Transcript

777: Name. Age. Detail.

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Pearl Young and Aaron Salter Jr.

Ira Glass

Denise Clark is a retired schoolteacher who still works as a substitute. When COVID hit and her high school switched to remote learning, it was hard for her for all the normal reasons. But also, like lots of older people, she wasn't so great on computers. Ditto for her friend, Pearl, who was another substitute at that school, who Denise would do crossword puzzles with in the faculty lounge.

Pearl, also not so great on the computers. And Pearl was a decade older than Denise, in her mid-70s.

Denise Clark

She always told me, can you help me? She thought I was good at it, so she always wanted me to help her. I really wasn't the best person. It took a while for me to learn it, to tell you the truth.

Ira Glass

You know, you think, if you're 75, and your job completely changes, you might call it quits. But Pearl was adamant. She was going to learn to work on the computer. And when she got stuck, she wasn't shy to call in help from the IT guy, or the assistant principal, or really, whoever she could find.

Denise Clark

I had to tip my hat to her if I had one. Because she would keep trying. That's the thing I like about her. She'd ask questions. She was doing better than some of us. [LAUGHS]

And Pearl, she kept up with it. You know, she didn't know sometimes-- she had some difficulties.

Ira Glass

What kind of difficulties was she having?

Denise Clark

Well, we all had difficulties. You know, we had to get-- to get in. Sometimes the computer's lights would go off. But this was new-- the Zoom stuff. But you had to learn it.

Ira Glass

Pearl did learn it. Pearl's daughter, Pam, in fact, told me that she watched, fascinated that her 70-something-year-old mom was on the computer all the time.

Over a year before this, she'd bought Pearl a laptop that had mostly gone unused. But now, Pearl was running a classroom on Zoom, taking attendance, telling kids to get on camera and participate.

Pam

I always tell her how proud I was of her for that.

Ira Glass

And after that achievement-- OK, who would have guessed that this was going to happen-- Pearl started using her computer and her phone when she was not working, in ways that her daughter had never imagined were possible.

Pam

She never-- my mom never sent me an email. But when she got on Facebook-- oh my goodness.

Ira Glass

Oh, really?

Pam

She started communicating through Facebook all the time.

Ira Glass

So there was some day where, like, you're on Facebook, and then suddenly, your mom pops up? And were you just like, what's happening?

Pam

Oh, yeah. Oh my gosh, OK, so all of a sudden, my mom is coming up in my Timelines. Like, if I put a picture up of, you know, me and my daughters going out to eat somewhere, then I would get something on Facebook saying, you didn't invite me, you know, and things like that, you know? Oh, yeah, it would be funny sometimes.

If she couldn't get in contact with me or Damon-- that's my younger brother--

Ira Glass

Mm-hmm.

Pam

--she knows that if she would put on Facebook, tell Pam or tell Damon to call me, someone in our family is calling us to say, you know, call your mom.

Ira Glass

On Saturday, May 14, Pam's mom, Pearl, was one of the 10 people killed at Tops grocery in Buffalo. A teenage white supremacist has been charged with driving over three hours there to murder Black people. When something like the Buffalo shooting happens, each of the people killed gets summarized afterwards in a sentence. Pearl was Pearl Young, the 77-year-old grandmother who taught Sunday school and ran a food pantry at the church for decades.

That leaves so much out about how she lived-- big things, like special connections she had with teenagers, how they'd bond with her, and could talk to her about what was really going on with them; little things, like how her world changed when she learned the computer and started mildly trolling her grown children on Facebook. We're all of us too big to fit into a sentence.

Take Aaron Salter Jr., who was also killed at Tops that day. The story about him that was repeated a lot in the wake of the shooting-- he was a store security guard, a retired police officer. And when the gunman came in firing a semiautomatic rifle, Aaron Salter exchanged fire with him. But the guy was wearing body armor, and killed Aaron Salter.

He was called a hero. There were photos of him in his uniform. But there were other sides to him. In his spare time, Salter would invent things. He was a tinkerer-- rebuilt a '67 Cadillac.

In 2011, when gas prices rose to over $4 a gallon, he went online and bought plans to refit a car engine so it would run on water by splitting the water into hydrogen and oxygen, and using that hydrogen as fuel. Like any hobbyist, there are videos of him talking about this online, getting those original plans.

Aaron Salter Jr.

I was skeptical myself. I didn't-- you know, I didn't believe that it would work. But I just wanted to see.

Ira Glass

He says the plans that he bought online, they weren't any good. So he designed his own version with a cooling system and a circulation system, and it worked-- a little, anyway.

Aaron Salter Jr.

All right, I'm just going to-- I'm just going to start it.

[CAR STARTING]

Ira Glass

His system, which he built and installed in an F-150 truck, was innovative enough that it was actually granted a patent. And Salter says in these videos that he's been able to drive the truck on hydrogen for 8/10 of a mile so far, though in the videos, it all very much still looks like a work in progress. Like, after he throws the valve to send hydrogen into the engine, it runs for a little while, but then he has to shut it down.

[ENGINE WINDING DOWN]

Aaron Salter Jr.

It's holding water.

Man

It's holding water in it?

Aaron Salter Jr.

Mm-hmm.

Ira Glass

Water pours out of the tube that's supposed to be carrying only hydrogen.

Man

And that's not supposed to be there, right?

Aaron Salter Jr.

That's why it's not running.

Ira Glass

Watching him troubleshoot on these videos is where it really starts to feel like you see Aaron Salter's personality for the first time. He's calm, methodical.

Aaron Salter Jr.

Got to get this water.

Ira Glass

His son, Aaron III, told a reporter after he died that the last time he saw his dad, they went riding motorcycles. And when his motorcycle broke down, and his dad got into the engine to try to fix it, it was the most Aaron Salter Junior-y thing his dad could have done. Just seeing him in action, he said, doing stuff like, is what I'm going to miss about him.

[MUSIC - CURTIS LOVELL]

Well, today on our program, this has been a year of so many mass shootings, really horrific ones, that it feels hard to absorb the names and pictures of each one before the next one happens. Uvalde was, I don't know, what was it, 10 days after Buffalo? What happened in Buffalo was a mass shooting. But it was also an act of racial violence.

The alleged killer wrote in his 180-page manifesto, his whole goal was, quote, "to kill as many Blacks as possible." That's how he chose Tops. He didn't care in particular who they were, just that they were Black.

What do you do in the face of that? Well, I think first and foremost, it seems worth asserting the obvious fact that these were not interchangeable Black people, but specific people living their lives, and that we remember them for who they were, as well as we know how. At our show, we were talking about that list of names that went around after Buffalo, 10 names and ages, and what it would mean to know more about them and tell some of their stories in ways that we hadn't heard before after one of these shootings.

We asked a bunch of Black writers to use their skills to help us do just that. Each one wrote about somebody they felt some connection to, or noticed some detail about that they couldn't get out of their head, to show you a side of these 10 people that you have not heard or seen. That's our show today. From WBEZ Chicago, it's This American Life. I'm Ira Glass. Stay with us.

