June 02, 2022

At Buffalo rally, education unions stand up to hate

Author: Matthew Hamilton
Source:  NYSUT Communications
unity rally
Caption: A CALL FOR UNITY AND ACTION. L-to-R: NYSUT President Andy Pallotta; NYSUT Secretary-Treasurer Philippe Abraham; AFT President Randi Weingarten; NYSUT Executive Director Melinda Person; Buffalo Educational Support Team President JoAnn Sweat; NYSUT Second Vice President Ron Gross; Transportation Aides of Buffalo President Freddie Smith; and Buffalo Teachers Federation President Phil Rumore. Photo by El-Wise Noisette.

As a Black teenager in the wake of the racially motivated mass shooting at a Buffalo supermarket, Brooklyn Bullock worries for her safety at school, at grocery stores, at the mall and even at home. Just as worrying is that nothing has changed in the weeks since 10 people in her city were murdered May 14.

“In fact, many politicians and political leaders seem to be too busy regulating people’s bodies that they’re forgetting about the people who are already here breathing and living,” the tearful Buffalo high school junior told a crowd of hundreds of educators and community members rallying Thursday afternoon at Martin Luther King Jr. Park. “It really seems like my life doesn’t matter to those people, which makes me equally as scared of them.”

The education community rallied around Bullock and the people of Buffalo to stand up to hatred and bigotry following the mass killings at a Buffalo Tops supermarket and at a Texas elementary school just more than a week later. Speaker after speaker, from NYSUT President Andy Pallotta and American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten to Buffalo Public Schools Interim Superintendent Tonja Williams and Board of Education President Louis Petrucci, called for communities to come together in this moment and fight for change — for each other and for their children, like Bullock.

The rally was held just as state lawmakers in Albany were wrapping up their final scheduled day of the legislative session with planned passage of a package of measures to strengthen the state’s gun laws. Meanwhile, in Washington, debates over federal gun measures are reaching a boiling point as March for Our Lives plans a series of June 11 rallies around the nation and NYSUT, AFT and the National Education Association — among countless others — step up pressure on Congress to act.

“Let’s say, ‘Lookit folks, you take action like we’re demanding, or we’ll remember in November and you won’t be sitting here in your cushy little seats anymore,’” said Buffalo Teachers Federation President Phil Rumore, whose union passed out orange ribbons to the crowd to honor those killed or injured by guns and raise awareness about gun violence. Rumore organized the rally on the eve of National Gun Violence Awareness Day on Friday and Wear Orange Weekend, which runs through Sunday.

Photo Gallery

Photos by El-Wise Noisette.

unity rally

To address the scourge of community and school violence head-on, NYSUT has launched the Safe Schools for All initiative. While this effort was established prior to the most recent tragedies, the events of recent weeks have made this work even more crucial. The union is calling on all members to get involved and do whatever possible to lend a voice to this cause.

The need is great. The racially motivated Buffalo shooting — compounded by the senseless murder of 19 students and two teachers in Uvalde, Texas — has hit the education community hard. Three members of the NYSUT family were killed in the May 14 shooting: Margus Morrison of Transportation Aides of Buffalo, Pearl Young of Substitutes United/Buffalo, and Aaron Salter Jr., a heroic retired Buffalo police officer and former substitute teacher and member of Substitutes United/Buffalo.

MAKE A DONATION. NYSUT has established a scholarship fund that will support the family members of the shooting victims as well as high school seniors who live in the neighborhood (ZIP code 14208) and are graduating and heading into higher education now and in the coming years. Please consider joining this effort to turn tragedy into something positive for the young people who will never forget neither the events of May 14, nor the generosity of those who stepped forward with meaningful support. NYSUT has chosen Say Yes Buffalo, an education-focused nonprofit in Buffalo that administers a city-wide scholarship program for all graduates of public and charter high schools, to partner with us to administer and this fund. Learn more and donate.

“If we don’t come together in solidarity, more and more things are going to happen, and people are going to copy after other people and see how many more people they can kill,” Transportation Aides of Buffalo President Freddie Smith said.

Added Substitutes United/Buffalo President Shirley Sapp-Burgess: “We need to come together as a group of people — not white people, not Black people — we need to come together as a group. We need to let the city, the state, the country know that racism is not going to be tolerated.”