On the High Road Blog
When I spoke to my supervisor at Open Buffalo for the first time, I asked: “How do you persuade people to care about your initiatives?" All the stories I saw on the news and my interactions with local government at home, told me that we are in a period of record levels of governmental stagnation. I expected more of the same in Buffalo.
“Woe, Woe, Buffalo” opens up an October 2007 article in The Economist. The opinion piece uses arguments from Harvard economist Edward Glaeser to make the case that the city is beyond the point of saving, and the government should stop trying.
Following decades of disinvestment, the advent of the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus and the Buffalo Billion were welcome news for the region, promising a wealth of potential for economic resurgence. Yet, in 2014 alone, the regional economy could have been $4 billion stronger had racial income gaps been eliminated. Continued exclusion from the development process would only exacerbate inequalities in health, education, access to jobs and services, and wealth, and further limit Buffalo’s growth potential.
Sitting down at my wooden desk at the WNY Area Labor Federation, surrounded by posters exclaiming “Stop the War on Workers” and “Good Jobs for America Now,” soundtracked by EDM music from the gym across the hall, I begin to reflect on my first month as an intern at the WNY ALF.
Hello! My name is Melissa Gao, I’m from Syracuse, NY, I’m a rising sophomore in the ILR School, and I’m working at Young Audiences of Western New York this summer.
When my friends asked what I would be doing this summer and where I would be, their initial reactions were-- “But why Buffalo?” And to be frank, I did not exactly have a good answer for them. All I knew was that Buffalo would be a new city for me (Through first-hand experience, I now know that there are plenty of local markets, food, festivals, concerts, and sites to explore). As far as a typical internship goes, I did not want to spend my summer sitting at a desk from 9 to 5, and then go home and not have to think critically about my work.
My experience in Buffalo over the past few weeks gave me insight on the ways different organizations collaborate to continue their social impact in the community. Different groups make a long lasting effect on the livelihood of the city’s residents because of the interpersonal relationships they are forming with one another. Without these relationships formed through collaborations, each organization would not reach their goal as efficiently.
First of all, I would like to say that I am having a great time in Buffalo. It has been an energizing experience both on a personal and professional level.
Before this summer if you were to ask me what I thought of Buffalo the first thing that would come to mind would be buffalo wings and its proximity to Niagara Falls, and while I have yet to experience either one of those things, I have since come to realize that Buffalo is so much more.
I’ve always loved a good story. From my first days learning the Indian classical dance form whose name literally translates to “story” in Hindi, I developed a passion for stories, the people who tell them, and the people they portray. In many ways, this passion is what has driven me through high school, university, and beyond. I had always been an avid reader, but in high school I specifically tailored my extracurriculars to revolve around storytelling by publishing my school’s literary journal and newspaper each year.
Being a part of the High Road program has given me hands-on experience that provided me with clarity for the future. This year, I am working with Jericho Road in their ESL Initiative, teaching immigrants and refugees English as a second language. Since I was in secondary school, I had a passion for teaching. Although I couldn’t actually teach in a classroom without a degree, I would spend most of my time after school pretending to be a teaching by tutoring my peers. There was a thrill about watching someone understand a concept after you explained it to them.
My work this summer is with the Westminster Economic Development Initiative, or WEDI. This remarkable organization provides business assistance, education, and community development for the West Side of Buffalo. Their most well-known undertaking is their operation of the West Side Bazaar. This is a business incubator in which nearly twenty small businesses, most of them run by refugees and immigrants, share a space where they receive support for WEDI while providing a vibrant atmosphere for the West Side community.
Buffalo has been my home for almost fourteen years now. I still remember when I first arrived here from Puerto Rico, and instantly feeling like I belonged. Growing up in a predominantly hispanic part of Buffalo, the West Side, a part of home was always present here. Believe it or not, Buffalo felt so much like home that I did not miss “La Isla del Encanto” one bit. Buffalo gave me a breath of fresh air while maintaining that Puerto Rican culture I grew to love. I will forever be grateful to this city for opening my eyes to real people and real situations.
For most of the last several decades, the story of Buffalo’s economy has been one of loss. Thousands of good-paying jobs were lost in industries like manufacturing, causing a subsequent loss in population. Something else was lost, too. After being a hub of innovation for most of its history (thank Buffalonians for air conditioners, internal pacemakers, and Buffalo wings!), Buffalo lost some of its entrepreneurial spirit. But with the help of several new initiatives, this spirit is coming back.
My time with the High Road Fellowship has been a transcendent experience. I have been placed at the Buffalo Center for Arts and Technology (BCAT), an organization that specializes in the provision of arts education for high school aged students and professional workforce development training for adults. BCAT is a young nonprofit that has built itself upon the Bill Strickland philosophy of environment shaping mindset.
Coming to Buffalo for the summer, I wasn’t totally sure what exactly I was getting myself into. I was drawn to the High Roads program because I found it the best way to finally scratch the social sector itch I have had, truly, as long as I can remember. So many of the placements and projects peaked my interest that I was excited not only to experience my summer, but the summers of my peers.
I am a rising junior Global and Public Health Science major in the College of Human Ecology. For the eight-week summer High Road Fellowship through Cornell’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations (ILR) in Buffalo, New York I am working at the Learning Disabilities Association of Western New York (LDA of WNY) on the LEAD716 project.