The music that you're hearing right now is by Curtis Lovell, a Buffalo musician who you're going to hear throughout the show today. And let's start with--

Celestine Chaney

Ira Glass

Celestine Chaney, 65 years old. The one-sentence description of her was something like, she attended Fosdick-Masten Vocational High School, which was a prestigious school for girls in Buffalo, where she studied to be a seamstress, went on to jobs in Buffalo companies that made suits and baseball caps. Though in reading about her, we saw a thing where one of her grandchildren, a 25-year-old, Kayla Jones, said her grandmother was her best friend, and they were really close, somebody that she could confide in over homemade margaritas. They'd party together.

Writer Brittany Luse was interested in that relationship and talked to Kayla.

Brittany Luse

Kayla Jones says most of the words you'd use to describe a grandma apply to hers, Celestine Chaney. She could sew, was active in church, and loved to host. The family would often get together at Celestine's place for parties-- like, real parties.

Kayla Jones

Grandma had a bar. Like, she used to-- like, at her house, a lot of people would come over for-- like, they'd have game night. You know, our game nights be like, Uno and stuff.

But their game nights is, like, gambling with card games and stuff like that. And they had bingo. So that's why they-- like, a lot of her sisters and her cousins and stuff, they'd come over and they'd do all that. They got a bar.

Brittany Luse

The thing Kayla connected most with her grandma about? They both liked to look good-- nails, hair, clothes. Celestine refused to leave the house looking anything less than immaculate. She and Kayla shared that in common. Of course, they had different ideas about what immaculate looked like.

Kayla says her grandma would tease her for showing too much skin. Celestine preferred to shop at Kohl's and Burlington Coat Factory.

Kayla Jones

She always at the nail shop whenever she needed a fill. She wore acrylics, so-- never nothing too long. She was always like the oval. I can say, like, short, not too short length.

Brittany Luse

Mm-hmm.

Kayla Jones

And she got the little-- always used to have, like, the back in the day nail tech-- like, you know, back in the day, the styles we used to get? Like, she still got those, like, with the little lines and dots and stuff like.

Brittany Luse

With the lines and dots on the little palm tree.

Kayla Jones

Yeah, yeah, yeah, like we used to wear early 2000s. She still gets that style.

Brittany Luse

Celestine reminds me a lot of my own mom. They're both loving grandmothers, church ladies who like to party, and they both love a full look. They were also both born in the 1950s. Many Black women of that generation were taught that chipped nails, undone hair, or wrinkly clothes could widen the gap between you and a job, a home loan, or basic respect. Beauty was a joy, but it was also a shield.

When Kayla was still a kid, Celestine went through a lot with her health. She battled breast cancer and suffered three brain aneurysms. When Celestine began to lose her hair, Kayla started to style it for her.

Kayla Jones

They took a piece of her skull out, so I'm not sure if they was working on her brain or something like that. So she had, like, a little dent in it. And I know for sure, like, that's the worst part about it that she hated, was that, and of course because her hair had to get cut off.

So, like, in that part where the dent was, the hair fairly-- like, it didn't grow as much.

Brittany Luse

Mm-hmm.

Kayla Jones

So like, when I used to-- like, sometimes she would wear her real hair. And I'd have to curl it. She was just like, can you please just make sure that you cover that up? Because she genuinely did not like that.

Brittany Luse

What was it like back then to be able to care for your grandmother in that way?

Kayla Jones

I didn't really like it because I know she didn't like it. And I know that she feels some type of way about it. It's just sad to-- so I just did whatever I can to help out. Because I know if it was me, I would hate it, too.

Brittany Luse

Kayla's interest in hair eventually led her to hair school. In recent years, Kayla started making wigs for her grandmother just because Celestine liked them. She'd see Kayla in her custom wigs and say, give me that wig when you're done with it.

Kayla Jones

So I can't say she had a favorite, but I did make her a couple. My favorite wig that she had was the one I made her. And it had blue streaks in it.

Brittany Luse

Blue streaks?

Kayla Jones

I gave her some blue streaks, yep. I got a picture.

[LAUGHTER]

Brittany Luse

Wait, so was it short, or was it long--

Kayla Jones

It was like a short bob. I made her a short middle part bob. And I put, like, a little-- couple tracks in it, like blue tracks, like teal.

Brittany Luse

That's cute.

Kayla Jones

And throughout the back. But she had a nice, little, wavy bob. She really liked that.

Brittany Luse

I was going to say, what was her response when she saw that the wig was blue?

Kayla Jones

She was cracking up. I got a video when I had-- she liked it. I think she liked it.

Brittany Luse

[LAUGHS]

Kayla Jones

She wore it. It wasn't OD a lot of blue in it. I probably put, like, three or four tracks in so it had, like, little small streaks. Yeah, yeah, yeah, she didn't have, like, nothing too blue, too much. Something that she can definitely wear, but it's something a little extra-- you know, extra little-- she never had a little style like that. So I wanted her to stand out a little.

Brittany Luse

Celestine was a traditional lady, the type who might find a signature style and stick with it-- a press and curl, a roller set, maybe they'll do a flat iron with a little bump at the ends. But your granddaughter suggesting blue highlights? Not going to happen.

But Celestine was loving and trusting enough of Kayla to allow herself to be seen the way her granddaughter saw her. Celestine embraced all of Kayla, exactly how she was-- mostly.

Kayla Jones

Just she can't stand my eyelashes, they're so long. When I do put lashes in, she'll go, I'm gonna cut them off with toenail clippers. I literally have a video of her saying that. Like, I'm going to get them-- take them little caterpillars off your eyes.

Brittany Luse

[LAUGHS]

Kayla Jones

That's the only thing she could not stand, was them long lashes. That's why I put some on her. I ain't OD at the funeral, but, like, when I put her together for the funeral, I did put lashes on her.

Brittany Luse

You put lashes on her for the funeral?

Kayla Jones

Yeah, it was my payback.

[LAUGHTER]

She looked cute, though. [LAUGHS]

Brittany Luse

Did you do her hair for the funeral, as well?

Kayla Jones

Yeah, I got her a wig, like a short bob. It was a front bang wig. And then I had one of my best friends do her makeup. And then we had matching outfits. So I had-- we had the same suit on. Like, exactly the same outfit, just same suit, same undershirt.

Brittany Luse

Do you think your-- do you think your grandmother would be honored by that, by you all being-- like, looking so much alike on that day?

Kayla Jones

Oh, of course. I made sure she went out-- like, she looked really cute. Like, she looked really good and-- because they had to do, like, a lot of-- they had to reconstruct the side of her face. So I had to just make sure, like, we could get her looking just like-- you know what I mean, to herself as possible. But she looked really good-- like, really good.

Brittany Luse

When we're little, the first, and often only people to care for our hair are family-- mothers, aunties, sisters, cousins, and grandmothers. We spend long mornings between their knees or at kitchen tables with combs and brushes next to our cereal bowls before our days even begin. Their palms kiss our scalps, allowing us to greet an unkind world with a halo of love. And sometimes, when we grow up, we have the honor of returning the gesture.

Ira Glass

Brittany Luse is co-host of the For Colored Nerds podcast.

Andre Mackniel

Ira Glass

Andre Mackneil, born 1969. After the Buffalo shooting, there wasn't a lot written about Andre Mackneil, and his family hasn't been talking much to the press. We know that he worked at a restaurant, had five children, that he wrote poetry. The one place that he shared parts of himself publicly was on TikTok.

Here, at our radio show, the person who swims the furthest and deepest in the ocean that is TikTok is Bim Adewunmi. She has many thoughts about what she sees there. We were very interested to hear what she would say about his videos. She likes them.

