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'I’m praying to be OK': Sunday service focuses on mental health after Tops shooting

It’s the second Sunday since the Tops massacre, but the first where congregants and leaders have more than a few hours to process what happened.

BUFFALO, N.Y. — Inside True Bethel Baptist Church, there are all the normal staples of a Sunday service: music, dance, worship

But this was not a normal week. 

“It’s been a long eight days,” Bishop Darius Pridgen said, telling the congregation “my brain and my body can only take so much.”

It’s the second Sunday since the Tops massacre, but the first where congregants and leaders have more than a few hours to process what happened.

During a prayer, one man take the microphone, shrugging, throwing up his hands, telling the crowd, “We don’t want to holler. We don’t want to yell. Simply, man, we just want peace.”

Pridgen says it’s time for his congregation to focus on mental health, even as he notices the way his own behaviors have changed.

"I don’t know about you, but I’m not OK yet. I’m praying to be OK. But to this minute — and I’m going to do it today, probably — I have not been in any grocery store,” he said.

As Common Council president, Pridgen outlined his priorities for moving forward with economic development, investments, and education among them.

“You cannot make a business come, but you can definitely incentivize for businesses to come. The same way that we have incentivized in downtown Buffalo and other places, you can do the same thing on Jefferson,” he said.

Pridgen expressed concerns over gentrification pushing some Good Neighbors out of their current homes. He said it is important that any future moves lift the East Side neighbors with their neighborhoods.

"I have been saying this for years: it starts right in those public schools. If we don’t infuse them with those types of finances and help that is needed, then communities continue to die,” he said.

Pridgen wouldn’t outline what his own priority would be for the million-plus dollars in donation pledged to Buffalo. Instead, he wants to hear first from his congregants, his constituents, and his community about their own ideas.

“Sometimes politicians think they know everything. Some pastors think they know everything. We think we know what people want instead of saying, ‘Let’s work together to rebuild like every other community,’ ” he said, adding “Elmwood got rebuilt, Hertel got rebuilt, because those people in those areas worked together.”

Before parishioners filed out into a misty parking lot, Pridgen hinted at next week’s sermon: the ways hurt and pain can be transferred to children and understanding the theory of generational trauma.

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