On May 14 Houghton College commencement speaker Gabriel Salguero (pictured with Dean Julian Cook) had the audience of the Houghton College Class of 2022 Graduation singing with joy, laughing with abandon, and imagining with wonder what the future could hold when guided by courage. Gabriel reminded graduates of their having come through a pandemic and through intensified racial reckoning like a “winter of discontents” or like C.S. Lewis’s Narnia where it’s “always winter but never Christmas.” Inspired by the challenge of the Apostle’s Paul’s resilience and fearless devotion, Rev. Salguero challenged us to live faithfully. With spirited exuberance and wide smile, he led the graduates and then the audience in singing with buoyant hope on a warm day in May, “Feliz Navidad…I want to wish you a Merry Christmas!”
Mother of one of the graduates bought ice cream on the trip back home for our whole vanload of passengers. We were having a delightfully wonderful day.
But terror struck. As we returned to Buffalo and pulled into the King Urban Life Center parking lot at 3:30, we were jolted by shocking news of horrific tragedy that had devastated the East Side an hour before. Patricia received a call, “Don’t go to Tops.” A mass shooting had killed precious lives and injured others at the neighborhood grocery store just over a mile from where we sat. Astonished, we told each other to take care as we said our goodbyes and parted ways.
Grief and trauma gripped the community as the insidious motivation became evident with crushing clarity: the murderous attack was motivated by intentional antiblack hatred fueled by white supremacist indoctrination. The shooting at the Tops supermarket in a predominantly Black community of Buffalo, that left 10 dead and at least three injured, was one of the deadliest racist massacres in recent American history.
That evening at 6:30, Michael Farrow led worship and Pastor Barbara Farrow spoke on God’s healing. A young person thought three persons had been shot, and when he heard “ten,” he visibly shook and asked, “how do I know they won’t come after me?” Following Grace Community worship and supper, we joined in prayer for people of the East Side. A family with three children had come by bus and needed transportation to their home on Riley St. just blocks away from the Tops. Flashing lights of emergency vehicles lined the streets, and Riley was blocked off by law enforcement officers. I rolled down the window to request permission to drive them to their door since the tragedy had shaken them. The police spoke comforting words to the family, and once I dropped them off, the officers acknowledged what a mass shooting does: it leaves a city grief-stricken and traumatized.
Prayer and Action
The next day at an interfaith prayer gathering Rev. Julian Cook challenged the congregation that our purpose was a call to prayer and engagement. Among faith leaders and government officials who spoke at a 4 pm service, Attorney General Letitia James broke into song, to express faith that God working through us can bring justice: “You are Waymaker, Miracle worker, light in the darkness, my God, that is who you are.” That same afternoon, Pastor Yoshua Bashizi led a time of significant prayer with families in Mission of Christ congregation who had been rocked the month before by news of a 26-year-old Congolese man Patrick Lyoya shot in Grand Rapids. Having come through trauma as refugees, these newcomers wrestle as they witness antiblack violence in the U.S.
Buffalo Grad Celebration
A week later, Saturday, May 21 at the Forbes Theater, twenty-one Houghton College Buffalo graduates celebrated locally. Student speaker Patricia Davis expressed appreciation for her educational opportunity, and Jannatul Noshin challenged graduates to build their lives on the Rock, quoting Matthew 7:2427. President Wayne Lewis began his address by naming and honoring the ten deceased victims of the shooting. Sharing personally from his own life, he inspired graduates to strive for their best to contribute through service in a broken world. Drs. Charles and Claity Massey also were presented Houghton medals of honor. College founder Willard J. Houghton signed his letters, “Yours for fixing up the world,” and President Lewis remarked: “As a result of Claity’s and Chuck’s investment, Buffalo is a better place to live and learn. Thousands more people are flourishing because of their lives and investment in the people of the City of Buffalo. Education, health, economic, and spiritual needs are being addressed and Jesus’ unconditional love has been demonstrated.”
Jericho Road Community Health Center
While no patients or staff of Jericho Road were killed in this targeted shooting, the tragedy continues to shake the Jericho Road staff deeply whose families and friends live, shop, work and go to school in this community. Staff care has involved making space to grieve and process our feelings and trauma due to the lineage of violence that African Americans have endured for generations. We continue to create space for patients to do the same. Jericho Road also recommits itself to serve the vulnerable and marginalized, and to strive not only to be free of racism, but also actively anti-racist.
God of us all, at this most difficult time in our beloved community of Buffalo, we thank you that we are not
alone. When trouble comes near, you come nearer, ready to help. May the light of your love fill our hearts, as
we repent of all that divides us, and rather are unified in genuine hope. May we be bold to re-imagine a world
where we not only wish for but act decisively to bring about needed change as we receive from you strength
and comfort, and pursue justice for all. This we pray in your name of Love,
Steve & Ruth Strand
Urban Advocacy Team