Bim Adewunmi

Andre was 53 years old when he was murdered. And he used TikTok exactly as you would expect a 53-year-old man to use TikTok, which is to say, he's not interested in recreating complex, choreographed dances. And he's not telling funny stories. We actually never hear his voice.

Instead, there are slideshows of friends and members of his family, or of himself, often in his car. Here's one of his partner in hospital after giving birth. Here's a smiling kid with cornrows. Here's a screenshot of a Facebook photo.

His videos are all soundtracked by music he liked, some of it three decades old-- R&B songs by artists like Luther Vandross, Usher, Jagged Edge, Tevin Campbell, Jeremih.

[MUSIC - RAHEEM DEVAUGHN, "CUSTOMER"]

I recognize the music because I love this music, too. It hits me, watching, we're not that far apart in age.

The most TikTok thing Andre does in the 37 videos he posted? He lip-syncs to hip hop and R&B classics. In one, he mouths along to Raheem DeVaughn's 2008 song, "Customer."

(SINGING) If your heart is hungry, you can place your order here with me. Let me serve you up, let me, let me serve you up--

Andre looks right into the camera in these videos, the frame super tight around his face and chest. And he emotes. He puts his hand to his chest and his temple, and points to the camera, landing the lyrics with intent. His beard is flecked with gray, so it's more salt and pepper than black.

[MUSIC - H-TOWN, "PART TIME LOVER"]

When he lip syncs to H-Town's "Part Time Lover," he really nails the ad-libs.

(SINGING) There is not another man who wouldn't take care of you. Right now, I know you're busy, baby, but let me be your part time fool.

Both those videos and a couple of others have the same caption-- for my wife. Love songs so easily fall into the realm of cheesy, singing along to them even more so. But Andre commits. He's feeling feelings. And on TikTok, if nowhere else, you can be earnest. These videos feel like something he hoped his partner would actually see and love.

For me, some of the most moving videos from Andre were a couple posted on the day DMX died, in April 2021. In both, he's wearing a maroon terry robe over his T-shirt, with his beard trimmed close. The idea of him posting those to honor the late rapper, a stranger who had moved him with his art, wrecks me. One of the lyrics Andre lip-syncs to is from 1998's "Slippin'"-- "If I'm strong enough, I'll live long enough to see my kids doing something more constructive with they time than bids."

The one thing that was repeated in news stories about Andre is that he'd gone to Tops that day to do something for his three-year-old son. He was there to pick up a birthday cake. He didn't live long enough.

Ira Glass

Bim Adewunmi is one of the producers of our show.

Katherine Massey

Ira Glass

Katherine Massey, age 72. After the Buffalo shooting, the fact that was repeated about Kat Massey was that she had written a letter to the newspaper calling for gun control about a year before she was murdered. When we started putting together today's program, talking to people who knew Kat Massey, and reading some of the many, many letters to the editor that she wrote, and all the different things that she cared about, we immediately thought of the writer Eve Ewing. Here she is.

Eve Ewing

Probably like a lot of people, and maybe in particular like a lot of Black people, I've been turning away from the news from Buffalo. It felt too hurtful to sit with. But then, when the show reached out and told me about Kat, things changed.

I never met Katherine "Kat" Massey. But when I read about her life, I felt a kinship with her. Because by all accounts, Kat was a certified member of a group to which I also proudly belong-- the busybody club. Aunties, literal or figurative, doers of the most, that one person you know that's all up on everything, not for the sake of being nosy or in people's business, but someone who, when they see something that could be safer, smarter, better, more accessible, cleaner, more equitable, does something about it.

I'm gonna give you an example. Here's a story people love to tell about Kat, maybe because it's a story she loved to tell about herself. But I got to hear it from her friend and frequent co-conspirator, Ms. Betty Jean Grant.

Kat was trying to get something done, some improvements on her street. And she wrote a letter to the governor. He was unmoved. He hit her back and was like, isn't that something a block club would normally handle?

Betty Jean Grant

But he said, if you get your block club to write a letter, then we'll consider that letter. He assumed she had a block club when she did not. And so she, [LAUGHS] being the resourceful, resourceful person that she is and was, she gets letterhead that she created from the Cherry Street Block Club, and she wrote that request to the governor.

Eve Ewing

On the low, the Cherry Street Block Club was, shall we say, aspirational. It had exactly one member-- president, founder, treasurer, secretary, letterhead designer all rolled into one lady-- Katherine Massey. And that turned out to be enough to get the job done.

Betty Jean Grant

Once it was approved, Kat said, oh, my god, you know? I got to form this block club.

[LAUGHTER]

I got this done with a block club that doesn't exist. So I got to form a block club.

Eve Ewing

And so she did. That's how the Cherry Street Block Club was born. Now, busybody 101 is the person who's out in the park picking up trash or making sure kids have something to eat.

But the advanced busybody is the one who knows how to rally the people. They understand how to build a collective vision. And they've got the charisma and persuasive talents to do it. That was Kat-- elite level busybody.

Let me tell you another story, this time from somebody who wasn't Kat's close friend.

Michael Christner

Well, my name is Michael Christner, actually Mike. Worked for 25 years at the New York State Department of Transportation.

Eve Ewing

Mike Christner met Kat the way various other political officials slash school principals slash city council people met Kat. Someone came into his office and said, there's a lady downstairs waiting to meet with you. Mike had been assigned to a project near Kat's house.

Eve Ewing

What was the official title of the project?

Michael Christner

I don't remember what the official title was. Usually, our titles are very long and very boring.

Eve Ewing

Mm-hmm.

Michael Christner

So it was something like replacement of the railing on top of the retaining wall along state highway blank, blank, blank. So it would make no sense. And she found out-- I'm not sure how, but she found out that we had this project.

And she came in. And sat down and talked to us, and actually asked us or told us, what are you going to do for me, and for us, and for my neighborhood?

Eve Ewing

Kat's house faced the highway-- like, sit on your front porch looking at a highway-type faced the highway. And she was tired of it. Her neighborhood, like a lot of Black neighborhoods in the United States, has an expressway cutting through it. The part that ran by Kat's house was built out in the 1960s, a period when the federal government was incentivizing highway expansion in a way that often involved bisecting or flat out bulldozing communities of color, sometimes incidentally, sometimes on purpose.

Between Kat's house and all the cars, there was a rusting railing that was falling apart. So somehow or other, Kat figured out the guy who she could talk to about it. And she used her tried and true method-- she showed up in his office. And she brought a friend with her. Remember, collective vision.

As Mike recalls it, they sat down, reached into a bag, and pulled out a piece of kente cloth. They put it down in front of him.

Eve Ewing

Now, that must have been surprising.

Michael Christner

Yes, it was.

Eve Ewing

And what did they say?

Michael Christner

Kat looked at me. And Kat asked, what are you going to do with this? How can you incorporate this into your project?

Eve Ewing

I mean, I assume that up to that moment, you had no plans to incorporate any type of kente cloth.

Michael Christner

I've never done anything like that before, but I was elated, actually. And I looked at this as an opportunity.

Eve Ewing

The fact that Mike saw this moment as an opportunity, that was something Kat brought out in people. Kat's sister, Barbara, says that one of Kat's many catchphrases was, "this is a question-suggestion." I love this phrase. It's brilliant, it's inviting, and it's assertive. It says, I have a vision, but figure it out with me.

