Post-Reflections on the Buffalo, New York Shooting Massacre

Discerning the Content of my Heart

As a little girl, the Walnut Park Fred Meyer’s felt more like church or a mini family reunion rather than a grocery store. Centered at the heart of our small Black community—laughter, joy and service stocked shelves and overstuffed aisles. 

I witnessed the practice of unconditional love and collective care of community members piecing together dollar bills and quarters to help pay for an elder or single mother who may have found themselves a little short when the cash register totaled up. I remember getting an earful of the latest gossip at the deli counter and witnessing deep inhales of sage wisdom being taken in like the smell of fresh bread floating around the bakery—Black folks know how to love well.

In the parking lot, I saw the assembling of impromptu circles. Huddled close together was anything ranging from prayer huddles, quick Holy Ghost shouts or somebody’s little cousin getting down with the latest dance moves with cheers of “go, Johnny, go, Johnny, go-go-go!” Black people know how to respond in the moment, be that a crisis, a breakthrough, or simply the release of pure joy and delight.

You never knew who you were going to see but you always knew you would be seen, safe, and secure—this is no longer our shared truth anymore.

Before May 14, 2022, Tops Friendly Market in Buffalo New York was another grocery store in our country that held the heartbeat of a tight-knit community that embodied the sacredness of belonging. 

It will never be or feel the same again.

In honor of those whose lives were taken in yet another heartbreaking racial massacre, I wanted to take a moment to say their names and dig a little deeper into who they loved and what brought them to the store the day their lives were snatched away.

Roberta A Drury, 32, moved to Buffalo eight years ago. She dedicated much of her time to helping her brother with his leukemia treatment and assisting her family with running their restaurant.

Margus Morrison, 52, went out to buy snacks for a weekly movie night he had planned with his wife and his stepdaughter. Morrison was described as a “hero” to the family who took on a lot of responsibilities and helped provide for his mother, who is disabled.

Andre Mackniel, 53, was picking up a surprise birthday cake for his son who just turned 3 when he was shot and killed.

Aaron Salter, 55, the “hero” security guard, who engaged the suspect but was fatally shot, was a loving son and greatly respected by the community he loved and served.

Geraldine Talley, 62, was doing her regular grocery shopping with her fiancé on Saturday when she was shot and killed. She was in charge of her family reunion and she loved cooking and getting her family together.

Celestine Chaney, 65, was a grandmother to six and a loving and caring person, her grandson said. Celestine was known as a fighter. She beat breast cancer a few years ago and had also battled three brain aneurysms—but always fought her way through her health problems. Her family and friends are devastated to lose her this way.

Heyward Patterson, 6,  was waiting for passengers outside the supermarket Saturday in his taxi cab when he was gunned down. He was a local Deacon and was known to be a protector and someone you would love to just have around you.

Katharine Massey, 72, known as “Kat,” was a city advocate, activist, and thoughtful writer who often wrote about issues affecting her beloved Buffalo community. Just a year ago Massey wrote a letter to the editor of the Buffalo News urging federal action to prevent needless shooting deaths. Massey was committed to making her city better; she recently participated in a rally against illegal guns.

Pearl Young, 77, was a substitute teacher and a “true pillar in the community,” her family said in a statement. Mrs. Young never shopped at Tops, her sister-in-law stated, but she dropped her off there Saturday after a prayer breakfast at church because it was the nearest supermarket.

Ruth Whitfield, 86, was visiting her husband at a nearby nursing home, as she did each day. She had stopped at the supermarket to buy some groceries.

And the people wept, gathered, and began to move forward again. Within hours of the shooting, everyday people began organizing to help the shooting victims and their families. Many have launched campaigns on GoFundMe; the crowdfunding platform has now set up an official page of verified fundraisers whose proceeds will go to the individuals and families affected. 

We will do what we gotta do to move forward AND this pervasive traumatic tragedy is not an isolated incident but the now acceptable terror we as Black folks must live with. It’s exhausting, it’s scary, it’s painfully numbing, and it’s the newest addition to my “not safe while being Black list.”

Despite gentrification, urban renewal, and living miles away from my childhood neighborhood, I am still a daughter of NE Portland and have tried to still operate the way I was raised. Greeting fellow shoppers with a big smile, doting over a stranger’s newborn baby, or, (my new favorite), making a Sistah Girl connection in the newly ethnic hair care aisle—I too know how to love others well but I feel my neighborly well drying up fast.

This week, when I walked into my local grocery store my smile, was not big and my generous heart was not open. I came into the store triggered-the-post-traumatic-up. I moved through the aisle quickly—not my normal leisurely lingering pace. Determined only to make contact with the items on my shopping list—not the people in the store, not anyone white and male, especially anyone white and male. 

I am thousands of miles away from Buffalo, New York, but the closeness of this attack is visceral. The palpable hatred and systemic white assault against Black bodies are still alive and operating well. Right next to my neighborhood Starbucks a white supremacist group was stationed for days proudly displaying and selling their confederate flags, Trump 2024 swag, and other hateful paraphernalia.

While it was disturbing I was not surprised—not much surprises me these days. I appreciated their visibility, at least I could see what they were up to, but what about those I can’t see? What about those with calculated schemes and privileged strings that keep them propped up?

The Payton Gendrons of the world don’t appear out of thin air. They are groomed, raised, resourceful, and unchecked. 

With each attack against Black bodies locally and nationally it is taking me longer to bounce back. When a wound keeps getting hit and reopened in the same place over and over again it takes longer to heal. These half-healed racial wounds of ours keep getting struck wide open.

Is it safe to say the new normal in this country is terror, chaos, violence? 

Another school shooting at Robb Elementary in Uvalde, Texas killing 19 chidren and 2 adults? Another racial genocide? Another police murder?

How are we to survive this?

Will we survive this?

Can this be survived?

I know I can’t and won’t get through this by myself. 

Only something and someone supernatural is keeping me together.

Complex trauma is a real thing y’all—most of us right now are stuffing down or numbing out.

For me I’m learning I have to lay out the content of my heart one loss at a time. 

I have to take the time to slow down to connect honestly and openly with the pain in front of me. Not the newest headline right away but the one that is still vexing me.

Sometimes that happens within impact or earshot of the injury.

Sometimes it takes months—even years to allow God to unlodge the content of the trauma, the impact, the conditioning.

So I’ve been asking God how are we supposed to respond? It is literally mentally and emotionally too much to bear. I’ve been asking him to show me the content of my outraged, weary, and grieving heart. And what I’m finding is that there are more questions than answers. Questions like:

  • How do you live, like simply going to the grocery store in a country where you are always seen as the threat, the thief, and now the moving target? 
  • Am I supposed to just expect and accept this will be the conditions we as Black folks must navigate?
  • How can we continue to sing a song to the Lord in this strange and dark land?
  • How long do I grip tightly my righteous anger and when do I swing and cling onto the redemptive power of hope?

I haven’t been given a key scripture or rhema word. But in moments where I’m able to get still and quiet—I’ve been hearing whispers of rest, recover, retreat and be . . .

Be with the feelings.

Be with your people.

Be close to me.

Each day is an intentional practice of keeping my joy, calming my nerves, and cultivating my peace—the kind my elders use to say “that surpasses all understanding.”

I think I know what they were talking about now.

Lord, God, give us that peace.

Velynn Brown

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