BUFFALO, N.Y. — Mark Talley remembers the final moments of his mother's life.
"She was stopping to get cold cuts that day. She forgot something. She went back in there, and unfortunately that's when the terrorist started to come in," he said.
And that's when 62-year-old Geraldine Talley became one of the 10 victims in the Tops mass shooting on May 14, 2022.
Her 33-year-old son said his grief in the immediate days after the shooting came in the form of anger and activism.
"I kind of was in my own headspace. I didn't know what to do. I was just up and down. I was going crazy in my thoughts. That's when I decided to go on Jefferson Avenue and start volunteering," he said.
Mark grew up in the Cold Springs-Masten Park neighborhood in East Buffalo. He was raised in a single family home by his mother, an executive assistant, whom he called "extraordinarily ordinary." After falling into the wrong crowd, he transferred from the Buffalo Public Schools to Canisius High School his sophomore year, and after graduation went on to Wayne State in Detroit, before coming back home to Erie Community College, the University at Buffalo, and Buffalo State. It was a tough adolescence with highs and lows, but ultimately he graduated with dual degrees in economics and urban planning.
"I'm a loner, introverted type of person. Kind of the black sheep of the family. I really don't express emotion that much. I just compartmentalize everything," he told WGRZ's Melissa Holmes. "Fortunately, from this unfortunate situation, my kind of introvertedness, darkness, black-sheepiness kind of definitely came in handy."
In the immediate days after the shooting he volunteered in East Buffalo with groups like Buffalo Urban League, Friends of Night People, Back to Basics Ministries, WNY Peacemakers, and Buffalo Fathers. That work along with his networking capabilities inspired him to start his own non-profit called Agents for Advocacy. It became an official 501c3 on October 24, 2022.
"Heavy is the head that wears the crown. A lot of people are chosen but only a few are able to follow through. That definitely seems the case with me. It's not the life I chose but it chose me," he said.
His goal is to create real change for people living in Buffalo's poorest neighborhoods. He said the organization is dedicated to promoting socioeconomic equality and providing resources and services to those who need them most.
"Spread awareness about racism. Spread awareness to the socioeconomic inequality. Understand your environment. You're set up for failure and I want my organization to try to get those people out of their conditions of failure," he said. "A lot of people are telling people to pull themselves up by the bootstraps but unfortunately a lot of people don't even have boots to do that. So my goal is to one day be able to supply people with boots so they can."
Since forming Agents for Advocacy, they've had a community BBQ, handed out book bags and school supplies to 500 children, and fed and distributed clothing to families at Thanksgiving. Just last month, the organizations first gala raised $25,000.
"Mark Talley is a pillar of our community. Someone we've needed for a long long time," said Agents for Advocacy board member Paul Perez. "An individual like Mark is someone who takes that pain, and turns it on itself, and turns it into healing. and now he's healing the community."
Board member Kimberly Johnson says Mark does more than just raise money for East Buffalo.
"It's about talking to people and meeting people where they are and that's what Mark is doing. He is trying to advocate. He is trying to assist, and he is trying to lift up his community," she said.
He's turning his pain into purpose, and he knows he would be making his mother proud.
"She wouldn't love the opened toed sandals with no socks on or the sweatpants on, but she would definitely love the message," he said.
Next month, Agents for Advocacy will be hosting a Women's History Panel and they'll also begin financial literacy classes.
Mark is also writing a book called 5/14 the Day the Devil Came to Buffalo. That book will be released on the first anniversary of the mass shooting.
Find out more about Agents for Advocacy by clicking here.
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