What Kat couldn't have known before she met Mike was that by recruiting him to be on Team Busybody, she was also helping him see his vision through. Mike, and I mean this in the most flattering way possible, is a transportation nerd. This dude is passionate.

Michael Christner

A couple of months before this time, I was in Minneapolis-Saint Paul. And I looked at the railings and the public streets that they have, and I noticed that they had a lot of interesting railing art-- art on the railings, and art on the walls.

Eve Ewing

Do you often, when you travel or you go to different places, do you look at railings a lot?

Michael Christner

Oh, I look at everything. Even as a kid, I used to stare out the window as, like, driving down the highway. And then she walked in and showed me this kente cloth. And I-- one and one equaled two. It seemed like a perfect match.

Eve Ewing

Mike told Kat that the exact kente cloth pattern would be hard to replicate-- too many fine lines to be rendered in concrete. But they brainstormed and came up with something else-- Adinkra symbols from Ghana representing different principles and ideas, like a Sankofa bird with the words, "go back and retrieve." They thought the symbols and words would be cool to look at, but also achieve Kat's goal of inspiring people in the neighborhood to learn a bit about West African heritage and the Black diaspora. They worked together, and the plan was approved-- amazing. The end.

Psych. This is the government. Of course it took forever. And Kat wasn't going to let up. Getting her plan in place wasn't enough.

Michael Christner

Well, Kat would call us occasionally, about every-- every three or six months, ask us to give her an update. How are things going? How are things coming along? When can we expect something? Not quite realizing the process that we go through and how long it takes.

Eve Ewing

Mm-hmm.

Michael Christner

However, she was still very supportive. I mean, she'd always walk into the room with a big smile on her face. And she was-- while she wanted things, she wasn't demanding or pushy. She had a personality that you really wanted to help.

Eve Ewing

Mm-hmm.

Michael Christner

You wanted to help her.

Eve Ewing

And you said 25 years was your amount of time at the Department, is that correct? 25--

Michael Christner

That's correct, yep, 25 years.

Eve Ewing

In that 25 years, how many times would you say you had a resident calling frequently to check up on you with the progress of a project?

Michael Christner

She is the only one.

She would always send us a Christmas card--

Eve Ewing

Wow.

Michael Christner

--every year, even after the project was completed. And she'd address it to me and the A-Team-- that's what she called us.

Eve Ewing

[LAUGHS] Did anybody else send you Christmas cards to your office?

Michael Christner

Nobody.

Eve Ewing

Nobody. Wow, not even the streets and sanitation people? Or are you guys, like, rivals with them?

Michael Christner

Well, I wouldn't call it rivals. But we-- we do a mutual job.

Eve Ewing

In 2012, Kat wrote her own obituary. I'm going to read you some excerpts, a little bit of what she wanted us to know about her. Here it is.

Kat did not hesitate from being a committee of one. Once, she picketed her landlord's restaurant for the lack of heat in her apartment. One of her proudest moments in a time when she nearly got cold feet was her appearance as Ms. Broc-cooli-- her invention. That's broccoli with the word cool in it. It's a pun-- at a health assembly at the Dr. Lydia T. Wright School.

Her rented broccoli costume was accessorized by sunglasses and leopard gloves. She performed the rap song written by her for the occasion. She often said she was a single parent with 35,000 adopted children attending Buffalo's public schools.

Kat was an upbeat people person with a well-used smile. She was not an inside the box individual, as her home's unusual decorations, such as a knight in armor, demonstrated. And oh, yes, she didn't mind expressing her opinion-- in newspaper editorials, at school board and community meetings, at Blue Cross Blue Shield, where she worked, in the barber shop, at bus stops, in train stations, via online blogs, or wherever.

Kat wrote another thing about her own passing-- a letter to her family encouraging them to prepare for the idea of her being gone. She said, I don't know why Patti had to leave first. But my prayer is for me to be the next to go. I'm overdue. I told Patti, don't let me be a wimp when it's my time. And don't none of you be wimps, either. That last part is underlined.

I told you earlier that when I saw news about Buffalo, I would look away. Looking away can be a thing you have to do sometimes to protect yourself. But looking away forever also makes it impossible to really grieve. Grief requires you to hold on to something, to sit with it, to look at it, consider it, cry, be mad.

And I get the sense that Kat would have really, really wanted us to do all those things. Because she didn't look away. Kat showed up.

We need people like Kat-- the people who aren't paid to care, who aren't experts who know everything. They're just the folks who are willing to make the sign, meet the principal, call the governor, put on the rapping broccoli costume. The few, the proud, the busybodies.

Ira Glass

Eve Ewing in Chicago. Her website is eveewing.com.

Coming up, a man and a deacon get into a car. Money is exchanged. The man is confused. That's in a minute from Chicago Public Radio when our program continues.

Margus Morrison

Frederick

Well, you know how you tell a joke, but it's only humor to you? But just to make you feel good, we'll laugh with you anyway?

Ira Glass

Totally.

Frederick

[LAUGHS]

Ira Glass

Do you remember any of his jokes?

Frederick

I don't. They were corny, but just laugh with him anyway. [LAUGHS]

Ira Glass

Fredrick did remember some of his brother's dirty jokes, but didn't want to share those on the radio. The brothers, they were two years apart. And they saw each other all the time.

Frederick

Every day.

Ira Glass

For real? Every day?

Frederick

Every day, every chance we get. You see him, you see me. That's why people used to think we were twins, 'cause we always together.

Ira Glass

Yeah.

Frederick

And we look alike. And we look alike.

Ira Glass

Margus would text him or call him, saying, open the back door. And they'd sit and chat in Frederick's living room, Margus on the brown recliner, Frederick on the couch. They'd watch TV. They liked stand-up. They listened to music together.

That's what Frederick says he misses the most-- something that doesn't have a particular name. Not a dramatic memory with his brother, just hanging out, the daily-ness of it.

Geraldine Chapman Talley

Ira Glass

Next up-- Geraldine Chapman Talley, age 62. People in Buffalo told us that pretty much everybody who's there who's Black knows somebody who died May 14. And the effects of violence like this, a gunman showing up to specifically kill Black people, ripple out from the families involved to those like that who knew them, to people all over the country, especially Black people who are thinking it through.

For his story, Kiese Laymon wanted to talk through one fact in particular about Geraldine Chapman Talley's life with someone he knows.

Kiese Laymon

Geraldine Chapman Talley, Gerri by her friends and family. She was the seventh of nine children and graduated from East High School in 1977. She was an excellent cook and baker. She had a daughter, a son, and a stepdaughter. Not long after learning she was about to become a grandmother for the first time, Chapman Talley was murdered in a Tops supermarket in Buffalo, New York.

Here's the part that felt most familiar and ultimately most terrifying about this American story. Gerri Chapman Talley was born in Grove Hill, Alabama, and moved to Buffalo when she was 11. That move, Grove Hill, Alabama, to Buffalo, New York, I heard that. And I had the same reaction as my friend, Zandria Robinson, who, like me, left the deep south for the north.

Zandria was raised right up the road. I'm from Jackson, Mississippi, and she's from Memphis, Tennessee.

Zandria Robinson

I mean, my immediate thought was just, we went all the way up there just to die the same way that we were trying not to die.

Kiese Laymon

Wow.

