricks stated, “Leading this renovation has been a proud process for my development firm. The partnership with SA+A Development has been a successful learning experience and provided much support." 

She added, “As a new developer, I am thankful to all who embraced this vision and provided the guidance and financial assistance to bring the vision full circle. It was certainly a tapestry of leadership that included Mayor Byron Brown, Congressman Brian Higgins, Assemblywoman Crystal Peoples-Stokes, the dedicated staff of the Buffalo Urban Renewal Agency (BURA) and the New York State Homes and Community Renewal (HCR).”   The four-story, 36,000 square-foot building at 769 Best Street was constructed in 1901. It now includes a community room, laundry room, laundry facilities, an elevator and playground. Parkview is directly across the street from Martin Luther King, Jr. Park, which was designed by Frederick Law Olmstead, and is near shopping and services. Rent plus utilities range from $362 to $751 a month and are affordable to households at or below 50 percent of the area median income.  

“The Parkview Apartments are a long time in the making, adaptively reusing the former PS #59 to design brand new upscale yet affordable units created by Buffalo’s first minority female developer. The lengthy waiting list shows that there is a demand for new quality housing options.  Congratulations to R+A+R Development and SA&A on successfully completing the first of many projects on Buffalo’s East Side,” stated Assemblywoman Crystal D. Peoples-Stokes.

“All of Buffalo’s residents deserve a safe and affordable place to live, and as we build a City of opportunity, to ensure everyone benefits from Buffalo’s rising prosperity, we’re focused on our continued commitment to further strengthen neighborhoods by providing the best housing possible,” said Mayor Byron Brown.

“I’m pleased my administration was able to contribute $1.1 million in City of Buffalo HOME Funds to this project, which joins the growing list of residential projects on Buffalo’s East Side, particularly in the revitalized and historic Martin Luther Jr. neighborhood.”

New 'Working Toward Equality Report' Sheds Light on Race, Employment, and Public Transit in Erie County

In 2016, a coalition of labor, community, and religious organizations commissioned the Partnership for the Public Good to produce a comprehensive study on racial employment inequality in the Buffalo-Niagara region. The Working Toward Equality report found that local racial disparities were worse than national averages, with an African American unemployment rate from 2010 to 2014 of 17.3% and a Hispanic rate of 13.6%, compared to a white rate of 6.4%.

On July 6 the Merriweather Library in Buffalo, the Partnership will present an updated report: Working Toward Equality, Updated: Race, Employment, and Public Transit in Erie County.  The new report provides a rich trove of updated data on race and employment and then offers a spotlight on one of the barriers to equal opportunity: the distance between workers of color and jobs, and the lack of adequate public transit to connect the two.  The report is available at www. ppgbuffalo.org. 

Sam Magavern, executive director of the Partnership, will present the findings. Other speakers will include Richard Lipsitz, Jr. (president, WNY Areal Labor Federation); Brenda McDuffie (president, Buffalo Urban League); Reverend Mark Blue (president, Buffalo Branch NAACP); Reverend George Nicholas (Concerned Clergy Coalition of WNY), and Jeff Richardson (President, Amalgamated Transit Union, Local 1342). 

Among the report’s findings:

• Of the five major employment centers in the region, only one is located in the City of Buffalo

• Over 50,000 households in the region lack access to a car.

•  Over half the region’s jobs are not accessible by public transit.

• Workers of color use transit more.  In the city of Buffalo, only 5 percent of white workers commute via public transit, but 15 percent of Hispanic, 21 percent of black, and 26 percent of Asian and Pacific Islander workers commute by public transit.

• Workers of color have longer rides. The average black worker who rides the bus spends 59 more hours per year in transit than the average white worker who rides the bus; the average Hispanic worker spends 80 more hours.

• Buffalo’s east side is served by 35 bus lines, but 23 of them are infrequent, with fewer than two busses per hour.

• To get from Buffalo’s west side (the corner of Niagara and Porter) to GEICO in Amherst takes 21 minutes by car but 77 minutes by bus.

• There are no high frequency bus lines that serve the communities of color in western Lackawanna and the Cattaraugus Reservation.

The report concludes that improving public transit is an imperative for promoting economic development, reducing racial disparities, fighting poverty, and decreasing air pollution. 

