Making Buffalo Home
Community Filmmaker Series

Making Buffalo Home’s Community Filmmaker Series are stories filmed by community members. The video series gives community storytellers a platform to share their unique perspective on culture, identity, traditions, community and making Buffalo home. And they share these perspectives in their own voice.

By turning the role of filmmaker over to individuals we are able to capture the diversity our community from the perspective of the residents. The Community Filmmaker Series is also a meaningful way for Buffalo Toronto Public Media to more closely connect with the community and involve the public with Making Buffalo Home.

Want to become a community filmmaker?

We are looking for community filmmakers to help capture the diversity of our community. Whether you have a little experience in video production or are an accomplished filmmaker, we'd like to hear your ideas. Call the Making Buffalo Home Community Filmmaker project coordinator Beth Fronckowiak at 716-845-7006 or reach her by email at

Community Filmmaker | Beri Wais
Making Buffalo Home

Community Filmmaker | Beri Wais


Community filmmaker Beri Wais, a refugee from the war in Syria, now makes Buffalo home.

Back in 2010, life in Syria was stable and normal. It was a beautiful country, as it had been for many years. I loved going to school and visiting with my friends. The weather is great and the countryside is beautiful. We used to spend a lot of time on the farm in the summer with my extended family.

I was 18 in 2011 and dreamt of continuing my education. I always wanted to travel for leisure or to study. Instead, civil war broke out in my beautiful country, and there was no place left for life. It was all about taking people’s lives.

We had no choice but to flee the horrible situation or risk being targeted by militias. Many of my friends and family were not willing to leave, but I knew this was the only way to stay safe. We fled to our family farm in a very rural part of Syria for safety, but that didn’t last long. I witnessed airstrikes and bombing close to us. I knew it wouldn’t be long before the fighting and destruction entered our very remote area.

My two sisters and I, along with my aunt’s family, fled to the Kurdistan Region. We entered Kurdistan as asylum seekers and struggled. The bordering countries were economically unstable and filled with fighting. We lived there for almost four years with other members of my family. Finally, in late 2016, my sister and I were approved for resettlement in Buffalo, NY by the UNHCR. They asked if I had a specific city in mind where I might know people. I said ,”No. I don’t know about any cities.” All I knew about America was from the movies.

The United States and the city of Buffalo welcomed us with warmth, love and support. Journey’s End Refugee Services helped us adjust to life in the beginning and stand on our feet. We were so excited to experience this beautiful country and were anxious for the rest of our family to join us.

The executive order (travel ban) that came down in 2017, restricting travel by people from several countries, hit our family hard. Many of my other family members had gone through the entire screening process and were just waiting for a travel date. We were frustrated and worried. My father had a heart condition and we knew the stress of the situation was just making things worse. Several months later, after persistent help from the resettlement agency, our parents, our brothers, and one of our sisters were permitted to join us. The day we received word that they would travel to Buffalo in just one month, we were so happy. Our family had been through so much. It was like our faith and hope in humanity was restored.

About the same time they arrived in Buffalo, I started a new job as a care coordinator at BestSelf Behavioral Health. I work mostly with refugees and immigrants who don’t speak English and need our services. It’s hard to be in a new country where you don’t speak the language. My job is to guide and assist clients by linking them with physical, mental and social health providers.

In time I realized I have other career goals that led me to furthering my education at Erie Community College, studying communication and media arts. Someday I hope to earn a bachelor’s degree and become a filmmaker. Working on this project and telling my own story is a wonderful learning experience for me.

I still have two sisters in the Kurdistan Region and most of my relatives are in Syria. We refer to the region I come from as Rojava, but the Syrian government does not recognize that name. My extended relatives are targeted every day by militias and Turkey because they are Kurdish. They want to continue the ethnic cleansing of the Kurds, and there are many people who are suffering and struggle to survive.

America is a great country and I feel so blessed to be here, be safe, and be free. Buffalo is my home now and I feel thankful to the people here for making me feel so welcomed.

Community Filmmaker | Tom Gadelrab Observes Kiahk
Making Buffalo Home

Community Filmmaker | Tom Gadelrab Observes Kiahk


Community filmmaker Tom Gadelrab shares customs of his Egyptian Coptic faith during Kiahk.

Egyptian Coptic Orthodox Holiday Traditions

Roast beef, hot chocolate, and bread pudding are synonymous with the Christmas season, but during Kiahk, I choose not to enjoy them, that is until the Coptic month of Kiahk is over.

Kiahk is the fourth month of the ancient Egyptian and Coptic calendars. It runs through the weeks preceding January 7, which is the day Coptic Orthodox Christians celebrate Christmas. Of the roughly 40 Coptic families in Buffalo, many of us are originally from Egypt. During our holiday season, we fast during this month to focus on the spirituality of the season.

