After the mass shooting at Tops in Buffalo, leader springs into action

Our work doesn’t end when the headlines fade. We must talk about future plans for this community. To the public, please know that our community was experiencing disparity before this massacre. It has to change.

  • 8 months ago
  • July 21, 2022
5 min read
Black Love Resists the Rust and other organizations came together to distribute food after the mass shooting in Buffalo's East Side Black Love Resists the Rust and other organizations came together to distribute food after the mass shooting on Buffalo's East Side | Photo courtesy of Phylicia Brown
Phylicia Brown Black Love Resists the Rust
Interview Subject
Phylicia Brown serves as the Executive Director of the member-led organization Black Love Resists the Rust in Buffalo, New York. With a background in education and justice, she has served as a general and special education teacher, as well as an advocate for students with disabilities.

Brown joined Black Love Resists in the Rust in 2015 when the organization was called Just Resisting. She served as a member-leader and the chair of BLRR’s Advisory Board before assuming the role of Executive Director. Following the mass shooting at Tops Friendly Market in the East Side neighborhood of Buffalo, she has aimed to heal the community through the provision of food, mental health services, and donations.
Background Information
On the Saturday afternoon of May 14, 2022 the Tops Friendly Market in East Buffalo, New York suffered a domestic terrorist attack. The racially charged violence was executed by gunman Payton Gendron, wounding 3 people and killing 10. Gendron chose the Tops Market on Buffalo’s East Side specifically because of the predominantly Black population. 

The neighborhood’s food scarcity issue has gotten worse since the attack, leaving the community without healthy food access. Multiple Black and POC organizations and nonprofits are coming together to comfort and aid the community.

Black Love Resists in the Rust is a member-led organization that aims to abolish racial injustice and build an organizing community through leadership development and political education. The organization is currently assisting in efforts to collect food donations and offer mental health support for those affected by the shooting in the community.

BUFFALO, New YorkꟷI was out of town when I heard the news of the massacre in Buffalo. Despair consumed me. This can’t be real, I thought. That despair soon turned into anger and then, grief. This was my community. I had to get home to my people. Wasting no time, I took the next flight home to Buffalo.

When my plane touched down at the Buffalo Niagara International Airport, I did not go home. I leapt into action. So much needed to be done. I had to find ways to be there for my community. I checked in on family, friends, organization members, and everyone I could to make sure they were okay. They checked in on me in return.

Facing the new, harsh reality after Buffalo shooting

One of the hardest moments I recall was arriving at the Tops Friendly Market where the murders happened. Reality set in. I knew the people that were inside Tops; the ones that were killed.

I spoke with families and others impacted by the horrific crime. They told me stories of people who hid in freezers inside Tops while gunshots sounded. This was painful to imagine but even worse for those who lived through it. I needed to be there for other organizers, activists, and those close to me. Holding each other through trauma and tragedy while being there for the community felt excruciating.

Then, the calls started. I reached out to people I trusted, and those doing community work before the massacre even happened – organizations like Feed Buffalo, the African Heritage Food Co-op, Colored Girls Bike Too, and others. These are groups that have been doing this work for years – trying to solve problems and support the community long before the shooting.

With Tops closed, people responded actively, so we had to plan and coordinate an effort. We realized quickly that we needed to come together for this effort to be sustainable. Deciding each group’s roles and responsibilities allowed us to move forward in just two or three days.

Food availability, mental health, and elder care became priorities

We launched food pop-ups and called for volunteers. The African Heritage Food Co-op and Urban Fruits and Veggies delivered food to people in the community. The attack had caused some people to be scared to leave their homes, so we worked to bring food to them.

Food distribution began taking place immediately after the mass shooting in Buffalo that closed down the only grocery store on the East Side | Photo courtesy of Phylicia Brown

Mental healthcare also took priority. I talked to a team that deals with mental healthcare and we put together a system of connecting people to therapists. Our organization committed to paying for at least a year of therapy services and facilitating co-pays if the person had insurance.

We also thought about the vulnerable, like the elderly who lived at home and could not easily get around. We asked what they needed from us. This is an integral part of response efforts: knowing how to better assist the community from their perspective, rather than just throwing things at them to take. We connected with Open Buffalo to conduct canvasses. We have been doing this about three times a week since the massacre.

Our teams went door-to-door, getting people signed up for food delivery, mental health care, and other needs that have to be met. We compiled a list of those needs and worked tirelessly to figure out what other organizations and services can help fulfill them.

Sustaining to serve the community

Our work doesn’t end when the headlines fade. We must talk about future plans for this community. To the public, please know that our community was experiencing disparity before this massacre. It has to change. We must resolve the level of disinvestment in our community. There have been times when Buffalo’s East Side was thriving; times when it was full of black-owned businesses and spaces where black people could convene and be safe together. Now, we have a place where people are struggling just to survive.  

We must look to the future.

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