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Reunion proves neighborhood can be more than name implies

Rod Watson

It will constitute the epitome of turning lemons into lemonade when the first annual GYC Reunion celebrates a neighborhood determined to stake its claim as a positive part of a resurging city.

Saturday’s full day of festivities centered at a stage at Genesee and Moselle – and taking in streets with names like Ivy and Wasmuth, Koons and Goodyear – is a counterpoint to an image built mostly from "parachute in" media stories that implant those names in the memory as crime scenes.

The event’s name, in fact, takes on that challenge directly: The initials recall the dreaded Goodyear Crew street gang of the 1990s.

But the people who’ve lived there for decades know that there’s much more to the neighborhood than that – and they want others to know it, too.

"We want to let our young people know about the history of this area," said Tina Sanders, who's lived there since 1980 and is a principal organizer of the event.

Noting that the focus has always been on the bad, "we just want to give birth to the good."

She points to signs that this already is happening.

The Buffalo Urban League moved programs into 230 Moselle, breathing new life into the old CRUCIAL Human Services building.

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The Rev. Anthony Brown, another key player in Saturday’s event, used the neighborhood’s "blood, sweat and tears" to turn a former liquor store at 1547 Genesee into Mount Zion Community Sanctuary church.

"A friend of mine just opened a new business," said reunion committee member Michael King, refering to GB Fish Shrimp & Chicken at 1532 Genesee.

"He brought the business right back into the neighborhood, and my church is right across the street," Brown said.

Sanders said there also are plans for new apartments at Genesee and Doat streets.

Saturday’s effort comes as Mayor Byron Brown notes that property values have risen across the city in 2019 and that "Buffalo is back." One of the reunion’s goals is for the GYC neighborhood to tap into that momentum as it seeks to rebound.

"We want to encourage developers," said Sanders, who years ago founded the No More Tears organization, which has evolved from helping domestic violence victims to helping young people.

But she knows that attracting investment means creating an attractive environment, and that means encouraging neighbors to make their homes and yards look good.

"The other part is to change the mindset of the residents," she said.

At the same time, Buffalo’s rebound provides opportunities for those very residents. To that end, there will be be workshops about becoming a homeowner or purchasing the vacant lots that now dot the area.

"We want people in the community to think about home ownership," Sanders said.

The free event, from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m., will include food plus buses, booths and tables staffed by an array of  organizations ranging from the Community Health Center of Buffalo and a mental health counselor, who will offer screenings, to the Buffalo Urban League, Juneteenth, FATHERS, the Peacemakers and SNUG. DJs from the area will be there. Clothing, jewelry and other vendors will be on hand and there will be bounce houses and other entertainment for kids. There will be choirs and live music, and playwright Lanette Ridgeway will present "The Unexpected."

There also will be an award for the person who’s been in the neighborhood the longest.

"When I was a kid, it was a thriving community ... everything you needed was right here," said King, owner of You Call, I’ll Haul moving company. "We’re just trying to help bring it back."

Despite the challenges, Brown predicts the area around his church will be among the first to come back "and not by way of dollars," but by neighbors pitching in.

"We're doing it in-house," he said.

Saturday's event is in that same spirit, bringing together neighbors who might live next door without really knowing one another, while also exposing the neighborhood’s young people to some of the positives around them.

"Just help some of these kids get back on the right track," said King, noting the negative stereotypes they regularly encounter.

Both King and Brown could be metaphors for the rebound the neighborhood hopes to accomplish, having served time before turning their lives around.

Brown, in fact, was part of the Goodyear Crew in the latter part of its reign, before reclaiming both his life and the former liquor store.

"We just want it to be known that we have value where we come from," Sanders said. "This is our community and we want to build it up."

The GYC Reunion will become an annual event, she said, proving that what’s in a name can be a lot less – or a lot more – depending on what people choose to do with it.

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