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Making Buffalo Home

Making Buffalo Home | Community Conversations

Making Buffalo Home’s Community Conversations are a series of small, intimate, and thoughtful discussions with members of our community who may never have the opportunity to otherwise connect. Our goal is to create a setting and atmosphere that is conducive to deep listening and respect. The conversations are focused on a pre-determined topic or theme.

Community Conversation | New Americans and Law Enforcement

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Captain Steve Nichols poses for a picture after the meeting with two active members of the New American community.
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Police officers listen as New Americans share the misconceptions they have about law enforcement in America.
One of the participants talks about the police corruption and bribery that takes place in other countries.

“Let me tell you a secret,” says Captain Nichols, a community engagement leader in the Buffalo Police Department. “When a police officer gets in behind me, I get scared. Most cops do.” Laughter breaks the tension, and the fourth community conversation begins. Buffalo Toronto Public Media partnered with Michelle Holler from Journey’s End and the Office of New Americans in a community conversation between local Buffalo law enforcement and members of our refugee and immigrant community. The evening’s purpose was to share a meal and have an open dialogue aimed at discussing the barriers between the police and Buffalo’s immigrant community.

As the two groups sat down together, they shared the same desire for Buffalo to be a safe place to live. When refugees and immigrants come to Buffalo to make a new home, they bring their family, their food, and traditions -- but they also bring the trauma and lessons they’ve had to learn to survive. Cultural differences in parenting, domestic issues, and the criminal justice system were topics of discussion. Many come to Buffalo distrusting the police and government.

One of the immigrant leaders who assists newcomers in navigating the resources and services available to them explained that there are two types of refugees from his region: people who live in a refugee camp, and people who live in the city. “Urban refugees” who lived and worked in Malaysia for example, were under constant threat of arrest for not having proper identification on them at all times. Another man said that when he gets pulled over in his home country, he grabs his license and a hundred dollar bill. Almost everyone in the room from parts of Africa, Asia, and the Middle East could relate to that.

This is one of the language cards handed out to non-English speaking New Americans so police can connect with an interpreter for help during a call.

A lot of the evening was spent talking about how to contact the police in case of an emergency. When a new American is in trouble, their learned experiences from their native country may keep them from calling 9-1-1. “If you witness any crime, you are guilty of the crime,” said one participant. While many of the people in this conversation had eventually learned that they could trust Buffalo law enforcement through encounters like traffic stops, the apprehension to make that 9-1-1 call during an emergency remained. Captain Nichols agreed that some of that responsibility lies within the police department

Officers have been learning from their interactions with new Americans and making changes to accommodate their specific needs. Captain Nichols says the department holds community seminars that teach people how, and when to call 911. He talked about a meeting at the Westside Community Center, where this very conversation was being held, which focused on the bail process and how to advocate for yourself.

“From sitting in this room with a lot of different people, somebody just stops and said, ‘why don't you just come up with a card for us to carry’ and we actually did. We came up with a card that we pass out to all different communities, and we talk about how to use it,” says Capt. Nichols.

The card has many different languages on it that a non-English speaking individual can point to when encountering the police. Then, the law-enforcement officer can call the “language line,” a resource available to police, and ask for an appropriate interpreter.

The Buffalo police department requires all of the officers to receive training on the language line and to understand the language access plan. In addition, they’ve added more community officers to the ranks and encourage members of the new American community to apply to the police academy. Everyone around those tables expressed a desire for a strong and trusting relationship between the officers and those they swore to protect. The police want to reduce the fear of law enforcement and break down the barriers that might keep an immigrant from making a 911 call that could potentially save their lives. Captain Nichols encouraged the group, “You hear a noise in the house and you call 911, and it was just a cat. So what? Let us figure that out.”

Community Conversation | Finding Refuge in Buffalo

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A night of storytelling and celebration of Buffalo’s history as a home for immigrants and refugees.

How does the experience of new immigrants to Buffalo compare with those who came generations before?

Why is it important to share your family’s immigration story with others?

It was a night of storytelling and recognition of Buffalo’s rich history as a home for immigrants and refugees.

The evening commenced at Buffalo Toronto Public Media’s Horizon’s Gallery with the opening reception of “Finding Refuge in Buffalo”, a photo and essay collection by University at Buffalo’s Director of Journalism, Jody K. Biehl, and internationally recognized photographer Brendan Bannon. This stunning exhibit tells the stories of refugees and immigrants who came to Buffalo and explores questions of home, belonging, culture, and what it means to be American.