I wanted to talk to Zandria because she wrote the book Chocolate Cities with Dr. Marcus Hunter. They drew the map on Black migratory paths in America. Zandria is a professor of African-American Studies at Georgetown, so that's Dr. Robinson to y'all.

On the Black map they drew, Buffalo isn't the North or even the Northeast. It's part of something called the up south. And Alabama, like Mississippi, like Memphis, is a part of something called the deep south. Zandria told me Ms. Chapman Talley's people made the move later than most, in 1971.

Zandria Robinson

So Buffalo, there was a bunch of Black people there already.

Kiese Laymon

Yeah.

Zandria Robinson

They had cultivated a Black side of town.

Kiese Laymon

Right.

Zandria Robinson

They found up there, definitely an up south, or definitely a north that was the south.

Kiese Laymon

Definitely an up south.

Zandria Robinson

Definitely an up south. But it was still something different.

Kiese Laymon

I told Zandria that when I talked to Chapman Talley's family, I heard the story of how the Chapmans arrived in Buffalo a few different ways. Chapman Talley's niece, Tamika Harper, says the family was coming up to Niagara Falls from Alabama for a family vacation.

Something happened to the car, she says. Chapman Talley's father found a job paying better than Alabama, and ended up staying. Hattie Chapman Steele, Chapman Talley's older sister by six years, recalls a slightly different story. She says that the family moved to Buffalo because their mother found out she had a sister in Buffalo. Zandria said it's hard to really grasp the enormity or the psychic toll of these migrations, whether one was moving up and over a few counties or all the way across the country.

Zandria Robinson

You know, in my father's case, I'm leaving Glendora, Mississippi, and I'm going to Memphis.

Kiese Laymon

Yes.

Zandria Robinson

That is, for somebody who lived the county, two counties over from where Emmett Till was murdered, that's a big move.

Kiese Laymon

It's huge.

Zandria Robinson

It's a huge move. So to imagine the Chapmans saying, all right, we're going from the bottom to the top, that's symbolic. It's geographical. It's cognitive. And it meant that Ms. Gerri ended up with a different kind of life than she would have had in Alabama.

Kiese Laymon

Gerri's older sister, Hattie, said that for her, the move to Buffalo was difficult. Hattie was 18 years old. And though she was eager to see what Buffalo had to offer, she was still deeply connected to Alabama. But Gerri was much younger, and she took to Buffalo quickly.

Zandria and I talked a while about what young Gerri's life might have been like in Buffalo. In our deep south, it was ritual to sit on a porch cradled by humidity, or in an idling Impala, considering the journey of Black folk who left home and never made it back.

Kiese Laymon

And, like, this is the thing I love about talking to you because there's something either deeply Black American, deeply Southern Black American about what we're doing now, which is a kind of attempt at eulogy, elegy, really loving someone that we did not particularly individually know know, but we felt like we might have known part of their journey.

Zandria Robinson

We say these things, we know these people. And I'm just hurt a lot that we don't get to know more about her, from her.

Kiese Laymon

You write a lot about what we are owed in life as folks from-- Black folks from the deep south, and what kinds of-- I'm interested in-- you can talk to me about what kinds of death are we owed when we leave home, or are carried from home for a different kind of freedom? People always want to talk about this repair, and reparation, or whatnot. What kind of deaths are we owed, whether we stay home in the deep south, and particularly in this situation, whether we go to these corners of the nation that might be a little bit different or a lot different from our Southern homes?

Zandria Robinson

I think we're owed the death of our choosing.

Kiese Laymon

(WHISPERS) Yes.

Zandria Robinson

And that might seem hyperbolic because, of course, God and all of that. But I would say that of all the things, I would hope that people would be able to be peaceful, quiet, surrounded by music, love, and family, chosen and otherwise, and whoever else they wanted to be there.

Kiese Laymon

(WHISPERS) Yes.

Zandria Robinson

Being able to move into the light in ways of their own choosing. That's what this country owes to all Black people as reparations, to be able to choose. But this manner-- yes, to be lynched-- that's all the way up in the corner, next to Canada.

Kiese Laymon

Yeah.

Zandria Robinson

And I know what America is.

Kiese Laymon

Right.

Zandria Robinson

I wasn't like, oh my god, this happened up north.

Kiese Laymon

Right, right--

Zandria Robinson

Obviously, I know what America is.

Kiese Laymon

Yes.

Zandria Robinson

I've always known this. Yet to go so far, and then to not have a choice, to have that choice made for you in that way, that's not acceptable, to take people like this. And I think that being able to choose our exits, choose which way we going to go off the stage--

Kiese Laymon

Yes.

Zandria Robinson

--is so essential.

Kiese Laymon

Geraldine Chapman Talley did not get to choose how she left Buffalo. Tamika shared some of the regular texts she'd exchanged with her aunt. And two in particular got to me.

In one of Chapman Talley's messages to her niece, she rejoices at her recent negative COVID tests, and thanks her niece for all the care and concern as she battles a prolonged back problem. "Happy to say I'm negative for COVID," Chapman Talley texted Harper. "Just to hear a concerned family member voice can feel they are for real. Means the world to me. You have always checked on me throughout my years of illness. There will always be a place in my" heart emoji "for you."

"Aw," Harper responded to the text from her aunt. "No thanks needed, my auntie slash mommy. I love you." Blowing kisses emoji.

My auntie slash mommy.

A few weeks after 10 Black people are murdered in a grocery store in Western New York for being Black people in a grocery store in Western New York, nothing feels more deeply southern than the "my" preceding auntie slash mommy. That "my" desperately wants Geraldine Chapman Talley, a Black woman born in Grove Hill, Alabama, whose heartmeat seems as uniquely shaped as her migration journey to Buffalo-- to know she is cherished, connected, and most horrifying of all, safe.

Ira Glass

Kiese Laymon, he's the author of the memoir Heavy and other books.

Ruth Whitfield

Ira Glass

Ruth Whitfield, 86 years old. There's this line used over and over about the oldest victim, Ruth Whitfield, that she'd gone to Tops after visiting her husband that morning in a nursing home. BA Parker wanted to talk to her son, Garnell Jr., about what seemed to be a very long love story.

B.A. Parker

I sat down at Garnell Jr.'s dining room table hoping to hear stories about Ruth Whitfield and her husband, Garnell Sr., how they met, and who they were before having four children, and before the nursing home visits. But instead, I learned about how she loved secondhand shopping and singing the hymn, "Peace Be Still," how she got her GED late in life, and was adamant that no one call her Ruth, always Mrs. Whitfield, or how she once desperately rushed onto a football field when a teenage Garnell Jr. got injured during a game.

Garnell Jr.

And I open my eyes, and I look up my mom standing over me [LAUGHS] in the middle of the field and all of these people. My mom gonna run out on the field. [LAUGHS] And I said, mom, what are you doing out here? But--

B.A. Parker

Garnell Jr. is the second oldest, and a retired fire commissioner for the City of Buffalo. And he sat with me in his flip flops while his tiny dog rested at his feet. And instead of a love story about his parents, he told me a story about a car.

When Garnell Jr.'s dad first moved into the nursing home, Mrs. Whitfield wanted a car.

Garnell Jr.

So whatever, she got her first car in her name.

B.A. Parker

Wait, were you at the dealership with her?

Garnell Jr.

