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Long Story Short: Friends, schools, and a couch

10/21/19



Angelo, by Bruce Adams

 

Remembering Angelo

I lost a friend and neighbor recently. It was a loss shared by many. Prior to being diagnosed with stage 4 cancer, Angelo D’Amaro had no idea he was sick. When I saw him outside our house a couple weeks after the diagnosis, he was noticeably thinner, but the broad smile that was so much a part of his personality was still present.

 

Family and friends

With his wife Annie, Angelo raised five girls, none of whom would follow him into the concrete business he built from the ground up. In appreciation of family, friends, and neighbors, Angelo and Annie hosted annual summer and Christmas parties at their home. He would frequently sing loud Italian songs while cooking for friends and family, braciola being one specialty. In winters, he often cleared snow from the sidewalks of the entire block. If you needed a tool, he’d loan one (even after you somehow messed up his power sprayer). People say he was always there if you needed him; “he never said no.”

 

Family was important to Angelo. He lived two doors down from us, so it was not uncommon in summer to hear the joyous sounds of Angelo chasing shrieking children around their pool. “Marco,” he would shout repeatedly. “Polo,” any number of kids would scream in return.

 

An immigrant’s tale
Angelo moved to Buffalo from Sicily in 1977, became a citizen, met Annie, married seven months later, raised a family, and worked crazy-long hours to build his business. When he and I would chat—often on his concrete front yard—he freely shared his homespun views. He was grateful for the opportunities his adopted country provided, opportunities he believed are too often taken for granted. He held that hard work is the path to success.

 

We agreed on a lot of things, but politics wasn’t one of them. Too often today, that can spell trouble. While we did have some spirited driveway debates and friendly Facebook scrimmages, our discussions never descended into acrimony. More so than me, Angelo gently expressed his opinions. My liberal friends are inclined to pigeonhole Trump supporters as mindless fools—or worse. I reject those sweeping characterizations based on my friendship with Angelo. For reasons I’ll never fully understand, he believed in a man I revile, but we could talk about it with civility, and I never questioned his character. On the contrary, his inherent decency caused me to question my own biases.

 

Gone but not forgotten

Angelo fought the disease spreading throughout his body with every fiber of his being, but before he even knew it was there, the cancer had metastasized. Still he remained optimistic. He held on longer than doctors projected, but it was just eight months from feeling fine to the end. He was 64.

 

His funeral was Saturday. An enormous crowd at Lombardo Funeral Home packed the room, spilling out into the hallway. “Angelo’s life revolved around all of you,” said one speaker on behalf of Annie, “and I promised him I would thank you.” In the end, his thoughts went to expressions of gratitude for others.

 

Speaker after speaker spoke of the man’s decency, generosity, kindness, and buoyant personality. Employees expressed devotion. The word love was mentioned more times than I can recall. His daughters told of making banana ice cream, snow purposefully sloped to the garage roof so they could sled down, constant DIY home renovations (frequently involving concrete), and Angelo’s devotion to his five grandchildren. There were heartfelt stories about the impact he had on others, and humorous tales of misunderstandings caused by his Sicilian accent. There were revelations too; he was a Tae Kwon Do blackbelt—wait, what?

 

Recalling Angelo’s kindness, one speaker said he felt compelled to pay it forward.

 

The lesson

“Carve your name on hearts, not tombstones,” said writer Shannon L. Alder. “A legacy is etched into the minds of others and the stories they share about you,” Angelo is etched in my mind, and the minds of many others, and in the hearts of those he touched. He lived large, and because I’m fortunate enough to have known him, I get to share a bit of his story.

 

 

No surprise in private school test results

Well here’s a shocker headline: State test results vary among WNY’s private schools. Not only does this Buffalo News story reveal that private schools—those that voluntarily participate in state testing—have widely divergent success rates, it also points to the reason: “Many of those lower-performing schools were in higher poverty areas in Buffalo, Lackawanna, and Niagara Falls, in contrast to the higher-performing schools, which are generally in wealthier communities.”

 

No revelation

In contrast to what many education “reformers” believe, decades of research repeatedly shows that the greatest single factor associated with student success is not the schools themselves, but family wealth. Poverty results in students with greater needs. And despite the widespread belief that private schools do a better job educating students, a 2018 comprehensive study revealed that this simply isn’t true. You get no educational bang for your private school buck.

