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Apathy silences a voice struggling to improve East Side

It has been almost 20 years since Darnell Jackson's voice first emerged on Buffalo's East Side.

It was a voice that started by speaking out against the violence and the conditions that existed in this blighted part of our city. The first words were in response to a teenage girl who was shot and killed in the doorway of a nightclub on Genesee Street.

The voice became a cry of defiance against so many of the things that plagued this part of the city. The voice defied the drug dealers, who plied their trade blatantly on the street corners and behind the doors of their crack houses, and forced them to move. The voice challenged lawmakers to step up and do what was necessary to change the conditions of the city.

The voice confronted police corruption and brutality experienced by almost every young person of color on the East Side of Buffalo. The voice fought for justice and fair treatment by many of the city agencies that were supposed to serve the poor and forgotten people in these neighborhoods.

The voice then gave shape to a vision of hope and renewal that was more than a dream -- it was a bright possibility for a part of the city blighted with more problems than promises. The voice then pleaded with every politician and person of means and influence to give the dream a chance, asking them to come forward with the dollars that would make a real difference in the lives of the young people who had suffered so much under the indifference of so many.

These pleas were met with promises. Big promises came from senators and Congress members. Promises were made by state and county legislators and by all manner of agencies that were impressed with the scope of the vision. For three years, the voice became energized as one does when things seem to be within reach. But energy and faith begin to fade when months turn into years and promises turn to mush, and all one is left with are the ashes of possibility and the scars of the battle. After all, the battlefield stretched from neighborhood block clubs, to foundation boardrooms, to the courthouse, to City Hall to the police precinct.

The victories were few, but the wounds were many and lasting.

Finally, the strength and stamina of this street warrior began to wane. The toll on his health and body have become too much. Jackson has chosen to retire and give up the fight. The Eastside Redevelopment Task Force he founded will be no more.

I have been more than an observer. I have been a participant in much of this history, and as Jackson takes his exit, I want to make it clear that the real force that silenced this brave and clear voice was indifference. Apathy and the lack of participation and commitment of so many at every level of our city became too much for anyone to fight.

I am reminded of another great warrior who also was a champion of justice and longed for cooperation and peace for his people. When Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce Tribe rode into the last council to surrender, he said, "I will fight no more forever."

We all need to listen to the silence with a bit of anxiety.


The Rev. George S. Cushing, of Buffalo, is a retired United Church of Christ pastor of 25 years.