I Have Questions

I Have Questions

As they reopen Tops Friendly Market in Buffalo, Civil Rights Editor Leon Rice has questions.

by Leon Rice


Buffalo New York -- On May 14th 2022,  a white man opened fire at Tops Friendly Markets on 1275 Jefferson Avenue, executing ten people in cold blood. Tops Friendly Markets served two historically black neighborhoods in Buffalo – Hamlin Park and Cold Springs. The shooter engineered this massacre by scouting out the supermarket on may 13th, a  lone wolf reconnaissance mission to collect information on the setup of the market and the lay of the land. It appears his goal was to take as much black life as possible. 

The east side of Buffalo New York can be likened to Harlem in New York City, Bronzvillie in Chicago or Roxbury in Boston. The east side is the mecca for black culture in Buffalo New York.  Jefferson avenue was the main strip for black culture with its clubs, restaurants and movie theater. Jefferson ave was the hub for black owned businesses. The East side of Buffalo New York has produced many great people in all walks of life – the arts, sports, fashion, business, and academia.

Though I will not publicize his name or likeness, the shooter wrote a racist manifesto, spouting the race replacement theory being spurred on by White Nationalists and right wing news outlets(That's you Tucker). The Buffalo shooter is not the only one driven by this race replacement theory.  This disgraced ideology can be found online wherever white supremacists gather to share their ideologies.  Every day, radicalized domestic terror cells are plotting racist violence, even as I write this.

This shooter traveled two hundred miles just to end black lives, but let's not be fooled by the idea that he is not from Buffalo. Buffalo has its own homegrown racism. Let’s not be fooled by the label, the City of Good Neighbors.  Acts of terrorism are nothing new to black Buffalo. We can go back to the 1980 with the 22 caliber killer – Joseph Christopher. Christopher stalked and killed black men at point blank range with a 22 caliber gun.

We can also look at how black police officers are treated. Usually, when a police officer is killed, the entire department will go all-out to neutralize the killer, but not in this case.  A black heroic police officer got shot and killed trying to stop the madman. But his fellow officers talked the shooter down rather than killing him. If the shooter was black, he would have been shot on the spot. While white officers get awards and at-a-boys for talking a man down. These officers came on a scene of massacred black people and did nothing. When the “brother in blue” is a black man that “thin blue line” can get a bit blurry. This tells me that a black policeman’s life is not worth as much as a white officer’s.

Lt. Aaron Salter who at fifty five was a retired Buffalo police officer. Salter saved many lives by firing the shots that allowed others to get away.  Salter hit the shooter in the center of mass with his 9mm, drawing the attention onto the himself. Unfortunately, the 9mm rounds stopped in the shooter’s body armor allowing him to turn and kill the would be hero. Nevertheless, Lt Salter was a cop who cared about his community. He was an inventor, holding numerous patents, including one for the hydrogen engine that powered his 150 Ford pick up. Lt Salter was  also a husband, father and a family man.  Lt. Salter loved his community, and he loved to protect and serve them.

Ruth Whitfield was at eighty six a wife, a mother, a grandmother.  Mrs. Whitefield raised a number of prominent citizens, including the Buffalo Fire Commissioner, her son Garnell Whitfield Jr.. Whitfield was a devoted woman who was loved by everyone. Everyday she would visit the nursing home to see her husband Garnell Whitfield Sr. On this day, she stopped into tops to get food for her family. She never came home. Her son Garnell Whitfield Jr. was invited to Washington D C to tell the senate judiciary committee, implying them to do something to protect people of color against domestic terrorists.        

Roberta Drury, who at thirty two was the youngest victim of the gunman in the Tops massacre,  lost her life while shopping for her brother –  Christopher Moyer – who was recovering from leukemia and the side effects of bone marrow transplant. Deacon Hayward Patterson devoted his life to helping people. Patterson was always at Tops lending a hand to anyone in need,  driving people home with their groceries.  He was an active member of his church, including a daily soup kitchen. Deacon Patterson loved his community and he worked to serve them in anyway he could. Simply put he made the world a better place. Pearl Young, also known as Mother Pearl Young, was a fixture at the Central Park Food Bank that she ran. At seventy seven, Mother Young was still substitute teaching in the buffalo public school system.  Graduating from University Of Buffalo while raising a family, Mother Young stood as an example that it is never too late to go back to school.