Oh, yeah, we were there. We were there. Oh, yeah. Because I think the first time-- because she had never done this before. And I didn't-- and she never had credit. She never had credit. It was my dad's credit. She never worked. She never had credit. No. So yeah, I was there.

B.A. Parker

So Mrs. Whitfield was in her early 80s, in a car dealership with three of her adult children, going back and forth about what car to get. She wanted something with a little flair, but her kids were pleading with her to be sensible. And so she ended up getting a Buick, which was fine.

Garnell Jr.

What she bought-- she bought the SUV because she thought she would be-- it would be easier to get my father and take him on visits to the home or whatever from the nursing home. But as it turns out, she wasn't able to do that with him.

B.A. Parker

At her age, it wasn't physically feasible for Mrs. Whitfield to help him into the car.

Garnell Jr.

And so she regretted getting the SUV. She hated-- she ended up hating it. She hated it because that's not really what she wanted.

B.A. Parker

But that was kind of what Mrs. Whitfield always did-- take care of others, get the car she didn't really want because it could possibly help someone else. See, Mrs. Whitfield grew up on Grand Island, the small island right between Buffalo and Niagara Falls. And even as a kid, she was caring for siblings and cousins.

And when she got married at 19, same thing. She was taking care of her husband and kids. Her house was the one that everyone in the neighborhood would come to.

So to Garnell Jr., hearing his mom described as a doting wife, sure. But it doesn't quite feel like enough.

Garnell Jr.

But they stayed together, you know? They stayed together. They loved each other. And everything was not hunky dory. Everything was not-- between them, they had problems over the years, you know?

And it cost them. It cost her, you know? It cost her. She sacrificed a lot of her dreams, you know? She sacrificed them to stay together, and to stay with us.

When my father became debilitated, it's the first time in my mom's life she was independent, had-- had that kind of independence, where she had to pay bills. She became the head of the household. And as difficult as it might have been, it was something that she relished, I think, you know? She got to be her own person and be in charge.

B.A. Parker

Garnell Jr. watched as his mom asserted herself and figured out what she wanted. When the staff at the nursing home would talk to Garnell Jr., his mom would get annoyed and say, you're talking to the wrong person. Talk to me.

And she drove herself everywhere. Granted, she had three accidents this year. But Garnell insists that at least one of them wasn't her fault.

She started doing things she'd never done before, like taking herself on a vacation, solo, to Florida-- a first. And it was around this time that the new, independent Mrs. Ruth Whitfield, now 83, finally went shopping for the car that she actually wanted-- a 2020 Hyundai Elantra. And there was no fighting her on this one.

Garnell Jr.

When we went to get the car, the guy had a-- he had a 2019, brand-new, no miles on it, hadn't sold it. Great deal, great deal. She refused to take it because it wasn't new. It wasn't-- it had to be in the current year that we were there.

B.A. Parker

[LAUGHS]

Garnell Jr.

Oh, we went around and around, and said, mama, are you kidding me? This is a great deal, ma. They're giving you this car, and it's a great deal, ma. No. She would have-- she got mad. Oh, it got to be a real thing between us.

I said, ma, it doesn't-- no, I want it new. It's got to be in the current year. I don't care if nobody ever drove it before. It's got to be in this-- and that's how she was. So she got her-- she got her brand-new car, yeah.

B.A. Parker

Again, this is a brand-new car, and she is 83 years old.

Garnell Jr.

Oh, she loved it. She got what she wanted. She had the sunroof, the heated seats, you know? She-- it had to be-- she wanted black. She got black. [INAUDIBLE] or something-- I want black. So she got her a black Hyundai Elantra.

And you had to know my mom. See, her car would be full of stuff all the time. She was a thrift-- she'd go to thrift stores, and she would just buy stuff. You know, she would just buy stuff. Some of it's very nice stuff. But she would have stuff in the car that's been sitting in there for, you know-- you know, they--

At Tops, when I saw a car similar to hers, that looked like hers, might be hers in the parking lot, I told the detectives and the police that were there cordoning off the area. I said, like, I see the roof of a black car sitting in that parking lot. I need you to go and look at that car, and see if it's my mother's car.

B.A. Parker

As a former fire commissioner, he knew the police. And he ran down to Tops when he heard about the shooting to see if he could help. The car caught him by surprise.

Garnell Jr.

And they said, well, how would you know? What's the [INAUDIBLE]? I said, look in the car. It's going to be some kind of hat in the back window. It's going to probably be handwritten signs in the windows of their car. You know, it would be something-- something about God, something about the Buffalo Bills. [LAUGHS]

She was a note writer. Mirrors in the house, doorways in the house, they would have notes. So I knew that if they saw these things in the car, that would identify the car. And that's basically what happened, yeah.

B.A. Parker

Hmm.

After Mrs. Whitfield died, Garnell Jr. kept some of the notes that his mother wrote-- some that were in the car, and more directly, the one she kept in her husband's room at the nursing home. One that stuck out read, God's got my back. She kept it in her husband's room to let everyone know not to be worried-- once again, taking care of everyone.

Ira Glass

BA Parker is one of the hosts of Code Switch on NPR.

Roberta Drury

Ira Glass

Roberta Drury, 32 years old. She was the first person killed, and the youngest person killed. Roberta moved to Buffalo from outside Syracuse to care for her brother, who was ill. She was described in a lot of stories as vibrant, funny, joyful. When we reached out to Damon Young to write about somebody for today's show, he asked specifically for Roberta.

Damon Young

If Roberta Drury and I happened to be acquaintances, if we were coworkers, if she were a neighbor, or if I were a new boyfriend of a cousin, the ask would have been subtle. If we happened to be close friends, though, I would have just came out with it. Roberta, your name-- what's the story there?

It was the second thing that struck me when first reading news stories about her. The first was her face, because she reminded me so much of a close friend of mine-- the smile, especially. It's eerie how a stranger can feel so familiar, so tactile from just a picture, how you can see and hear so much from a face, and how a face can sit inside of you and just stay there. But then there was her name.

It's funny sometimes how names work. Names like Tiffany and Amber, for instance, feel like the '80s and the '90s, like Pringles chips, Cross Colours jeans, and Nintendos. Names like Akil and Raheem feel East Coast, but not Atlanta, Miami, or Charlotte-- more like Philly, Baltimore, Brooklyn, and DC. Roberta, today, in 2022, it feels like a vestige of an earlier era, something almost ancestral.

She was adopted at 18 months into a white family. The name came from her birth family. And it reminds me of power and laughter and love, of generous hugs and the baked candied yams you still taste three months after Thanksgiving. And I think it reminds me of those things because of the aunties, church ladies and grandmothers I've known and known of who were named that.

The Roberta in my life is a great aunt. Everyone, at least everyone at New Castle, PA, calls her Birdie. My family also had a Peggy, a Betty, a Ruth, and a Gladys. It still has an Eleanor. And when the Peggies and Betties and Gladyses in our families leave us, those names usually leave us, too. But Roberta Drury, a 32-year-old in 2022, was here.

It's also funny how names can be predictive, which is an academic way of saying prophetic, and my way of saying that maybe Roberta was here because the world needed more Robertas-- more love, more vibrancy, more jubilance, more saying "I love you," and not just saying it, but leaning out the window and shouting it at your best friend, which is what Roberta's best friend, Krystle, said she always did.

