5/14 Remembrance: Garnell Whitfield Reflects on Healing and Focusing Forward

May 14, 2022. A day that forever changed Buffalo when a gunman targeted our community and killed 10 people and injured three more based on the color of their skin. Two years later, we look back still feeling the hurt, pain and anger while focusing forward on healing and creating meaningful change.

“As we’re talking about healing, and we’re talking about moving forward in a collective way, in a communal way, we have to make room for different opinions and different perspectives,” said Garnell Whitfield, whose beloved mother, Ruth, was killed that day.

In the days following the shooting, the Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo and the United Way of Buffalo and Erie County, in collaboration with 14 other funders, announced the Buffalo Together Community Response Fund (BTCRF), and were overwhelmed by the outpouring of support from individuals, foundations and businesses from across the country.

Co-chaired by Dr. LaVonne Ansari, CEO and Executive Director of the Community Health Center of Buffalo, Inc., and Thomas Beauford, Jr., President and CEO of the Buffalo Urban League, in July 2022, the BTCRF shifted from addressing immediate needs to a long-term strategy to accelerate the revitalization of East Buffalo. Their first action as co-chairs was to create a steering committee made up of community leaders and one of those invited leaders was Garnell.

“The reason I accepted the appointment is because I saw it as an opportunity to be a part of the change that I want to see in my community,” Garnell explained. “The Steering Committee is made up of a wide range of the leaders from our community, who bring different ideas, skills and connections to the table, maybe in a way it’s never been done before.”

Garnell says even though we are still dealing with the same issues that led up to May 14, 2022, he has seen gradual change.

“May 14th gave us a different way of looking at things. And it put those issues in the forefront so we can see them a lot better now. There had almost become acceptance of doing things separately and apart, that subjugation, disenfranchisement, and the way this community has been treated was a way of life because you don’t know any differently. May 14th gave us an opportunity to shine light on all of these things.”

As the BTCRF prepares to share the investment strategy they have been working on, Garnell sees more accountability, both within the BTCRF and within the community.

“We are thinking in a different way. We start seeing that whole community, and we become open to understanding that singularly, we’re not the solution. Collectively, we have power. We’re stronger together. That’s just the bottom line.”

The hope is that this collective work made possible by the generosity that came out of a dark day will contribute to a vibrant and equitable Greater Buffalo region where every individual thrives.

Click here to learn more about the progress of the BTCRF in this Buffalo News article published on May 12, 2024.

Garnell (left) is pictured here with Thomas Beauford, Dr. LaVonne Ansari and Felicia Beard, Associate Vice President, Racial Equity Initiatives at the Community Foundation, at a Community Foundation event, where they spoke on a panel about the Buffalo Together Community Response Fund.