It recommends that New York State increase its funding for public transit and adjust its funding formulas to treat western New York more equitably relative to other regions.  It recommends that the NFTA improve its service by adding more busses and routes, with a particular focus on connecting communities of color to employment centers; that the NFTA pay its workers more adequate wages (bus drivers currently start at $12.95 per hour); and that it offer reduced fares to people with low incomes.

The report was commissioned by New York State AFL-CIO; WNY Area Labor Federation, AFL-CIO; Buffalo Urban League; Concerned Clergy of Western New York; Baptist Ministers Conference of Buffalo and Vicinity; NAACP Buffalo Branch; Coalition of Black Trade Unions (Buffalo Chapter); and Labor Council for Latin American Advancement (WNY Chapter).

 The Partnership for the Public Good is a community-based think tank with over 260 partner organizations.

From CookieLand to the Upper Room: East Buffalo Entrepreneur

is One Step Closer to Realizing Her Dream

'TO GOD BE THE GLORY!" In top photo, Vivian Jackson (center in white top) cuts the ribbon for her new development which will feature a Prayer Room, skating rink, small diner and ice cream parlor. In photos above she poses with family and supporters. A large crowd turned out for the community event on June 5 and included a host of dignitaries: Fillmore Councilman David Franczyk, mayoral candidates Legislator Betty Jean Grant and Mark Schroeder, Rev. Cushing, and members of her Elim Christian Fellowship family.THIRD EYE PHOTOS

'TO GOD BE THE GLORY!" In top photo, Vivian Jackson (center in white top) cuts the ribbon for her new development which will feature a Prayer Room, skating rink, small diner and ice cream parlor. In photos above she poses with family and supporters. A large crowd turned out for the community event on June 5 and included a host of dignitaries: Fillmore Councilman David Franczyk, mayoral candidates Legislator Betty Jean Grant and Mark Schroeder, Rev. Cushing, and members of her Elim Christian Fellowship family.THIRD EYE PHOTOS

For the past decade Vivian Jackson has been dreaming of taking her career of providing care for children, to another level; one which would embrace the entire community. And for eight years, she said, a symbol of God’s promise has manifested itself to her in the presence of rainbows… literally everywhere and all the time.

On June 5, after years of dreaming, praying, planning and rainbows, Vivian (also known as Cookie), held what she called an “Inside the Rainbow Ribbon Cutting” to announce her new corporation, The Upper Room, and the creation of a one stop family entertainment complex and eatery rooted in the Spirit and located in the heart of the community. The architects rendering is as striking, exciting and visionary as Ms. Jackson’s goal of providing children with a safe alternative to the streets and offering spiritual guidance to adults and young people who may find themselves overwhelmed in times of need. “It’s been my dream for ten years and I never lost the faith,” said Ms. Jackson, the owner of CookieLand, a successful child care facility she’s operated in East Buffalo for 20-plus years.

The new venture, which will be located at 202 Walden Avenue at the corner of Wasmuth (located on the street right behind CookieLand) will consist of four components. The Prayer Room (The Upper Room) will serve mainly as a place where people in the community can receive prayer and guidance. “We need prayer,” said the long time member of Elim Christian Fellowship. A number of ministers she said, have already committed to volunteer and she’s hoping more will step forward to help. She’s especially excited about the skating rink, which will be called Rainbow Skating, and will feature two rinks - one large and a smaller version.

From CookieLand to the Upper Room: East Buffalo Entrepreneur is One Step Closer to Realizing Her Dream sion for little children. The last two components will be Mama Cookie’s Diner & Eatery and The Cross Ice Cream Parlor -where she hopes to bring back penny candy! “Everything just opened up,” she said of the rapid succession of developments. “It was all God. It’s just favor…. but I seek Him everyday…I don’t let anything come before God.” She said developers hope to begin building this summer, and the facility is anticipated to open by the end of the year. “God is so good!” she exclaimed. “I want to thank Christina a true partner for real…I love her with my whole heart…and of course my brother Darnell Jackson, Miss Denise, Okos the architect, Mike the developer, and Bishop Bronner and my Elim Christian Fellowship family."

