A new generation is ready to fight against racism, bias and discrimination. A small group, from a variety of backgrounds, is working together to raise awareness and assist the National Federation for Just Communities of Western New York. WBFO’s Senior Reporter Eileen Buckley says they recently held a fundraising event called "Unite by Night" raising over $1,000 dollars to begin their journey.
Emily Perryman handed over a check to the leader of the NFJC. Perryman, who works at Trocaire College, helped organize a small, local activist group of friends.
“When we started we wanted to work with a non-profit organization, whose mission and values kind of aligned with our own and maybe, perhaps, we could expose to our friends, to our families, to our co-workers, who didn’t know what they do or what value they bring to this community,” Perryman said.
“Over this past year, especially with the election and all the divisiveness that came out of it, whether who you are affiliated with, in terms of party lines – just understanding this is not who we are as a country and not who we are community,” remarked Nii Sowah. He is with Northwestern Mutual and a friend of Perryman.
Sowah is a first generation American. His parents come from two different countries and he’s in an interracial relationship. He told us he was raised in the suburbs and did experience some forms of racism.
“Just being involved with people and your friends who may say things really not knowing that it can affect you. After a while you can kind of get used to it, which is not always the best thing and just have the opportunity to be a change agent and try to change the thought process of people sometimes and letting them know it’s not okay to make those type of comments and those conversations,” Sowah explained.
This unification coalition said they believe, by working together they can
“overcome differences” by understanding, respecting and trusting one another.
“It’s kind of a topic that people aren’t really willing to face,” said James Neiler. He works with Campus Labs and is part of the small group. He stresses you must not be being afraid to speak about the issues in a calm way.
“It’s something that can be discussed, but in a respectful way and just getting people to understand one another instead of becoming this kind of mud-throwing experience. I feel like there’s a lot of great conversation that can happen, even if people have different opinions,” Neiler noted.
“I have, throughout my lifetime, have experienced racism on a persona level and I have been treated unfairly,” responded Alisha Taggart Powell, a businesswoman operating a boutique in Kenmore.
Taggart Powell is thrilled to be a part of this advocacy group offering her experience woman of color.
“However, I think with the support that I have received in the community, with those who are against racism, because it is an ugly thing, and I think we do have create a dialog and start to talk about these differences, but also embrace these as well,” Taggart Powell explained.
Taggert-Powell encouraged one of her interns, SUNY Buffalo State student, Wayne Woodburn, to join the group.
Woodburn tells us as a young black male he has experienced some racism.
“Buffalo has its good days and bad days and I’m not going to judge the city by its negative aspects, because at the end of the day there’s always good and there’s always evil – there’s always good and there’s always bad and my personal experience, when I first started driving, my family got together and they explained to me the things I should say and shouldn’t say, always keep your hands in clear view – always speak properly – yes sir, no sir – those are the only words you need to know,” Woodburn commented.
“Buffalo, as a city, is still the sixth most segregated city in the United States and that says a lot,” responded Kara Oliver, program specialist for the NFJC. She has been working alongside with the group.
Oliver points out the growth of Buffalo’s immigrant and refugee populations is changing our diversity.
“It’s a dichotomy here – we’re the sixth most segregated, but we’re also a community and a big city of neighbors and it’s hard to just classify it and say ‘well Buffalo is just a negative place’ because it’s not. It’s actually a very rich place with a lot of cultures, but there’s a lot of work that needs to be done,” Oliver responded.
The NFJC’s mission is to work to promote respect and understand of all races, religions and cultures. It provides advocacy, education and conflict resolution.
“That there’s an untapped energy out there. That we need to try to find a way to harness and bring together,” stated Rene Petties-Jones, who leads Community Engagement at NFJC. She’s is working directly with this new group.
“Have you experienced racism in your own life?” asked Buckley.
“Oh yeah. I don’t think there’s anybody who hasn’t, if they really stop to think about it unfortunately. It comes in different ways. It comes in different forms. Certain things that you try to put behind you – you don’t want to think about them as being racist, but it’s just a bias that people come and bring and it’s just what they tend to do with it and how they react with it and move forward is what makes the difference,” replied Petties-Jones.
“We’re not going to change all minds. We just want to change the majority of the minds,” remarked Lana Benatovich, NFJC President.
Benatovich said it might be "baby steps", but it is a move forward in improving racism, bias and discrimination.
“We can’t do it alone as an organization. We need the message to get out there. We want everybody, who is in this community, to just grow with us – and go with us – because we cannot do it alone,” Benatovich declared.
WBFO asked those from the group what racism means to them. You can listen to their responses.