The night also highlighted Buffalo Toronto Public Media’s “Making Buffalo Home” project featuring videos and a tour of all you can explore throughout this site.

Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown joined the celebration, recognizing the work done by Biehl and Buffalo Toronto Public Media and addressing all immigrants and refugees who call Buffalo Home. “As Mayor,” he said, “I have made it a priority to do all that I can to protect the rights of immigrants and refugees and to keep Buffalo as an open and welcoming place for people to come and live out their dreams.”

Buffalo Toronto Public Media Senior Producer Lynne Bader and Jody Biehl welcomed Rubens Mukunzi, a former refugee from Rwanda who recently settled in Buffalo in 2013, and Joey Giambra, whose family emigrated from Italy in the 1930’s, to share their own personal immigration stories with the audience. What followed was a thoughtful conversation about the challenges of embracing a new culture, facing discrimination, and beginning life again in a new country.

The theme of sharing continued throughout the evening. The almost 200 attendees were encouraged to bring a family photo or memento to the event and share their family’s stories with each other. Volunteers were on hand to help attendees share their stories and add them to both Biehl’s database of immigration stories and the “Making Buffalo Home” project.

The evening included small plates and desserts from some of Buffalo’s finest ethnic eateries and concluded with everyone knowing a little bit more about each other.

We’d like to hear more about you, too. If you have an immigration story to share, please add it to our Share Your Story page, a collection of Buffalo immigration stories.

Community Conversation | What Does the American Dream Mean to You?

Is the idea of the American Dream unique to Americans, or is it a “Human” Dream?

Did your expectations of the American Dream meet reality?

In the second of a series of community conversations we are having as part of Buffalo Toronto Public Media’s Making Buffalo Home, we thought it would be a great idea to give voice to the younger generation. What happens when you get a group of foreign-born and American born teens together to talk about “The American Dream?” They talk about that, and a whole lot more.

The event brought together 15 teenagers from Lafayette International Community High School of Buffalo on the city’s West side and The Park School of Buffalo in Amherst, New York. It was an amazing experience for everyone who participated, even the facilitators, Principal John Starkey and Teacher’s Assistant Ygette from Lafayette, and Matt Johnson, Dean of Middle School and history teacher at Park.

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Making Buffalo Home's second Community Conversation brought teenagers together to share a meal and discuss the American Dream.

The day started with the students from both schools sharing a meal together at Lafayette High School’s Saturday Academy. With everyone well fed, the students gathered in deep conversation about their thoughts on the “American Dream” and explored a passage of the Declaration of Independence, where the concept of the American Dream came from.

The teens, from very different backgrounds and life experiences shared what the “American Dream” meant to them, if they felt the concept has changed since its creation, and talked about obstacles they face in achieving their own “American Dream.”
Some of the questions included:

  • Is the idea of the American Dream unique to Americans, or is it a “Human” Dream?
  • If you are new to America, what was your expectation before you got here?
  • Did your expectations meet reality? Why or why not?

The conversation also led to some insightful political thoughts, the concept of confusion about identity, what foods they missed from their home countries and a lesson on how to say “hello” in multiple languages. The actual conversation will remain private, however several of the students volunteered to be a part of a video sharing their experiences from the day. It is clear that the Lafayette International High School and The Park School of Buffalo students all had an enlightening experience. There are already talks about having the Lafayette students visit The Park School for a day.
Bringing together this group of foreign and American born teenagers to discuss an issue they are all working to understand helped them gain greater insight and mutual respect for one another.

From The Declaration of Independence

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed."

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About the schools:
Lafayette High School takes in most of the city’s growing number of foreign-born students and in 2016 was re-established under the Internationals Network for Public Schools model. This model has a network of innovative schools designed for English Language Learners. These schools provide high quality instruction, so that students are prepared for post-secondary education. At Lafayette, 100% of the students are foreign born and are all English Language Learners.

The Park School of Buffalo has the distinction of being one the oldest Progressive schools in the country. Park is an independent, co-educational school serving approximately 300 students enrolled in prekindergarten through 12th grade. Park’s educational philosophy embraces active, student-centered learning. From the preschool years through college preparation, The Park School of Buffalo helps learners realize their own unique potentials and prepares them to be confident, successful, life-long learners.

