'Paying To Play' Politics And Redevelopment On Jefferson Avenue

    Betty Jean Grant

    Betty Jean Grant

A few months ago, there was a well attended meeting at the Jefferson Avenue Frank E. Merriweather Library. The meeting was scheduled by the Brown Administration to talk about the pending redevelopment of the street. What was so striking was the fact that the people who convened the meeting did not come there to listen to what the community had in mind for the street. No, they came armed with a plan and a developer or two, with a chief partner in the venture that, still to this day, no one knows who put the 'plan' together.

In the audience but certainly not to answer questions put forth by community members, was Nick Sinatra, a fast-rising city hall-favorite developer and his partner, David Pawlik from CSS Development Company along with a somewhat unfamiliar name to the redevelopment scene, Dr. Gregory Daniels from Amherst, New York. For those who are interested, Dr. Daniels is an African American who thought up the concept of emergent care while he worked as a doctor in one of the city's emergency rooms. He opened several of them in the area, sold them for millions of dollars and until now, resided quietly in his beautiful home, heated entirely by solar energy, in the suburbs.

During the meeting, a brilliant, young activist and founder of the Young Black Democrats political organization, Katrinna Martin-Bordeaux, asked one of the developers about bringing the concept of a Community Benefit Agreement (CBA) to the project that was being discussed. Just for the record, a CBA is a legally binding contract negotiated between a developer and a coalition representing broad spectrum of community members impacted by the development. In exchange for community members' support for the project, the developer agrees to provide certain benefits.

The agreement can be anything from the developer agreeing to installing a neighborhood playground, building a community center to setting aside several apartments in the complex to accommodate low income, disabled or senior citizens' housing needs at a modest discounted rental rate. These types of deals for struggling communities are being put together all across this country by many progressive community leaders and elected officials. Most communities, that is, except for Buffalo. Even though this kind of community friendly agreement has been done in Buffalo, in the past, it seems none of our current leaders are holding the developers accountable and arranging these type of win-win deals for our residents.

I have to ask Ms. Bordeaux again but I believe she told me that she did not get much of an assurance said that the developer would consider this type of Community-minded agreement once they began construction of the Wellness Center the three gentlemen are proposing for the Jefferson/Riley Avenue section of the city later this year. What made me think of this particular meeting was when the campaign financial disclosure statement of the mayoral candidates were made public in last week's copy of a local, daily newspaper.

This is all public information and I have no qualms about detailing it here in this newspaper. In the information filed for the period of Jan 15 to July 15, 2017, the three partners of the new Wellness Center, contributed over $9,900 to Mayor Byron Brown’s campaign war chest. Nick Sinatra gave $2,000; David Pawlik from CSS Development contributed $2,500 and the already wealthy Amherst doctor, Dr. Gregory Daniels, chipped in $7,400! This may be only $9.900 from a trio of rich men, but these same rich men will be getting tax abatements and incentives totaling tens of thousands of dollars for this one project alone! And guess who will be making up the shortfall in the city and county's coffers from this generous redistribution of poor people's HUD monies and lucrative incentives? You guessed it correctly if you say, "We, the taxpayers of Buffalo and Erie County." I am all for redevelopment and the rehabilitation of poor and blighted areas of the city but, for heavens sake, can millionaires and billionaires invest their own personal monies on these projects once in a while?

Why Are We Afraid To Say the 'G' (Gentrification) Word?

       Betty Jean Grant

       Betty Jean Grant

Ten years ago, most people on the Eastside did not know what the word Gentrification meant. I am willing to bet you that is not the case today. Even when former President Bill Clinton moved his office to Harlem, thereby fast speeding the disinvestment of African Americans in their own part of New York City, we knew something new and unique was happening but no one in our part of Buffalo had a public name for it. All we knew was that record stores, bookstores, newsstands , deli stores and small novelty shops that had been in the same family for several generations were suddenly being closed due to loss of property to foreclosure or non payment of city taxes or the sky high rent that the buildings owners were now charging. That was gentrification but those of us here in Buffalo not only didn't know what the word meant without looking it up; we also had a difficult time pronouncing it.