I am thrilled to be a part of the High Road Fellowship this summer. Cornell’s work in Buffalo was actually a large reason I chose to apply to Cornell nearly two years ago. Although I live in a suburb outside of the city, I am deeply invested in Buffalo’s growth and future. The summer before my senior year of high school I had the incredible opportunity to participate in Mayor Byron Brown’s Urban Fellow Internship Program. I was introduced not only to the inner workings of the city’s government, but also to the whole Buffalo community, which I believe to be like no other.
My name is John Sullivan Baker, I’m from Toledo, Ohio, and I’ve been working for the Partnership for the Public Good, a community-based think tank that partners with nearly 300 community organizations to advocate for evidence-based public policy intended to make Buffalo more prosperous and socially equitable.
Before every Friday panel discussion and each Wednesday dinner conversation, Megan Connelly, our High Road Fellowship director, proudly states, “Buffalo’s greatest asset is our people.” These words set the tone of discussion and generate a slightly quieter silence as people reflect. My first four weeks on the high road have been about engaging and understanding the meaning of an “asset” and its relation to value.
Coming to Buffalo this summer has been quite the learning experience. I was born in Houston, Texas and currently live in one of the many Houston suburbs. The Houston metropolitan area is HUGE and there are over five million people that live here. Therefore, I am used to being in a city that is well-established and constantly moving and growing.
This summer I worked at the Buffalo State Center for Excellence in Urban and Rural Education. As an anchor institution, Buffalo State has a commitment to support and empower the surrounding community to make it better. The Center for Excellence in Urban and Rural Education (CEURE) runs a plethora of projects for the community but the one I spent most of my time on was the West Side Promise Neighborhood.
Growing up just 25 minutes away from Buffalo, I’d always considered myself to be a true Buffalonian, with a deep love for Tim Hortons and chicken wings. It took me one day in the High Road precourse to realize how little I knew about the city I’ve lived near my whole entire life. I had no idea that it was one of the most segregated city in the country, or about the large refugee population in Buffalo and Lackawanna.
When I first started the High Road program, the eight weeks I was facing in Buffalo seemed to stretch out interminably ahead of me. Now, there’s little more than two weeks left and as cliché as this may sound, I can’t believe how quickly the time has sped away from me.
Capacity, per Merriam-Webster, means “the potential or suitability for holding, storing, or accommodating.”
Throughout the High Road Fellowship, I have experienced and learned a lot more than I had ever expected. This post will hopefully provide an overview of my experiences in the High Road Fellowship and in Buffalo.
Having taken the pre-course to learn about the resurgence of Buffalo and having done research about the goals and challenges of WEDI, I thought I was already quite exposed to the area and organization prior to my arrival. However, when I actually began work, I realized the true importance of field experience. No matter how much you study about or conduct research for something, on-site action takes learning onto another level.
When my friends and family asked what I would be doing this summer and I explained that I would be working with labor unions in Buffalo, almost everyone had the same reaction, “Well, it sounds interesting, but what will you be doing there? And why Buffalo?” If I’m being honest, initially I didn’t have an answer for them.
“When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why the poor have no food, they call me a communist.” The words of Hélder Câmara nagged me as I sat in on the Buffalo Transit Riders United Allies Meeting. Câmara was addressing the same issue I’ve pondered over for some time: what is so wrong with asking why?
2017 High Road Fellow with Open Buffalo
Some people don’t see a difference between these two words. They are just synonyms for a place to live. For others, a house is just a place to live. A home is much different. It is where you live, but it is also a place where family comes together at every major holiday. Where memories have been made time and time again. Where generations of children have been raised.
Being born and raised in Buffalo has me completely vested in the area with no real intention of ever leaving, despite contrasting sentiments coming from a majority of my peers. I love to see Buffalo do well for its own good, as well as having positive national press so others aren’t as quick to talk down on this city.
I heard about the CommonBound Conference during my first few days in Buffalo. I heard so many program and organization names in the first few days that it’s a wonder I even remembered to Google CommonBound when I got a chance to.
Growing up an hour away from Buffalo, I've considered myself a Buffalonian my whole life. But living in a Buffalo neighborhood this summer, I now know that I was naïve in my assumption that I knew everything about Buffalo and the people that comprise the City of Good Neighbors.
I had never been to Buffalo before, and had no idea what to expect.
20 Cornell undergraduates will spend their summers contributing to community and economic development with dynamic social sector organizations in Buffalo, NY.
We are excited to release the High Road Fellowship Engagement and Impact Report for 2015 (PDF, 3 MB).
2015 High Roader Kyle Friend `17 had this letter to the editor published in the Buffalo News urging a living wage for workers in low-wage occupations across New York.
In 1938, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed the Fair Labor Standards Act into law, establishing the United States’ first wage floor.
I have been able to meet some remarkable people. They are people who are truly passionate about what they do and will do anything to achieve their dream.
Have you ever stopped to think about who has guided you through your life?
If I have learned anything during my short time here in Buffalo, it is that community nonprofit groups go far beyond their mission statement.
"...ultimately turning out to be one of the most exciting moments of my professional life so far. All three weeks of it."
18 Cornell undergraduates arrived in Buffalo earlier this month to conduct research, assist with strategic planning, and develop new programming for nonprofits in the city.
High Roader Amber Aspinall was placed this summer at the Center for Employment Opportunities Buffalo office.
My supervisors have consistently encouraged me to pursue whatever I love, letting me know of arts festivals and galleries and meetings that they think would interest me.
Crawling under the impossibly tangled link of hands, I maneuvered myself into an even stranger position than my previous.
Verse by Zakiya Williams Wells
It has been six weeks since I arrived in Buffalo and began my High Roads adventure.