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Long Story Short: No fooling

4/1/19



 

A refugee’s tale

I spent a good part of last Friday with a twenty-three-year-old Somali Bantu refugee from Kenya who is assisting me with an art project. The day provided ample opportunity to talk.

 

Despite the fact that I'm a white atheist man well into his sixties, and she's a young black Muslim woman just graduating from Buffalo State College, we have become friends. Kawiye possesses an animated face that changes expression by the moment, telegraphing myriad thoughts and emotions. Friday was the first time I experienced her sprightly countenance full on, since she recently discontinued wearing the niqab that formerly covered all but her eyes.

 

I visited Kawiye’s home, where she is one of ten children. I admired the lushly patterned fabrics that line every wall and some of the ceilings, even covering windows, turning them into colorfully glowing rectangles, and transforming the house into something magical.

 

Though I have known her for over a year, I only learned Friday that Kawiye lives three houses away from my son and his family in the Grant-Ferry neighborhood. They chose that location partly because of the many cultures they encounter there. A Burmese family lives next door, a Native American around the corner, and children from several countries play in their yards with my teenage step-grandson and five-year-old granddaughter.

 

The conversation takes an unexpected turn

Buying a house is a time-honored path to building personal wealth. When you take out a home mortgage—especially for a low-cost house in a marginalized part of town—you naturally hope you’re investing in an up-and-coming neighborhood. But what does that mean? Less crime, better cared-for housing, an influx of new businesses? Who’s not excited by the architectural restoration of the tasteful Five Points development, with its laidback cafe, popular bakery, wine shop, and pilates studio? Or the area’s growing number of cool storefronts, like Rust Belt Books, Black Dots vinyl music, and Urban Roots nursery? The neighborhood is clearly on the rise. Good news, right?  

 

When I mentioned this to Kawiye, her expressive eyes grew large.

 

Not good for everyone

Rising property values may soon force Kawiye and her family out of their home. This young woman, who has experienced more forced displacement and suffering than most other US citizens will suffer in a lifetime, is likely to face even more, due to the good fortune of others. The irony is that it was the refugee community—through emigrating to Buffalo, starting businesses, and restoring decaying homes—who sparked much of the Grant-Ferry neighborhood’s revitalization.  

 

As Kawiye and I talked, I tried to convey the reason homeowners want property values to rise. These are not greedy developers, I explained, but everyday people who desire the best for their families. She understood. I understood.

 

It’s all about the G word.

 

Gentrification

Later that night, I talked to another acquaintance—a public school teacher—who moved to the West Side some years ago. The second night there, he told me, he and his wife were in bed when someone across the street emptied both barrels of a shotgun. Had they made a mistake by moving there?

 

Their decision to relocate is paying off now, as the neighborhood changes for the “better.” As Wikivoyage puts it, the “West Side is being colonized by upwardly mobile young people eager to reclaim a formerly marginal neighborhood.” This is ostensibly a positive development. And as this gentrification continues, my teacher friend’s investment will pay off.

 

I told him about Kawiye and her concerns. He understood. What benefits some people can disadvantage others, we agreed. It’s a complex problem. Kawiye understands too, but she can only feel concern for her community, her people who have been through so much, and the neighborhood they call home.

 

 

 

(Another) campaign flip-flop

Great news!

 

President Trump has decided “it’s time” to go big on Great Lakes cleanup funding. In a campaign speech Thursday in the swing state of Michigan, he had this to say: "I'm going to get, in honor of my friends, full funding of $300 million for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, which you've been trying to get for over thirty years. It's time. It's time. We've been trying to get it over thirty years. I would say it's time."

 

It was a good day for the Great Lakes, which of course impacts Buffalo. The Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI) is largely responsible for the Buffalo River cleanup, stormwater reduction, and many other projects that have positively impacted our region’s water quality and economy.

 

Except it’s all nonsense

The GLRI was started by President Obama in 2010, with a first-year budget of $475 million. Since then, Congress has spent on average $320 million per year on this program. Each year since his election, Trump has proposed either cutting this funding entirely, or severely reducing it (by ninety percent) as in his March 11 budget proposal (as reported in LSS). Congress has fought each year to restore GRLI funding to the budget. Although Trump’s oblivious supporters vociferously hailed their president’s generosity, the amount he is now promising is less than what was provided during the Obama years.

 

Taking credit where credit is undue

Trump’s proposed annual cuts to the program, have been vehemently opposed by environmentalists, area business groups, and bipartisan lawmakers. At his rally, Trump’s message was one of love and assurance. He claimed he always has supported the Great Lakes.  

 

The takeaway:

Trump must have realized that the Great Lakes states are crucial to his reelection bid. So, he did what he always does when speaking to his supporters; he lied. And his audience did what they always do; they cheered.

 

 

The great snack truck robbery

Last Monday, Joseph Tocco, a resident of Elmira, made national news when he robbed a Little Debbie snack delivery truck from a supermarket loading dock. The van—with keys left in—was unattended, making it a deliciously tempting target.

 

The chase was on

Elmira police sprang into hot pursuit. It took only about twenty minutes for officers to catch the alleged van-snatcher, because, well, he was driving a Little Debbie delivery truck, which if you think about it—and apparently Tocco hadn’t—is kind of easy to spot. The huge white vans are boldly emblazoned with the smiling face of a red-headed girl wearing a bonnet, and the name Little Debbie is inscribed across both side panels. In an all-points-bulletin situation, this is a very strong clue. 

 

Motive revealed

Tocco told police he had taken the unattended delivery truck so he could visit family and friends. Of course. Why else would someone steal a truck full of Honey Buns, Pecan Pinwheels, Fudge Rounds, and Nutty Buddys? Even Tocco was wise enough not to eat the inventory, which went untouched.

 

The takeaway:

What we are left to ponder is what reaction Tocco’s family and friends would have had when he arrived for a visit in a Little Debbie delivery truck. Would they admire his new ride? Would they even be surprised? Maybe this is just the kind of thing they expect from him. “That Joe,” they might say while admiring his pilfered stash of Zebra Cakes, “always full of surprises, that guy.”

 

Tocco was charged with Criminal Possession of Stolen Property in the third degree, a Class D felony.

 

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

 

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