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Addressing the mental health needs of Buffalo's Black and Brown communities

The May 14 mass shooting has raised questions about trauma in the Black community and what other factors were at play, even before the shooting.

BUFFALO, N.Y. — Five days after the racially motivated shooting in which 10 people were killed, investigators announced they were turning the scene over to TOPS Friendly markets.

Despite the company's promise that TOPS would remain in the neighborhood, many in the community expressed mixed feelings about returning to the store to shop. 

A few expressed feelings of trauma that prompted them to urge the store to be torn down completely. Others explained they wanted their store back because of the importance to the community an the convenience in comparison to other grocery stores. 

The event has raised questions about trauma in the Black community and what other factors were at play, even before the shooting.

"This trauma, this tragedy has really caused the revelation," the Rev. Paul J. Thomas told Karys Belger. 

Thomas is the pastor and a presiding elder at the historic Bethel AME Church on Michigan Avenue in Buffalo. He says there's more than just the trauma of the shooting to overcome. 

He points out that the store was in a food desert. While it's closed, TOPS is providing a shuttle to another location that's five miles away. Rev. Thomas says even if people didn't want to go back, their options would be limited. 

"So these people not only have the trauma of can I go back to tops? Right. But there are those who don't have that option because they don't have the car," Pastor Thomas said.

The lack of resources also leads to other stressors, which mirror other things that frequently come up in Black and Brown communities. 

"We have to engage and deal with the mental health crisis, which is a result of all of the atrocities that have been placed on minority people in this country," Pastor Thomas said.

Erie County has stepped in to help in the interim. The county is offering free mental health counseling services at the Johnny B. Wiley Stadium until May 27. The services area offered from 1 p.m. until 9 p.m. daily. The location is only a few minutes away from the TOPS Jefferson by car. 

The idea was to make the services convenient for people in the community to access, even if they didn't have reliable transportation. 

Kelly Wofford, the Director of the Officer of Health Equity, says addressing mental health needs is just one step in addressing the overall health needs of the community. 

"When we talk about health, when we talk about mental health, we talk about physical health," Wofford said.

Wofford also explains acknowledging when you're struggling is an important step. 

"Being okay with saying that I'm not okay, removing the stigma to mental health, to barriers to physical health."

Like Wofford, Pastor Thomas says addressing these concerns are key to truly understanding the community and the people who make it. 

"We have to shower our communities with resources, mental health resources, educational resources, financial resources and mobility resources, things along those lines," Pastor Thomas said.

   

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