Thousands of Christians in Buffalo have their traditions during the holidays -- from decorating the tree to gathering around a favorite Christmas movie. These are prevalent in our homes as well, but the Coptic heritage is a deeper tradition in our families.

The choice to fast is a stapled tradition in our homes, just as much as ornaments on a tree. Fasting is not the only activity associated with the month of Kiahk. During this time, Copts strive to increase their spirituality as well. For example, we devote more time to attend church services, read the Bible, and help the poor. These practices allow us to reduce bodily cravings like food and increase our spiritual fulfillment during the month until the Holy Nativity.

On January 7, when we come together in the only Egyptian Coptic Church in Western New York (St. Mary & St. Moses), our heritage and religion come together as one. While our Coptic traditions may seem archaic and odd at first glance, I believe that in understanding these differences we can learn how similar we truly are. So, while families around Buffalo gather on the 25th for roast beef and bread pudding, remember I’m doing the same, but with some grilled salmon and vegan cookies.

- Tom Gadelrab

Community Filmmaker | Sara Ali
Making Buffalo Home

Community Filmmaker | Sara Ali


Sara Ali takes us through her family's journey from the Middle East to Buffalo.

Growing up as a second-generation immigrant from a Muslim family welcomed a slew of discrimination. Raised in Grand Island, NY, I experienced Islamophobia and hate primarily from my white peers. It was difficult being in my own skin, although now I embrace who I am and am proud of my roots. However, it was treacherous journey to get to that point.

Being compared to literal feces because of my darker complexion is only one of many examples of the bullying I endured. As you heard in the video, I was made fun of for having hairy arms in the 3rd grade, which wasn’t only an example of me being ethnically different, but Western beauty standards already influencing the way children perceive what it is or isn’t the norm or attractive.

It wasn’t until after 9/11 that I experienced Islamophobia. My classmate and neighbor called me a terrorist and accused me and my family of being responsible for the horrendous attacks that took place. This was just the beginning. I remember that same neighbor once saw my parents praying in our living room. We were actually “friends” and hung out sometimes. The next day in school, kids came up to me saying “I hear your parents bow down to the ground.” They would walk away, laughing hysterically. Another boy drew a stick figure of me on an airplane with a bearded man wearing what appeared to be a burqa, flying into a tower. He gave it to me and said, “that’s you and your uncle.”

My father has also experienced his fair share of discrimination, especially in the workplace; from being told to go back to his country, being faulted for the 9/11 attacks, and even being told he is “one of the good ones.” He was also jumped when he was a teen for being Arabian. Even today, he still takes on the burden of being “different.”

I could publish a massive novel of the insults I’ve heard and derogatory words I’ve been called. It’s part of the reason why embracing biculturalism was so difficult. My white peers aren’t the only ones with a fist in this battle. Even when traveling to Jordan to visit my family, I was a disappointment for not speaking the language, not wearing the hijab, and being “too American.” As a teen, I wanted to embrace my culture but also wanted to be accepted by my peers. I also wanted my family to accept me as an American-Arab but was always too Western. I felt like I let down everyone around me.

College brought on the fetishization of my existence. My male peers would tell me how they’ve never been with an Arab girl and always wanted to “experience it.” I didn’t want to be an experience, I just wanted to be accepted.

Now, as a 27-year old woman, I still deal with being fetishized and discriminated against. I’ve accepted this is going to be a constant, lifetime battle. As an adult, it’s easier to manage. Growing up on and getting out of Grand Island somewhat subdued those past battles. As least now, I surround myself with people of color and immigrants, so I have a sense of belonging. Being around those who can relate to being “different,” or to be frank, not being white in America, makes it easier to exist.

- Sara Ali

From Sara Ali's Collection of Poetry | "Brown in America"

Every job application tells me I don’t exist.
Check off “white.”
I check my own box and write “Middle Eastern.” This doesn’t count; choose one of the options.
I check off “other.”

“Other” for as long as I can remember. Middle school reminds me every day.
The law says “white”, my peers say “brown”.
A shade too dark, and eyebrows too thick.
Nose too pronounced and arms too hairy.

Too dark for the white kids, too light for the black kids.
The other Arabs weren’t my friends--they were too “other.”

Confusion ensued; I contemplated slicing my skin off.
Red felt more fashionable than brown-but-not brown. Maybe caramel or coffee with a splash of milk.
Trails of blood formed into footsteps.
Maybe my peers would prefer to see my insides.

I remember the first time I got called a terrorist.
Brandon shouted from the back of the bus “terrorist! It was your family! You did it!”
Choking on silence, I didn’t know what to say. 11 years old and I already didn’t fit it in for my physical features.
“Don’t defend yourself,” I thought. Islam just wasn’t in style.