 

Case in point

School leaders in the highest “ranking” private school, Christian Central, believe their success stems from “the school’s ability to integrate Christian teachings into all of its subjects.” That seems unlikely, since some of the lowest performing schools do the same. Rather, it stems from the fact that the school is located in Williamsville, has exceedingly small class sizes, and its students learn and use technology from an early age.

 

Christian Central is topped by an equally affluent public school, Lewiston-Porter, with other Williamsville public schools close behind. Other Christian schools are scattered throughout the rankings down to near the bottom, along with other public and charter schools largely in economically challenged communities—Our Lady of Black Rock for instance. There are no private schools at the very bottom of the list, because private schools are largely not in neighborhoods where they are economically out of reach for parents.

 

What’s the solution?

If private schools are not the answer to the education gap, what is? Eliminate poverty, and schools will achieve better results across the board. The mechanisms by which economic disadvantage impacts education are complicated and deeply entrenched, so reversing them might take generations. But that’s only if we actually choose to do something about the high rate of poverty within the wealthiest nation in the world.  Of course, that’s not likely to happen, so politicians will continue to blame “failing schools” for the problems of society.

 

 

West Side Bazaar moving

One of the biggest success stories to emerge out of Buffalo’s refugee community, is the West Side Bazaar, a nonprofit center housing refugee and immigrant-owned small businesses. Located on Grant Street and run by the Westside Economic Development Initiative (WEDI), it’s a melting pot of sights, tastes, and aromas. You can find unique handicrafts and other gifts, but the Bazaar is chiefly noted for the nine restaurants that serve an array of authentic ethnic foods.

 

The place has been so successful—especially with lunchtime crowds—that soon after opening eight years ago, it became evident that more space was needed. WEDI just announced that it found a new home for the Bazaar at 1432 Niagara Street, near West Delavan. Five times larger than the current building, the new location will provide plenty of room to expand, plus more storage space and space for new businesses and community resources.

 

The refugee effect

As is often the case with immigrant-run businesses, the Bazaar is expected to draw attention and foot traffic to this section of Niagara, which is slowly attracting new development. With the addition of the West Side Bazaar, other businesses will likely spring up. Niagara is also getting a mini makeover with new sidewalks and bike lanes, so look for this area to become another urban revival hotspot.  We’ve said it before; Buffalo’s refugee and immigrant community is one of our greatest assets.

 

Watch for the new Bazaar location to open in the Spring of 2021. In the meantime, you can still get your spicy Burmese noodles and Ethiopian injera at the old location, 25 Grant Street near Ferry.

 

 

A famous couch

It’s been fifteen years since the TV show Friends went off the air, but the weekly sitcom still holds a special place in the hearts of many who grew up throughout the nineties.

 

Last week, several local media sources announced that the iconic orange couch from the show’s Central Perk café, “where Ross, Monica, Chandler, Phoebe and Rachel wiled away the hours over 10 seasons” would be on display at Table Rock Center, overlooking the falls in Ontario. Details were scarce, but it was reported that Niagara Parks would “place the couch outside of Table Rock, at the brink of the Horseshoe Falls, then bring it inside to the Upper Grand Hall for the remainder of [last] weekend.” This was in recognition of Canadian Thanksgiving, in honor of one popular Friends episode where they coined the portmanteau word, “Friendsgiving,” meaning to spend the holiday with friends rather than family.

 

Summing up this breaking news:

The couch was placed on the brink of the Falls, then brought back inside. Seems banal enough, but keep in mind that, as couches go, this one is well-traveled. It’s already been to the Grand Canyon, England, Australia, South Africa, Germany, Dubai, the Toronto International Film Festival, the Venice International Film Festival, and many other places. It’s actually doing a world tour. And, like we said, several Buffalo media sources reported this, including WKBW and WGRZ news, and the Welland Tribune. But most missed one important detail … the couch is a replica (it’s not even made of the same fabric).

 

So, in short, a well-traveled so-so imitation of a couch seen on a hit TV show from the nineties was placed on the brink of the Horseshoe Falls, then brought inside. None of the media reports seem to know when the couch will be leaving for its next exciting destination.

 

Long Story Short is an opinion column by artist and educator Bruce Adams, a longtime contributor to Buffalo Spree.

 

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