Making Buffalo Home - Teens talk about the "American Dream"

What happens when a group of foreign born teenagers gets together with a group of American born teens to talk about the "American dream" and what it's like to be a kid in America? They become friends and learn a lot about each other!

Community Conversation | Women's Rights Issues

Have you heard the term feminist? If yes, what does it mean to you?

How are roles of women and men defined in your culture or upbringing?

Not knowing what to expect, our first community conversation, tackled these questions and other women's rights issues. Buffalo Toronto Public Media’s Making Buffalo Home with help from Journey’s End Refugee Services, brought together immigrant and refugee women and members of the Buffalo and Erie County NAWBO (National Association of Women Business Owners.)

The experience proved to be a powerful, enlightening evening. Two different groups of women who may not have come together otherwise, shared a meal, read a passage, talked about thought-provoking issues, and learned a whole lot about each other.

Even after the discussion ended, the connecting did not. The participants stood around continuing the conversation, learning even more about each other, and exchanging business cards and phone numbers.

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Making Buffalo Home's first Community Conversation brought women together to share a meal and discuss women's rights.

The topic for the discussion was women’s rights issues in the United States and around the world, with sub-related topics such as motherhood and gender roles.

Canadian anthropologist Gillian Crowther says that commensality — eating and drinking together behind the same table — is one of the most important manifestations of sociality in all cultures. Eating together confirms the sense of belonging, being part of a community, so it was fitting our conversation began with a shared meal. The group then read a passage together, and participated in a discussion facilitated by Michelle Holler, New York State's Office for New Americans Immigrant Community Navigator.

The pre-selected passage was an excerpt from the book-length essay WE SHOULD ALL BE FEMINISTS that aims to give a definition of feminism for the 21st century by Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.

Some of the questions posed to the group of women were:
The author says, “gender is not an easy conversation to have, it makes people uncomfortable.” Do you believe that statement to be true? If yes, why?
Do you think women have the same rights as men?
Do you see/feel a difference in rights in the U.S. vs. your home country? If yes, what are the major differences?

The resulting discussion will remain confidential but proved to be enlightening for all involved. The women, who had not met each other prior to the Community Conversation, learned many new things. Commonalities were discovered among all American-born and immigrant/refugee women. In addition, women from the NAWBO group revealed that they even learned new things about their own members whom they had known for years. The evening proved to be a success in profound listening and learning from our fellow community members, those who were born here as well as those who are newer to making Buffalo their home.


by Chimanmanda Ngozi Adichie

Gender is not an easy conversation to have. It makes people uncomfortable, sometimes even irritable. Both men and women are resistant to talk about gender, or are quick to dismiss the problems of gender. Because thinking of changing the status quo is always uncomfortable.

Some people ask: "Why the word feminist? Why not just say you are a believer in human rights, or something like that?" Because that would be dishonest. Feminism is, of course, part of human rights in general - but to choose to use the vague expression human rights is to deny the specific and particular problem of gender. It would be a way of pretending that it was not women who have, for centuries, been excluded. It would be a way of denying that the problem of gender targets women. That the problem was not about being human, but specifically about being a female human. For centuries, the world divided human beings into two groups and then proceeded to exclude and oppress one group. It is only fair that the solution to the problem acknowledge that.

Some men feel threatened by the idea of feminism. This comes, I think, from the insecurity triggered by how boys are brought up, how their sense of self-worth is diminished if they are not "naturally" in charge as men.

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Featured Video

We Should All Be Feminists | TEDx Talk Video
WE SHOULD ALL BE FEMINISTS was adapted from Adichie's 2012 TEDx talk of the same name, first delivered at TEDx Euston in London in 2012. In this classic talk that started a worldwide conversation about feminism, Adichie asks that we begin to dream about and plan for a different, fairer world -- of happier men and women who are truer to themselves.

Making Buffalo Home is a two-year, in-depth Buffalo Toronto Public Media engagement initiative to inform and raise awareness of immigration for our entire community. The project aims to help the region develop a better understanding of the shared opportunities and challenges we face together as long-time residents and new immigrants and refugees.

Making Buffalo Home is funded by Rich Products Corporation and Rich Family Foundation.