Growing on the High Road

2017 High Road Fellows Maame Britwum and Kaya Coleman at the Innovation Center on the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus
January 15, 2018
Kaya Coleman

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.

Unlike Houston, Buffalo is a city that is still working towards being fully developed, economically, socially, and politically. Because Buffalo is a developing city, it has been much easier to identify specific problems that are being faced by the citizens. In the five weeks that I have been here, I have observed that some of Buffalo's most prevalent issues are those that are about race. I knew that Buffalo is one of the most segregated cities in the nation due to taking the ILR pre-course, however, it becomes much more realistic when you're actually in the city and placed right in front of the issue. Racism in Buffalo is more systematic and institutionalized, therefore, it is sometimes hard to realize that it even exists. I first experienced racial bias in Buffalo after attending a Buffalo Common Council hearing that was supposed to be focused on the Fruit Belt and inclusionary zoning. The Fruit Belt refers to a historically Black neighborhood in Buffalo that has begun to be gentrified due to its proximity to the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus. The prices and taxes placed on these houses in the neighborhood has increased, and now the Black citizens who lived their are being forced out due to their inability to afford the new prices. I then experienced more racial bias after attending a Buffalo Public School Board meeting and witnessing a protest against Carl Paladino, a racist politician, sits on the board.

For me, getting to see these issues up-close was a harsh reminder that we indeed do not live in a post-racial society. I have met people from all types of backgrounds through the High Road, and I have learned that not everyone is as familiar with race relations as I am. My familiarity with racial  issues isn’t a choice, however, but a necessity. A necessity because I am a Black woman growing up in a racist nation built on the backs of my ancestors. Being politically and socially aware of racism and other discriminatory issues has always been a requirement. So, meeting and being exposed to people who have been afforded the luxury of not having to care about racism, has been an uncomfortable yet invigorating learning experience. Because of this, I am beginning to be more aware of the immense ignorance that surrounds race relations in this country. I am also learning how to be more calm and understanding when approaching racially-charged situations and discussions with those who have unknown, implicit racial biases ingrained in them due to their upbringing. Finally, I have realized that there is much progress to be made for African-Americans and other people of color in this nation. In order to understand what progress we need to make, it is necessary to understand our history.  Without knowing where you come from, you will have no idea of where you are trying to go. In the words of James Baldwin, “History is not the past. It is the present. We carry our history with us. We are our history.” Americans often try to ignore and hide the country’s history of racism, but this is impossible to do. Our country was built off of racist ideals and current issues in society are the product of such. We cannot forget our history. Instead, we need to study it and learn as much as we can about it, so that we can move forward and hopefully bring equity and peace to our society.

I am looking forward to the rest of my time here in Buffalo. I am hoping to learn more, do more sight-seeing, and just generally enjoy my final two weeks. I am truly thankful for this experience, because it has allowed me to grow both personally and professionally. I have become stronger, more courageous, and more open-minded on the High Road, and I know that these skills will be useful in my future internships and for the rest of my life