Then there was Margus Morrison, a lively fifty two year old man who was a dedicated father of six. Morrison was at Tops that day picking up food to make dinner for his children  on that day he lost his life worked as a bus aide children love this man because he was about helping the little ones. Also Geraldine Talley, at sixty two was a beloved mother and sister whos Supreme Baker co workers remember as an angel who would “help anyone she could.” Or Celestine Chaney the 65 year old with a smile so bright she could light up a room. A mother and grandmother of nine, Chaney brought kindness and joy to everyone she touched, working two jobs: the M-Wile company making suits as well as the New Era Cap company. Then there was Andre MackNeil a fifty three year old father, son, who was in Tops to buy a birthday cake for his son.

Special mention must go to Kathine Massey who was known as the mayor of Cherry Street. Massey found her voice in the Civil Rights movement and was an activist in Buffalo's grass roots political scene Mother Massey wrote passionately about gun control in several Buffalo publications. A fearless community leader with strong ties to Buffalo's east side, she was on a mission to put an end to the gun violence in the city of Buffalo.  Massey worked every day to get illegal guns off the streets of Buffalo. She and her partner Betty Jean Grant completed many projects to uplift the east side of Buffalo.

After sitting in this funk for over a month, I have questions. 

How can an 18 year old who never served in the military pick up these paramilitary skills? Who taught him how to do reconnaissance? Did he learn this online? What did his parents do? Did they even know what he was up to? Did his parents know about the “Race Replacement Theory” by which he was radicalized? In my view this man silenced ten valuable and productive souls: each an important part of the fabric of Black Buffalo; each serving their community, giving hope and helping others heal. These citizens got up every day to make the world a better place. The real question is how do we heal from such a loss? How do we fill the void it has left in our hearts?

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3 min read
Worth the Lincoln Continental

Worth the Lincoln Continental

Leon Rice is a photographer and a life-long learner. After playing football in collage, Rice continues to work as a coach and in student services in Chicago and Buffalo.

Now it’s 1969.  I am in kindergarten and things are not going well in class. The teacher notices that I am not catching on as fast as my classmates. This is the first sign of trouble, a trouble that will continue through to my entire future. When you deal with dyslexia and ADHD, which often coexist, life can be tough for anyone. But it’s 1969, and we don’t know how to teach kids with different processing styles.

Add this to the equation: I am African American, living on the south side of Chicago in the “Golden Ghetto,” and there is really no room to be different. You see, my family is part of the Chicago black elite. My father is a mover and a shaker in the civil rights movement and part of the Chicago political machine. My mother is a social worker and a high-society Southern Belle. Then you add the fact that the rest of my family are all high achievers. My grandmother tells me,, “You better be worth the Lincoln Continental”—a tough standard to set for a child.

There is absolutely no understanding or compassion for failure or struggle. Later in my life, as an adult, I can better understand why it was that way. Black America had just come through the civil rights movement and there was a need to appear strong and show no cracks in the Armour. But now it’s 1969, and I learn to put up a facade of strength in this time of change. You only have to look at what’s been happening in the 1960's to see that Black America was in pain, trying to recover from a series of setbacks. The leaders of the civil rights movement have been assassinated, one by one. 

June 12, 1963, was a day that hit my family hard. June 12, 1963 was the day Medger Evers was assassinated in Greenwood Mississippi. My grandfather and Mr. Evers worked closely together at the NAACP. People said my grandfather was next on the Klan ’s hit list. The killings of  civil rights leaders just kept flowing like the Niagara river over the falls. On November 22, 1963, President John F, Kennedy was killed. Then 14 days after I was born, on June 21, 1964, Schwerner, Goodman, and Chaney were brutally murdered in Philadelphia, Mississippi. On February 21, 1965, Malcolm X was killed in Harlem. Then in Memphis Tennessee on April 4, 1968, at Lorraine Motel, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was killed. 