Once the building is complete and the doors are open, Vivian said she wants everyone who enters to feel the love from the font of the building to the back. Despite the politics of neglected neighborhoods, she continued, “God has not forgotten about the East Side.” Her experience, she points out, is living proof. The role that the community must play at this point she concluded, is basic. “It’s time to start loving again,” she urged.

Jefferson Avenue Businessmen are some the most resilient and patient entrepreneurs in the city. Ignored for years, those businesses owners who bravely ventured into planting their dreams there -  continue to struggle to maintain and grow their establishments. And new businesses, like Solo Eats on the corner of Jefferson and East Ferry, have recently invested in the area.

They are all hopeful that the current focus on the once bustling main strip will soon bring positive results. But they are keenly aware that not all “progress” is good progress.

Case in point. News that a convenient store would soon be opening at 1390 Jefferson Avenue has given cause for concern.  A petition was circulated by business owners and some 350 signatures were gathered and delivered to Masten Council Member Ulysses O. Wingo ‘s CityHall office opposing the store’s location. It reads in part:

“Currently there are a substantial number of convenience stores already located in the area and the addition of another store at 1390 Jefferson Avenue will encourage loitering, which can only lead to more crime and will hurt our community. For this reason this petition has been established to prohibit the opening….”

The businessmen – of various ethnicities -  decided to go public with their struggle because after weeks of trying to meet and talk to Mr. Wingo they have been unsuccessful. He has yet to even return any phone calls, said Ahmed Salah of Mandella’s Market & Citgo Gas. “More than 25 people have called his office in the last two weeks,” noted Mr. Salah. 

It’s as if nobody is listening. The only thing they’ve heard indirectly from his office is that their petition to stop the opening is “too late.” But as far as these entrepreneurs are concerned, it’s never too late. And they want answers. They feel that they have been slighted and not given the opportunity to even voice their opinion before a final decision was made.

Mr. Wingo’s job, they say, is to represent and respect the people who elected him to that position.  Or face their disapproval on election day. There are so many other types of businesses Jefferson Avenue needs, they pointed out. Another convenience store is not one; especially in light of their concerns.

They believe they at least deserve a reply and conversation about a decision that may adversely effect their livelihood.

CNN Political Analyst to Keynote

CAO’s 52nd Anniversary Dinner and Awards Celebration

Keynote Speaker Bakari Sellers

Keynote Speaker Bakari Sellers

The Board of Directors of the Community Action Organization of Erie County, Inc. is proud to present its 52ndAnniversary Awards Dinner and Celebration on Friday, June 9 from 6 - 9 p.m at the Buffalo Niagara Convention Center. 

This year’s theme is “Changing Our Direction, Creating a New Future” and will include a recognition ceremony for this year’s outstanding community service leaders, partners and corporate citizens of the agency. Dr. Rev. James A. Lewis, III of Miracle Missions Baptist Church returns as Master of Ceremonies.

Keynonte speakerBakari Sellers, a prominent CNN political analyst,  made history in 2006 when, at just 22 years old, he defeated a 26-year incumbent State Representative to become the youngest member of the South Carolina State Legislature and the youngest African American elected official in the nation. In 2014, Sellers won the Democratic nomination for Lt. Governor and is widely considered to be a rising star within the Democratic Party and leading voice for his generation.

Sellers, who is also a practicing attorney,  earned his undergraduate degree from Morehouse College and his law degree from the University of South Carolina. He has followed in the footsteps of his father, civil rights leader Dr. Cleveland Sellers, in his tireless commitment to public service while championing progressive policies. In addition to his impressive list of early accomplishments, Sellers served on President Barack Obama’s South Carolina steering committee during the 2008 election.    

As one of the largest, private, not-for-profit agencies in Western New York, the upcoming event commemorates 52 years of focused and dedicated efforts in promoting self-sufficiency through advocacy, partnerships and services.  The CAO serves over 34,000 low-income residents annually through a network of more than 50 locations across Erie and Niagara counties, providing essential services to individuals and families in need as they move towards self-sufficiency. Tickets are just $50 per person, $500 per table of ten. A limited number of tickets to the VIP Reception and Meet & Greet with Bakari Sellers are just $75.  For sponsorship information, or to purchase an ad in the souvenir journal, contact Keri Socker, Administrative Coordinator at 881-5150. Tickets are available online at www.caoec.org.