Our theme for the month of March is “cities.”
Wherever you live, you’ve seen a lot of Buffalo in the news this year. On May 14th, a racist gunman opened fire in one of our neighborhood grocery stores, killing ten members of our community. That shooting was just two miles from my apartment, and sent deep waves of shock and grief through my work family—I’m employed by a competing supermarket and this one hit too close to home.
I was at home in Pennsylvania when I got a call telling me what had happened. That call jerked me painfully from a sweet, late-spring evening on the deck to make the quick drive up 90 back to Buffalo. The following days were spent comforting employees, connecting with our Asset Protection teams, and connecting our team with trauma counselors. It was another trauma after two stressful years of working the front lines of grocery retail during a pandemic, and I could feel the exhaustion radiating from our team.
Our city spent the summer recovering and memorializing and working always to undo the painful impacts of historic segregation in our city. I’m so proud of the conversations that have followed May 14th, and for the work this City of Good Neighbors has committed to doing, together, street by street, house by house, heart by heart.
When fall turned to winter, as it so quickly does here in Buffalo, my skier’s heart was ready for the walls of lake effect snow to roll off of Lake Erie, down across the Boston Hills, and onto my beloved mountain. What we got instead were two historic storms in less than a month, one of which killed forty-seven people. Honestly, I didn’t know that snow could do that. This winter has taken my playful love of snow and cold and made it something that seems wildly insensitive, even cruel to speak of with anything but solemnity and contempt.
And when we emerged from that second storm, and settled in on our couches for a Monday night football game that was supposed to offer distraction and respite from city-wide grief, we were instead met with a horrifying scene as one of our players received CPR on national television. My dad called me while we watched in silence and I said, “I don’t want to live here anymore.”
While confirmation bias can conjure black clouds that aren’t really there, no objective outside observer could say that Buffalo hasn’t been through the wringer. As my adopted hometown, there have been times when I wanted to uncouple myself from its fate, but these people and this place are undeniable in their pull. From the blue-collar Irish and Polish immigrants in the southtowns to the table crushing Bills fans in Orchard Park to the culinary creatives who fill downtown with everything from great BBQ to handmade pierogi, to the vibrant community of immigrants, who in their truly remarkable fortitude have made Buffalo a second home. This place, these people are impossible to abandon.
They call it the City of Good Neighbors. That must be why we have a Facebook group dedicated to organizing snow removal for elderly or home-bound neighbors. That must be why, in the wake of 5/14, people started showing up with food and water and necessities because they needed a way to help. That must be why we all got CPR certified and gave over $9 million to Damar Hamilin’s foundation after his collapse. That must be why the guy who accidentally cut me off in the Tim Horton’s parking lot paid for my coffee (I wasn’t even mad).
Maybe everyone feels this way about their city… I don’t know, but I do know that of the cities I’ve lived in, Buffalo is the only one that ever really felt like home. A small town disguised as a big city that generations have kept as one of the world’s best secrets. Here’s hoping that the coming year won’t have us working so hard to prove our strength, or why this place is so special. If you ever want to visit and see for yourself, just let me know, I know a great spot for chicken wings…
Ansley Kelly (’16) makes her home in Buffalo, NY, where she delights in short, sweet summers spent sailing and long winters spent skiing at her favorite mountain. Between outdoor adventures, you can find her buying books more quickly than she can read them and indulging in mid-morning naps. She works for Wegmans Food Markets where she finds purpose and joy in feeding her community and the wider world.