These events left the black community fractured and in pain. 

My family has to represent the strength of a whole movement and there is no room for weakness or excuses. The long arch of history is bending down, so our families sweep learning disabilities under the rug from a need to feel strong. In my family, education is just a given. You must have a Masters degree, at least, or you run the risk of letting the family down. Some families try to wish learning disabilities away or ignore them all together. My parents do the best they can, but it’s still 1969 and so before the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. The understanding just isn’t there. 

Most people take a more negative view of what’s wrong with me: He’s lazy. He’s a daydreamer. They accuse me through questions. Is he stupid? Being part of a high achieving family means I have a target on my back. I spend a lot of time getting laughed at or ridiculed or belittled. This actually turns me into a fighter. I learn to verbally pick people apart—the people who crossed my path in that way. Eventually, my vocabulary and my quick mind would become the one survival skill I have to level the playing field or, at least, level those who poked fun at me.

But now it’s 1969. The African American community does not want to talk about learning disabilities. They don’t recognize that the fight for equal justice applies to every realm of diversity. So we just accept the fact that a lot of black kids get left behind or caught up in the system. Learning disabilities and black male machismo is a mix that does not work. It does not work now and it will not work in the future, not even when I’m a grown man in my 50’s. We have generations of lost potential, suffering under the ignorance of our schools.

Nevertheless, my family is also my saving grace. My grandmother, my mother, my father, my aunts, my uncles: they do everything they can to help me. It’s heartbreaking to see their frustration over not knowing how.  

Now it’s 1971.  I am in the Chicago public system at my neighborhood school. The school isn’t all bad. Teachers have the wherewithal to realize that this kid needs some help. The help comes in the form of  a transfer to a new school, a “therapeutic” school which actually is helping some with math and reading. There are a lot of fancy machines used to teach, machines which in the future would be considered old, even quaint, assistive technology. To me it’s just a bunch of flash and pop for the parents, to show they have the tools. 

I am not saying tools aren’t necessary or good—they have their uses.  My life would change a lot when I finally got on a computer, but technology is no substitute for learning to read. I’ll understand this better when I’m an adult, I’ll learn that If an educator can’t relate the teaching to a student’s learning style, that student will fail somewhere between the age of 14 and 20. I’ll find out that teachers must understand how each person learns differently. When a person with dyslexia, ADHD, or autism, or whatever, has an educator who knows how to reach different students, the results are much better. We’ll all someday understand what would help a student like me. But now it’s 1971, and my school is missing by a long shot. My teachers had no idea how to reach a black male with a learning disability. 

My family starts to figure it out. My grandmother is an educator who believes in mastery—going over something, over and over again until you get it right. This is what will save me and get me through. My mother and my aunts use something I like to call the Rosetta method to help me with my homework. They help me get ready to read at the Sunday school play. I do not like to stay still and work but we make it though. I memorize every word so I can “read” that play.

My aunts on my father's side are also a great help.  One of my aunts, Dr. Georgia Jackson, is an educator, too. She helps when my mother goes into the hospital for the births of my siblings. She shows me ways to unlock math and reading problems. My dad makes me sit down at the table with my math book and go over and over and over again. It works.  Drilling over and over is the same way I learn the game of basketball, to perfect my skills and moves.

Now it’s 1974. Maybe it’s a lack of understanding, or that I’m being bullied, but I’m having problems socially. My parents are breaking up,  and I am in a bad space. When picked on, I fight back. My aunt always tells me to stay out of it, but that is not an option for me. I have to break down when things get crazy. I feel pushed and prodded and pressured.  There’s nowhere to turn for help or understanding. I have no black male teachers or counselors at my therapeutic school; my parents are divorcing, my world is changing. Even my God is in flux. I was raised catholic like my dad, but my mom tells me I am Methodist now. I just want my world to stay the same. When Sunday comes I’ll go to the Methodist church without a fight, but when I walk out I’ll go my own way.