Harlem, New York City, has now been joined by Baltimore, Detroit,  Portland, Washington, D.C., The Bronx and now, Buffalo as places where the long tenured tenants of the city are being displaced by rental units that are too d... high; prospective increase in theirhomeowner's property tax appraisal; or the bombardment of daily letters, phone calls and visits by real estate agents to sell their houses or vacant lots. those agencies that manage the Section 8 vouchers program are playing into this mass relocation project the city is engaged in and, for years, has been a silent partner. In the 1990s, if an applicant that lived in Buffalo was way down on the list and possibly years away from being processed, this applicant would be given a priority status and be moved to the top, if he/she would agree to rent a subsidized apartmentin a nearby suburban town, city of village. The official thought behind this movement was to integrate the outlying area with a diversified rental population. I remain convinced that those who thought of moving the special group of Section 8 applicants to the top of the list was thinking about decreasing Buffalo's minority population more than they were worrying about if the suburban or rural residents had a Person of Color living next door to the locals. Fact is, I heard that the BMHA's Perry Project lost a significant amount federal grant money by not being selected for the funds because they stated explicitly, in their application, that they were motivated to 'decrease the number of low income and minority residents that resided in their housing units. The fact that a large number of individuals working on the grant that sought to discriminate against minorities and poor people were African Americans was troubling at best and possibly an illegal act.

So how does a city speed up the process of gentrification? Well, if the city is Buffalo, they put a Plan in action that was developed about 30 or 40 years ago. They allow high paying factory jobs at places like Bethlehem Steel to leave the area by not giving tax concessions and abatement when the company was struggling financially. The NYS politicians and Buffalo city leaders didn't put additional money into the education system by increasing the allocation to the Buffalo Public Schools. The Board of Education and the Superintendent closed most of the vocational high school that gave generations of Buffalo youths a skill or trade when they graduated from high school. The city failed to replace the hundreds of jobs lost to our young Black men when the Deli stores went from black-owned to Arab-owned and our youth went from working inside these stores to hanging out side, on the street corners of those very same stores. Law enforcement turn 'blind eyes' and 'deaf ears' to the parents' cries of finding out were the drugs and guns were coming from and stopping them from coming into our community. Social Services agencies took the parents' rights to discipline their children away and then charge these parents with neglect or abuse for not controlling their unruly or disobedient children.

Buffalo is experiencing a renaissance of sort in the Fruitbelt, Medical Corridor, Canalside and the total renovation of Niagara Street and yet people were tripping on broken sidewalks in the beloved MLK Park, on the Eastside, during the past Juneteenth Celebration. Jefferson Ave and other east and lower west side streets look like they have been caught in a bad and recurring episode of the Twilight Zone, where there are people and stores but the city leaders and the people that don't live or shop there cannot see the devastation, despair and neglect.

Gentrification is defined in the dictionary as- "The process of renewal accompanying the influx of middle- class people into deteriorating areas that often displaces earlier, usually poorer residents."

 To the poor and low income residents, concerned community activists and those elected, public Officials who really care ; gentrification has come to Buffalo. And, for those of us who stayed during the tough and struggling times, we are now no longer wanted or needed; we have become expendable.

“Life Stories: Restoring Justice” A Success!

                  Karima Amin

                  Karima Amin

For the last two years, I have been trying to figure out a way to link activism with art. I knew that there must be a way to show on stage, that storytelling,, which I have been doing for almost 40 years, could work with the activism that I embraced as an educator and as the founder/director of Prisoners Are People Too, Inc. From the day that Prisoners Are People Too, Inc. was launched, it has provided a platform for formerly incarcerated people and their loved ones to tell their stories. Over the last twelve years at our monthly meetings we have entertained all kinds of stories from men and women. Guest speakers delivered some of these stories, while others came unsolicited from the hearts and mouths of audience members who could no longer keep silent.

Everyone has a story and those stories have power. I always say, “Tell a story; save a life.” I wanted “Life Stories: Restoring Justice” to provide an opportunity for the community to hear stories from three women who turned to restorative thinking and restorative behaviors after losing loved ones to gun violence. I wanted the audience to have a better understanding of the value and benefits of restorative justice. As these women told their stories, parenthetically framed by their musical choices, bolstered by a poem that linked all three, and a talk-back that allowed the audience to share their feelings, the spiritual energy and emotion in the room was palpable. Tears flowed, people sighed, bodies rocked and unexpected stories came from the audience as “Life Stories: Restoring Justice” became a vehicle for healing. 

