We Are All More Alike than Different
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.
What first took me by surprise about my time here was before even stepping foot in Buffalo. As I was inevitably asked what I was doing this summer, a common response to me sharing that I would be in Buffalo was, “ugh, why Buffalo?” and even once followed by laughter. The irony of this statement is found in the fact that it was said mostly by Clevelanders, a city the rest of the United States lumps in this category of decrepit places, failing to top a list of sought after workplace destinations. As Cleveland realists will refer to Buffalo as a junior Cleveland, and Buffalonians see The Land as a larger Buffalo, the similarities are much easier to find than apparent differences. Sure, we can be nit-picky and claim Buffalo lacks a professional basketball team and is only capable of drawing a crowd worthy of minor league baseball, but these Lake Erie sharing Rust Belt cities are both well on their way of reclaiming the prestige they once held as industrial powerhouses. As was said to me earlier this week, “people will look the same, be the same race, religion, speak the same language, but they will always find something to fight about” so instead of us Clevelanders being proud of our progress and encouraging of our little brother Buffalo to follow suit, here we are, wallowing in our self-proclaimed superiority. But hey, this is quite frankly the reason for the High Road program, was it not?
This week was the commencement of the Emerging Leaders Program, what my summer at Buffalo State Center of Excellence in Urban and Rural Education (CEURE) has been leading up to. As Holly, my supervisor, has been over and over telling me what a pearl this program is, how my life will undoubtedly be changed, and how I might even shed a tear over the two-week experience, I couldn’t help but have high hopes. Only 3 sessions into the program, I must say, I have not been disappointed. Not usually being on the administrative side of things, it was an odd experience for me to finally meet people whose applications I had read 3 and 4 times over in the 5 weeks leading up to the start of the event, especially with them knowing nothing more than my name. The 21 Emerging Leaders in this cohort is unquestionably the most diverse group of people I have ever spent time with, and might be the most distinct group I’ll be around again. As most of these people are at least 5 years into their career, some several more, I can’t help but think I could never live a life half as intriguing as my fellow program participants, and how inspired I am by them all. As some have hailed to the United States from Somalia, Burma, Guatemala, or are first generation Yemeni-American, the interactions I have had with them in only the first hours we will spend together only enforces to me that in Buffalo, the people are its greatest assets. Even though we all studied different things in college, spend our free time in doing different tasks, and all bring unique hidden talents to the table, we are all working towards the same goal of community equity. We weren’t even 4 hours into this 43-hour program when a native Buffalonian affirmed, that we are all more alike than different than we are different. While everyone’s day to day looks different, the emotions and struggles and triumphs are all the same. The Emerging Leaders Program creates a space for dialogue towards the empowerment and advancement of community health workers, specifically those living in working for Buffalo’s West Side. Not only does this program allow those working towards the betterment of Buffalo’s communities to feel connected to one another, but it truly works to pull back the curtain and show that regardless of where we are in life, whether it is someone needing assistance in the community or someone at the top of the hill, at the end of the day we all have more that group us together than isolate us.
This summer in has opened my eyes to Buffalo and what it truly means to be a community member. With only 2 weeks left but still having so much more to experience and learn, I am looking forward to my final days in the 716.