More singing yourself to sleep, which is what Roberta's sister, Amanda, said she'd always do as a kid. She'd sing so forcefully, so joyfully, that it would drain her into slumber. Sometimes, her singing would be too loud, like when she'd call her half-sister, Nancy, at work, and Roberta would belt Whitney Houston's "I Wanna Dance with Somebody" so loudly that Nancy had to run outside to answer it. But Nancy would always pick up because, as Roberta would say, Whitney Houston is calling. You don't ignore Whitney.

Talking to the people who knew her, I also learned that she didn't love her name. Her family knew her as Robbie. When she got older, she chose to be called Berta.

I get it. Roberta is a hard name for a young person to have. The Robertas in my life, I can't even picture them young. What I associate with that name is a product of years, decades of life. I just wish Roberta Drury had that chance, too.

Ira Glass

Damon Young is a contributing opinion writer at the Washington Post.

Deacon Heyward Patterson

Ira Glass

Heyward Patterson, 67 years old. A quick heads up before we start this one-- this story talks a little about the day of the shooting and the violence that day. Heyward Patterson was deacon at State Tabernacle Church of God in Christ, grew up in Buffalo, loved to sing.

Penny Beckham, who worked with Patterson at the church, says he had a beautiful voice. "I'm a Soldier in the Army of the Lord" was a favorite of his. He volunteered regularly at the soup kitchen Penny ran, Ms. Penny's Plate of Love food ministry.

Most volunteers, she said, don't spend a lot of time talking to the people who come in, some of whom are in a pretty bad way.

Penny Beckham

But Deacon Patterson would go in, and he would talk to each individual. He wasn't judgmental. He let them know that their present state was not their expected end. And he would tell them about God's love, and how God's love transformed him from who he was to who he was that day.

Ira Glass

Michael Harriot, a writer for TheGrio, met somebody who watched Deacon Patterson a lot, mostly from a distance, somebody who saw him almost every day, including the day he died.

Michael Harriot

At the center of every Black neighborhood is the store. It's not a store, but the store, a nexus that serves as the de facto gathering spot. Tops was the store, and Grady Lewis was the quintessential man in front of the store.

Grady's work was what partly kept him around Tops. Almost every day, he pushed a shopping cart for miles, collecting bottles and cans. Then he'd bring them to Tops to collect the recycling return fee. Then he'd just hang for hours.

The men in front of the store see everything. Grady knew when security guard Aaron Salter was scheduled to begin his shift. He could tell you when a new employee was hired. Everyone knew Grady.

Grady Lewis

My mother told me I never met a stranger. So I have no problems with chatting with anybody. I can walk up to anybody from anywhere and talk to them.

Michael Harriot

After he dropped his cans, Grady would hang out at the abandoned building across the street from the store. And that's where Grady first noticed the black Ford Fusion that would be in the Tops parking lot every day.

Grady Lewis

He'd put, like, a strip, a silver strip right there by the door. I would always be able to tell his car because of that strip it had on there.

Michael Harriot

The car belonged to Heyward Patterson, the deacon. Grady knew Deacon from around East Buffalo, back when Deacon lived on the same block as Grady's uncle's, back when everyone used to call Deacon Patterson Teeny Boy. And he knew Deacon from Tops, where Deacon was a jitney driver, shuttling passengers back and forth to the neighborhood's only grocery store in his unofficial cab.

But Grady didn't know know Deacon until one day, Grady was sitting in his usual spot at the abandoned building across from Tops, and then Deacon called Grady over to the parking lot. He asked if Grady wouldn't mind helping one of his jitney customers carry her bags. Grady knew Deacon had a bad knee and couldn't climb stairs.

Grady Lewis

I know that he needed my help. So even if I had no money in my pocket, and he needed my help, I would help him. Because I remember the first time I did it for him, the woman had steep-- like, I don't even know, 30, 40 steps up the back house. And that was a little bit of a lug, carrying those groceries up them steep steps.

Michael Harriot

Grady figured Deacon was making a cool profit as a jitney driver. He knew other jitneys charged as much as $10 to $20 to ride a couple of blocks. But often, Deacon would give the bulk of the money to Grady. Deacon would pay him just for walking a couple of blocks or going up one flight of stairs, or for just pointing people in his direction.

Grady Lewis

One time, I told somebody, OK, here's a jitney over here. He gave me $10.

Michael Harriot

None of it made much sense to Grady.

Grady Lewis

So it's been numerous times where he gave me $10, where he probably got $15. So I thought to myself, well, how much money could he be making if he's giving me a majority of it?

Michael Harriot

But Grady never asked. He just quietly did the math in his head because he knew Deacon wasn't rich. Patterson worked part-time at Sneakertown, an athletic shoe store across the street from Tops. Grady thought, Deacon must have seen me pushing that shopping cart for miles. Everyone saw me.

Grady Lewis

I mean, he knew my situation. So he knew I-- I collected bottles and cans. So well, I'm a week by week money guy. If a day, I don't got no money in my pocket, and then I get some money, that's a beautiful thing, especially for doing something I would have did for free, anyway. So that's probably why, since I think he knew I needed money, that's what he did. He gave me money.

Michael Harriot

That's when Grady realized he wasn't helping Deacon, Deacon was helping him. Deacon wasn't even running a profit-making venture. He was providing a resource for people who needed help. When Grady would ride with Deacon, they'd get to the end of the ride, and the customers would say, how much do I owe you? And Deacon would tell his riders to give whatever your heart desires.

Grady Lewis

When I used to hear him say it, I'd be like, whatever they want? Whatever their heart desire? Shoot, it may be $2 their heart may desire. But he would take it.

Michael Harriot

And if you're wondering, who does that, Grady wondered the same thing.

Grady Lewis

This older lady, he took her, 1, 2, 3 blocks up. And she kept asking, how much. And he kept telling her how much you can afford. She ended up giving him $10. He gave me $8.

Michael Harriot

The one thing that Deacon Patterson and Grady had in common is that they were Black men in Buffalo, which also meant that they were subject to the systemic failures of their city. In Buffalo, the Black unemployment rate is nearly twice the White unemployment rate. In Buffalo, more than a third of the Black population lives in poverty. In Buffalo, Black residents are six times more likely to live in an area without a grocery store.

Deacon Patterson was just one of the members of this community who took it upon themselves to patch the shoddy social safety net that's supposed to address these problems, problems that should be considered public concerns and solved with public resources. Deacon Patterson helped people because he could see that people needed help.

On Friday, May 13, Deacon didn't have any work for Grady, so Grady hung around in front of the store. He chatted up the security guard who works the shift before Aaron Salter. He ran into his mother shopping at Tops.

And he noticed the new guy leaving the store. Grady says he approached him, and when the stranger said he was from out of town, that he stopped by the store on his way to a camping trip, Grady says he told him that he has to go see Niagara Falls. The next day, Saturday morning, Grady went to Miss Penny's Plate of Love as usual.

Grady Lewis

And I woke up late. So I always would take out the garbage for her because she does a lot in the community. So I went up there late, and I got there about 12:00 or something like that. She finished cleaning up about 2:00.

She had two breakfasts still. And I was like, well, I can find somebody to give it to because I was going to Tops anyway. Because I know it's a lot of people there, and they will want the breakfast.

Michael Harriot

Miss Penny told Grady, oh, I have something to get at the store. I'll give you a ride.