As our DJ, Patrick Cray, gave us just a little bit of Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On,” the first storyteller, Sandra “Sandi” Green, stood silently for a moment next to a photograph of her beautiful babies, Steven and Corey, her only children, two sons, both lost to gun violence in 2010…one in Atlanta and one in Buffalo. She talked about her anger and the depression that nearly consumed her when she thought she was “all right.”  Sandi, who spent 27 years as a corrections officer, learned that the path to wholeness includes forgiveness.

Danielle “Dani” Johnson followed with “Sunshine to the Rain” and a story about her nephew, Devon, who was killed at the age of 19 in New Orleans. Despite the distance from Buffalo, Devon and Dani were very close. She described the darkness of anger and bitterness that threatened to change her from the inside out until she discovered restorative justice at a peace circle at her church, facilitated by Baba Eng who later trained her in Restorative Justice Practices. She gave credit to BaBa and to Jerome Wright, a formerly incarcerated man whose story about transformation and redemption inspired her, a few months ago, to take an interest in working with Prisoners Are People Too, Inc. A large format poster in the staging area, depicted a three-year old Devon, held lovingly in the arms of his father, Dani’s big brother, whom Dani further acknowledged as a person who has been instrumental in her healing process.

Marquita Nailor lost her eighteen year old daughter, Sh’merea, to gun violence in 2014. Sh’merea was a star athlete, looking forward to her high school graduation, with a scholarship to Syracuse University. She was walking home from school with friends when someone mis-identified her, shot and killed her, and then “ran off before her body hit the ground.”  Marquita ‘s grief was still apparent when she talked about the police who still have her daughter’s personal belongings and when she described the things she does to heal and keep her daughter’s name alive.  She organizes annual fundraisers which allow her to give scholarships to promising high school students.  She also created a van service, “Sh’merea World Transportation,” which she uses to transport people who want to visit their incarcerated loved ones around the state. The audience visibly responded to the heartbroken strains of Marquita’s musical choice, Wiz Khalfa’s “See You Again.”

Angela Woodson-Brice’s poem, “Beacon of Hope,” was a salute to the mothers and others who grieve; and a reminder to say the names of the children, gone but not forgotten; and a thank-you to the activists who work unceasingly in the name of Restorative Justice. 

I expected this evening to be informational and inspirational. It was further described as strong, uplifting, and beautiful. I have to say that it was all that and more.

(“Life Stories: Restoring Justice”  took place on May 25 at 1412 Main St. in Buffalo....formerly known as "Buffalo East.") 


PRISONERS ARE PEOPLE TOO

 On Sunday, June 25, Prisoners are People, Too (PRP2) & the Justice & Opportunity Coalition held a screening of the film "COINTELPRO 101" at Burning Books, located at 420 Connecticut Street in Buffalo. This film showed the direct and hurtful efforts made by J. Edgar Hoover and COINTELPRO against the Black Panther Party and other Black Nationalist groups that fought tirelessly for racial justice and liberation.Pictured above at the screening (left to right) Baba Eng, Karima Amin, Joe Hill, American Indian Movement supporter and Nate Buckley, co-owner of Burning Books.

 On Monday, June 26, PRP2held its Monthly Meeting, at the CAO’s Rafi Greene Center, 1423 Fillmore Avenue where they celebrated news of recent victories. PRP2 is 12 years old and proud of so much that has been accomplished in the last year. There have been frustrations and disappointments too but they have actually encouraged us to keep working for justice!

Blessed Ramadan!

By Imam Fajri Ansari

The month of Ramadan began on May 27th 2017. It is the month of fasting observed by 1 billion Muslims around the world. Ramadan is scheduled on the lunar calendar which begins and end at the sighting of the new moon in your region. Ramadan moves up approximately 10 days each year. All who are at the age of puberty, in good health, not traveling (or in case of women), not pregnant or on their menses are required to fast. Muslims will fast for a period of 29-30 days from sunrise to sunset abstaining from all foods and drinks and marital relations. In addition to abstaining from physical foods, Muslims are to be on their best behavior. Abstaining from negative environments, arguments, bad behaviors, bad deeds etc. which are equally important in that it could cause Muslims to break their fast mentally and spiritually.

Ramadan derives from a term which means “burning” or purification. It is a time to burn off your sins and get a complete cleansing. It is said by Prophet Muhammad Peace be upon him that “whoever intends to fast the month of Ramadan and completes the fast that all his/hers sins from the previous year will be forgiven”. 

