BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) - Words from a man about the Old First Ward suggesting African Americans destroy a neighborhood's property values stunned western New York. But that interview News 4 brought you last month opened the door to what some say was a long overdue discussion on race relations in the Queen City.
The interview struck a deep nerve in a city still struggling with segregated neighborhoods and prejudices that have spanned generations. See the original, eye-opening story here from News 4's Ed Drantch.
On June 7, 2012, William Shanahan said, "People in these neighborhoods don't want those type of people moving down here and destroying the property value."
More on the original story:
Those comments that African Americans aren't welcomed in Buffalo's Old First Ward were spoken by a man who wasn't from the community and wasn't designated to speak for that community. Shanahan had been hired to paint Sara Heidinger's house at the time he was interviewed by News 4's Ed Drantch. Heidinger objects to those comments being aired on TV.
"It upsets me that we keep being presented as a "whole," based on one person's opinion. Especially, he didn't even know what happened here."
What happened in this neighborhood is a white former board member of the Old First Ward Community Association, Michael Fijal, has been charged with arranging the torching of a property owned by an African American landlord.
FBI Agent-in-Charge Christopher Piehota said, "The elements of the case indicate there may be a hate crime motivated incident and we want to get to the bottom of it."
Laura Kelly, who directs the Old First Ward Community Association, told News 4 the alleged torching of the house had already gotten people talking about race relations. Shanahan's comments, she said, only aggravated the situation.
"This particular neighborhood was hurt and outraged," she said.
The pain rippled right through the Perry public housing complex as well.
Virginia Yancey said, "I thought it was the rudest comment I ever heard."
As hurtful as his comments were, Shanahan's views brought the subject of racism to the surface, forcing some city-wide soul searching.
Rev. Darius Pridgen said, "Let's be honest. There are black people that feel the same way. We need to have this conversation."
But there is hope that the younger generation won't even need to have that conversation. In fact, there's a project underway right now in the Old First Ward that brings children of all backgrounds and races together, to lift up the community.
And in another location, they are reconstructing a once burned out house, so a moderate income family will have a second chance at the "American Dream."
Kelly said, "What you see is kids from all over the Vity of Buffalo learning a building trade and at the same time creating new affordable housing in the Old First Ward."
The focus is on the project, but the children are also learning how to work as an inter-racial team sharing common goals. It's a new concept for some.
Debrayla Williams said, "It's opening your eyes to something new that you never knew was there."
Kevin Rodgers added, "I don't discriminate against any color. You can be anything and I'm ok with it, because you're a person just like me, and we eat, sleep and breathe. I get along with everybody. You show me kindness, I show you kindness."
The project may have already inspired other homeowners on the block to keep up their property.
George Allen of The Service Collaborative of WNY said, "Since we've been here the last seven or eight months, I've noticed several houses have gotten re-sided, new roofs, and it's starting to spruce up quite a bit."
One of the most ambitious projects to ever be undertaken in the Old First Ward elevates what is now a public housing sector. There are big plans underway to not only transform the Perry housing community into what's being called a "Choice Neighborhood," but also to change some people's attitudes toward race.
Dr. Henry Taylor of the UB Center for Urban Studies tells News 4 the Commodore Perry District would become a mixed income, inter-racial community with affordable housing and a vibrant commercial center including shops, stores, and restaurants. A neighborhood, he says, that even William Shanahan might envy.
"We can change a neighborhood and a community. There's enough of us to rebuild that neighborhood and community, and I tell you what. This die-hard, mean spirited racist will say, "I was wrong. Can I come live over there too?" It's going to happen. I guarantee it," said Dr. Taylor.
>> Dr. Taylor gave News 4 an extended interview, detailing the history of race relations in the City of Buffalo. Pastor Pridgen also spoke to News 4 at some length in response to the comments made by William Shanahan. See both interviews here
The Perry Choice Neighborhood initiative is competing nationally for tens of millions of dollars of grant money. We'll let you know how it progresses. And as the dialogue on racism progresses, News 4 will be there to document it and report it.
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