Penny Beckham

I dropped him off up on Jefferson, dropped Grady off. And I went to take care of something that I had to. And then--

Grady Lewis

She dropped me off at the store. I walked across the street because there was nobody there. And then-- and I'd seen an old guy out there. And then I gave him a breakfast.

And I walked right next door to Tops. And I gave one of the breakfasts to the guys that were sitting over there. And I noticed the police guard, Aaron Salter's car. He had an old, fancy Cadillac.

Michael Harriot

Grady saw Roberta Drury, noticed she had a nice dress on and a lot more groceries than normal. He saw Pearl Young, who had just attended a prayer breakfast. And he saw the Deacon, who had just come from Mr. Love's barbershop, standing outside the store as usual.

Grady Lewis

I talked to the old man for a quick second. I bought my drink, walked out. And I thought to myself, you know, I should sit here for a second because I see there's a lot of people out here. Maybe he's having a good day today, and don't really mind too much.

And it was a beautiful day out, so I walked across the street at the bus stop. And then I opened my drink, and I took a sip out of it. And I heard a big "boom!"

And then I looked up from where I was sitting at, right across. And I saw this white smoke. And I think I'd seen her fall, the first victim, Roberta.

Then I seen a guy in camouflage shoot a lady by the door. Then I'd seen him shoot-- I didn't know at the time, but Deacon. Then I see him shoot through the window, and I'm seeing people running. And then I'm just seeing more smoke.

And I'm thinking, OK, maybe the Russians attacked us, and I didn't hear about it on the news. And I'm like, OK, this is crazy. Then I seen Aaron Salters run back into the building. And I seen the guy go in with his gun, rifle. And he's just shooting.

And as soon as he went in, I started yelling and screaming for people, because I don't have a cell phone. I started yelling and screaming for people to call the police, the police. Somebody please call the police.

And I'm just hearing the ringing from the-- the gunshots. And it was rapid. And it was loud. It was, boom, boom, boom, boom, boom, boom.

I think actually, at that point, that my feelings kind of left my body. Because it was the most incredible thing I ever experienced in my life, that people you know, people you don't know, somebody in there shooting random people with this loud, big gun, and white smoke.

Penny Beckham

You know, Grady was calling me, telling me that they shot Deacon. But I didn't want to accept that. So I asked him, Deacon who? And he said-- I said, was it Deacon from my church? And he said, yes.

And at that particular time, he talk-- he said, wait. And then he said, they just covered him up. So I knew then Deacon was gone.

Michael Harriot

It's been three months since the shooting. Tops has reopened, and the men are back in front of the store, across from the memorial to the 10 lives that were stolen from this community. The car with the silver stripe isn't waiting at Tops, or at the Plate of Love on Saturday mornings.

Penny Beckham

When I pull into the parking lot, that first vehicle I would see in the parking lot would be Deacon Patterson's vehicle. And I would always park next to him. And to pull up in the parking lot, and his car not be there, that was strange.

And to go in, to enter the church through the side door of the parking lot-- and when I would go into the church, I would see Deacon Patterson. So to go into the services and not see him, to come to the Plate of Love and not see him, you know, is a great loss, a great loss.

Michael Harriot

That loss is being felt in different places by different people across Buffalo's East Side. Pamela Pritchett no longer sees her mom, Pearl Young, pop up on Facebook, asking, why wasn't I invited? At Garnell Whitfield's seniors nursing home, everyone notices that Mrs. Ruth Whitfield no longer comes every day, bringing gifts for the staff that she picked up thrifting.

When Kayla Jones turned 25 last week, she cried. Normally, her grandmother would be the first person to call her on her birthday.

When someone is missing from your daily life because of a racist act of terror, it changes you. It's changed Grady-- Grady, who used to talk to everyone, who had approached a stranger outside Tops the day before the shooting. Grady learned that that person was, of course, the same person who came back the next day and allegedly shot and killed 10 people in front of him, a young white man who traveled to one of the most segregated cities in America determined to kill Black people.

And Grady, the man in front of the store, is still watching. But he sees things different now.

Grady Lewis

I was at the memorial. And a lady and her husband and her young son-- 18, 19, 20-- I'm talking to them, no problem. I looked at him, and I was scared of him. And I'd seen another young white kid, boy. I was scared of him.

So I have this thing now to where I'm kind of scared of young white boys now. Probably-- well, probably-- definitely from the shooting, for me talking to this kid, and him seeming to be like a regular guy. And I don't even think-- I went to the Tops on Elmwood, this all-white Tops. And then-- it's just-- it's me. I felt like every white person was looking at me.

Michael Harriot

Before the shooting, Grady's can-collecting trek took him to neighborhoods all over Buffalo.

Grady Lewis

Even when-- before this, I would always would be cautious. But I kind of had a break because I was an old Black guy pushing a shopping cart. Maybe nobody would bother him. Now, I mean, they're shooting old people in supermarkets. So yeah, so I don't feel safe in going in no neighborhoods anymore.

So I haven't been able to collect my bottles and cans anymore. Because like I said, I would go on the West Side and North Buffalo. And those are predominantly white neighborhoods. And I would do it at 12:00 at night, 12:00, 1:00, 2:00, 3:00, 4:00, 5:00. I can't take no chance and do that at all.

And it's kind of a shame because-- well, it ain't kind of a shame, it is a shame because actually, I love collecting bottles and cans. It made me feel like I had a purpose, doing something good for the environment, and also making money, and getting exercise in. I walked 23 miles, made my own time.

You know, if I wanted to work, I can work. If I want to work later, I can work later. If I wanted, could go to work earlier. So I felt free in that sense.

Michael Harriot

If the world made sense, Grady would still feel free. If the world made sense, Deacon Patterson's life could serve as a parable about love, charity, or the redemptive quality of grace. But there is a danger in manufacturing meaning out of something so meaningless. There is no way to rationalize the hate that left a huge, gaping hole in an entire community.

Then again, if any of this made sense, there'd be no such thing as Black neighborhoods, or poverty, or food deserts, or racial disparities, or senseless violence. If the world made sense, Deacon Heyward Patterson would still be a man in front of a store.

Ira Glass

Michael Harriot writes for TheGrio. And he's the host of TheGrio Daily podcast.

Credits

Ira Glass

Our program was produced today by Chana Joffe-Walt and our Executive Editor, Emanuele Berry. The people who put together today's show include Elna Baker, Chris Benderev, Sean Cole, Michael Comite, Andrea López Cruzado, Cassie Howley, Valerie Kipnis, Seth Lind, Tobin Low, Miki Meek, Michelle Navarro, Stowe Nelson, Katherine Rae Mondo, Nadia Reiman, Ryan Rumery, Alissa Shipp, Lilly Sullivan, Christopher Swetala, Matt Tierney, and Diane Wu. Our Managing Editor-- Sarah Abdurrahman. Our Senior Editor is David Kestenbaum.

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Thanks again to Curtis Lovell, the Buffalo musician you're hearing right now and throughout our show. You can find her on Spotify, iTunes, wherever you get your music. Our website, thisamericanlife.org, where you can stream our archive of over 750 episodes for absolutely free. Also, there's videos, there's lists of favorite shows, there's tons of other stuff there. Again, thisamericanlife.org.

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Zandria Robinson

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Ira Glass

I'm Ira Glass, back next week with more stories of This American Life.