I do the same thing after school. I walk out, hop on the train and go to the city. Sometimes I’ll go to City Hall, to my dad’s office, because I always know I can talk to him. There’s no understanding at school and what they’re doing does not seem to be helping. Out of frustration, I’ll just run away, but not far enough. Even that act catches up to me, and gets me labeled emotionally disturbed. This gets me sent to a children’s home another total academic failure.

The black students have no one to turn to, no one who understands the culture that we come from. The school had one black teacher, a female who was not allowed to have her own class. Even if she were allowed, she doesn’t fully understand the African American male students, and a lot of us just turn away. I don’t yet know that there are people at Harvard and the University of Chicago who are beginning to understand how to teach different learners. It starts with understanding the culture they come from. If you can’t reach us you won’t teach us. As the years go by, I’ll learn this, too.

Now it’s 2020, and I know I’m worth the Lincoln Continental. Always have been.

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4 min read
Eventually, it caught up to me

Eventually, it caught up to me

Leon rice continues to chronicle growing up in the shadow of the civil rights movement.

It’s 1971.  I am in the Chicago public system at my neighborhood school. The school was not all bad teachers had the wherewithal to realize that this kid needed some help. The help came in the way of  a transfer to a new, therapeutic school which was some help in math and reading. But there was a lot of fancy machines used to teach, which would now be called old or ancient assistive-technology. To me it was just a bunch of flash and pop for the parents, to show they had the tools. 


Now, I am not saying tools are not necessary or good  they have their uses.  My life changed a lot when I go on a computer, but technology is no substitute for learning to read. If the educator can’t relate the teaching to the students learning style, we know that somewhere between 14 and 20 will fail. To be effective you must understand how different people learn differently.When a person with dyslexia, ADHD or autism or whatever, has an educator who knows how to reach different students, the results are much better. The methods we understand today would have helped a lot. But my school in the early 70's, the school missed by a long shot. 


As a black male with an LD my teachers had no idea how to reach me. Nevertheless, my grandmother was an educator who believed in mastery -- going over something, over and over again until you got it right. This is what saved me and got me through. Something I like to call the Rosetta method which my mother and my aunts used to help me with my homework. I remember them helping me get ready to read at the Sunday school play. Now I tell you that I did not like to stay still and work but we made it though. I memorized every word so I could read that play.

My aunts on my father's side were also a great help.  My aunt, Dr Georgia Jackson, an educator herself helped me when my mother went into the hospital to have my siblings. She showed me ways to unlock math problems and reading problems. My dad used to make me sit down at the table with my math book and go over and drill my over and over again it worked.  Drilling over and over was the same way I learned the game of basketball and to perfect my skills and moves.

Perhaps it was the lack of understanding, or being bullied, but I had problems socially. My parents were breaking up, and I was in a bad space. When picked on, I fought back. My aunt always told me to stay out of it, but that was not an option for me. I would have to break down when things got crazy. I felt pushed and prodded and pressured.  At that time, there was nowhere to turn for help or understanding. Remember, no black male teachers or counselors at the therapeutic school, my parents devoicing, my world was changing. I was raised catholic like my dad, and now I was expected to switch to Methodist by my mom. I just wanted my world to stay the same. So when Sunday came I would go to the Methodist church without a fight, but then I would walk out and go my own way.

I did the same thing at school. I would walk out of school, hop on the train and go to the city. Sometimes I’d go to City Hall, to my dad’s office, cause I always knew I could talk to him. There was no understanding at school and what they were doing did not seem to help. So out of frustration, I would just run away. Eventually, it caught up to me, and got me labeled emotionally disturbed. This got me sent to a children’s home which was a total academic failure.

Even though people at Harvard and the University of Chicago were beginning to understand how to teach different learners, the black students had noone to turn to who understood the culture that we came from. The first key to reaching a child is to understand the culture from which he or she comes. The first key in being able to effectively teach them is the ability to reach them. The school had one black female teacher who was not allowed to have her own class. Couple this with the fact that even she could not reach or teach or understand the African American male students, and a lot of kids just turned away.

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1 min read