I didn’t allow myself to shed a tear, not until I got home that day.
He was suspended from school and forced to apologize.
Anger in his eyes as he begrudgingly said, “I’m sorry.”

I’m 27 years old.
They tell me I shouldn’t be ashamed of my skin color,
I have light skin privilege.
I’m passable.

You don’t look Arab anyways. You look Italian. You’re kind of brown.
You can pass for white… Maybe Italian?
You’re ugly.
You’re beautiful.
You’re oppressed.
You’re privileged. Be thankful you look white.

Wait, legally, you are white.
Why are you complaining?

Community Filmmaker | Lisa Khoury
Making Buffalo Home

Community Filmmaker | Lisa Khoury


Community filmmaker, Lisa Khoury, shares her family’s love of their Lebanese culture.

Keeping our culture alive in Buffalo

I had never been more mortified.

I was in fourth grade, sitting at the lunch table at Eggert Road Elementary in Orchard Park when I pulled out what my mother had packed: a pita bread roll-up.

My friend, who was eating a Lunchable, looked over and grimaced.

It was 2001, just after 9/11, and I wasn’t just embarrassed by my lunch. I was embarrassed to be Middle Eastern.

My father and mother are Lebanese immigrants. In the 1970s, my dad’s parents, Michel and Loulou, fled the Lebanese civil war. They emigrated to Buffalo with their 11 kids so I wound up with 48 first cousins.

Our parents raised us all in a bubble -- speaking to us in Arabic; feeding us Lebanese food, and taking us to the local Lebanese church.

Every Sunday after church, we’d pack into Tayta Loulou’s small South Buffalo home. Grandma, who we called Tayta, would cook in massive quantities -- making Lebanese staples like kibbeh nieh (raw meat), lahem meshwi (beef kabobs), and, of course, her homemade flat bread.

Bread was Tayta’s specialty.

When she first came to Buffalo, she started baking flatbread in her basement for her 11 kids. The smell was so delicious and strong -- it drew in neighbors. Her neighbors turned into customers. Fast forward a few years, and Tayta started a business -- selling pita out of her side door.

What us little ones didn’t realize was our grandparents and parents were building something monumental for us: a foundation. Eating Lebanese food and speaking Arabic gave us a passion for our culture; raising us together gave us an indestructible bond, and witnessing Tayta’s hard work gave us an entrepreneurial spirit.

Now, my cousins are grown up. We have our own lives and families. And we have a choice: Do we continue living our Lebanese heritage and sharing it with Buffalo? Or do we assimilate into American life and move away?

Well, all those years our parents and grandparents raised us together paid off.

Despite feeling like outcasts in school, my cousins and I are *adamant* about keeping our Lebanese culture alive. And we’re just as adamant about sharing it with the City of Buffalo.

This is the story of how my cousins are continuing Tayta Loulou’s legacy -- by connecting with Buffalo through Lebanese food -- and, specifically, pita bread.

- Lisa Khoury

Community Filmmaker | Tom Gadelrab
Making Buffalo Home

Community Filmmaker | Tom Gadelrab


Tom Gadelrab from Lewiston, NY talks about how closely his faith and culture mix, and takes his own camera to document weekend traditions practiced in his Egyptian Christian Coptic faith including the making of Orban, the Eucharistic bread, and the Agape meal celebration that follows each Sunday liturgy in this video for Making Buffalo Home.

Learning about the Making Buffalo Home Project immediately flipped a switch in my mind. What better way to give people a taste of the Coptic faith than to visually show them a “day in the life.” An ancient faith with young origins in Buffalo, few people know just how rich our traditions are and how important they are to us. By showcasing visuals of these traditions, I hope to dispel misconceptions some may have towards an Egyptian-Christian church. At first glance many things about a young immigrant church may seem strange; the language, the food, maybe even the people. But I believe it’s by explaining these unknowns that we can fully appreciate the diversity that many cultures provide.

The Coptic faith prides itself on being a church with rich longstanding traditions, but beyond that it is a faith rooted in love. This sentiment is exemplary within our humble church here in Buffalo. Despite hundreds of congregants ranging over fourteen diverse nationalities, we are one big family with a unified heart. This spirit is ubiquitous regardless of whether our family lives down the street or halfway across the country. As our priest Father Mark puts it, “While the people may leave, St. Mary & St. Moses Church never leaves their hearts.”

Whether it be the Coptic church or any culture, I hope by sharing our differences and our stories, we can continue to make Buffalo home. A city with rich immigrant roots, we would be foolish to lose sight of this in the face of new, younger immigrant cultures - cultures that provide beauty and love if we take the moment to learn more about them.

- Tom Gadelrab

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.