Qur’an 2:183

O you who believe! Fasting is prescribed to you as it was to those before you that you may (learn) self restraint”

There are many benefits to fasting the month of Ramadan. The individual(s) who fast are drawn nearer to Allah (God) by increasing their sacred regard and reverence for The Creator and Sustainer of everything. There are great health benefits by allowing the digestive system that is usually overworked to thoroughly digest and clean waste out its system. The discipline of maintaining the fast increases ones patience and tolerance when socially interacting. Your senses are sharpened as well as your consciousness.

What is the fast for? Allah (God) says fasting is for Me! This serves one’s logic because God is the only One who knows whether or not you are keeping your fast. 

The focus on the fast should be to help those who do not have what others have. There are people who involuntarily fast throughout the year because they do not have food and even shelter. Muslims are to be more charitable during the month of Ramadan. Good deeds in AI-Islam are multiplied by 10 times…in Ramadan those good deeds are multiplied by a minimum of 70 times and greater.

The late Imam W. Deen Mohammed said regarding the fast of Ramadan,”It is to have us share what we have with those who have little or nothing. It is to go to the aid of the hungering and those who are poor and destitute who need help. It opens our heart to them and we help them. So fasting is for God. If the believer keeps his fast that way, then he benefits his own life more and he benefits the community more. But if he fast just because he says this is a law I have to fast or if he fast just because he knows when he comes off the fast after the month of Ramadan he feels better health-wise or he just feels good, that is not it…the purpose is too serious. The seriousness is a healthy community where people register the hurt and suffering of their brothers and sisters, so that is what God means.”

Fasting in Ramadan should not be an emphasis on how long you are fasting each day but more so on how well you are fasting each day. Prophet Muhammad said “Perhaps a fasting person will receive nothing from his fasting except hunger and thirst.” “Every action of the son of Adam is given manifold reward; each good deed receiving ten times it’s like, up to seven hundred times. 

Allah the Most High said except fasting, for it is for Me and I give recompense for it, he who leaves off his desires and his food for me, for the fasting person there are two times of joy; a time when he breaks his fast and a time of joy when he meets his Lord, and the smell coming from the mouth of the fasting person is better with Allah than the smell of musk. “

During the month of Ramadan Muslims also commemorate the time The Qur’an was revealed to Prophet Muhammad by the Angel Gabriel (Jibril). The entire 114 Chapters would take a little over 23 years to be revealed. Muslims are encouraged to read at least 1/30th of the Qur’an each day in Ramadan in order to complete the entire reading by the end of the month. The purpose of reading the Qur’an is to become closer to Allah’s (God’s) words. Muslims read to gain direction and instructions for Guidance, Forgiveness and for Mercy. At the end of the month of Ramadan it is expected the fasting believer is renewed and looks to begin life on a new start. There is a three day celebration called Eid al Fitr which means a “reoccurring happiness” and a return to your original human nature. Muslims have a feast and share gifts with families, friends and neighbors.

We encourage all to make prayers and supplications for those who are suffering from hunger, oppression, discrimination, violence, homelessness, ignorance and lack of education. Ramadan is an excellent time also for Muslims to educate family, friends and the community at large about the true tenants of Al Islam. Suicide bombings, kidnapping, forcing religion against one’s will, murdering innocent people etc. cannot be substantiated by Qur’an and or the life example of Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him).  One example is the term “Jihad”, which means a personal internal struggle to surrender your will to do God’s will, has now been redefined in the media as “Holy War”. Every person who identifies with a faith is to be measured by the revealed Book and God’s messenger they profess to follow. Not by what they do in the name of religion that’s merely self-serving. Temperatures for the month of Ramadan are expected to be hot and the fasting days are on average 16 hrs. Allah does not intend for the faster to have difficulty but to complete the fast. It’s important to drink plenty of fluids before and after day light hours. Remember that those who are ill, diabetic etc. are not too fast. Instead you can feed a poor person and stay in compliance with the fast.

 This year’s Eid al Fitr celebration is anticipated to around June 26th or 27th. Please look out for our celebration and join in with us as we plan to feed the neighbors at Masjid Nu’Man.

Ramadan Mubarak! Blessed Ramadan to all!