Buffalo’s Poet Laureate speaks out on aftermath of attack on top, reopening


  • Tops grocery store reopened to the Buffalo community just months after the deadly mass shooting in May.
  • It includes renovations as well as chants in memory of the victims killed in the attack.
  • Jillian Hanesworth speaks to Insider about her recovery journey and the community vibe during the reopening.

Step into Tops Friendly Market on Jefferson Avenue in Buffalo, New York, and leave Jillian Hanesworth overwhelmed.

Just two months ago, Hanesworth — poet laureate of the city – Wrote a poem to honor the victims killed on May 14 by a white gunman who drove hours into a predominantly Black neighborhood and opened fire on a grocery store.

She told Insider that it took her nearly a month after the shooting to walk into any grocery store. But since filming, she has appeared at the Tops location twice – the first at the pre-market reopening ceremony. mid-July.

Ten people killed and three injured due to hate crime live streaming In real time, including people she knew, such as beloved security guard Aaron Salter Jr. and Pearl Young, who looked after her mother as a child.

Entitled “Water,” Hansworth’s poem, surrounded by waterfalls displayed in the store, drew an enthusiastic response.

“I’m just trying to be a small part of me. People do seem to find healing in it, and that’s what made me do it,” Hanesworth, 29, who was born and raised east of Buffalo, told Insider.

Hanesworth’s second entry into Tops was during the official opening following a press interview outside the store. She goes to see her aunt, who is with her, and as she leaves, she notices someone near her tribute.

“I was walking out and there were a lot of people just standing in front of my poems and crying. I thought, ‘I can’t handle this. Today is not for me’ and I just left as soon as it was over,” she recalls. “I haven’t been back since, I don’t know if I’ll go in. I don’t know when I’ll feel comfortable going in.”

For some residents, reopening of Tops is critical due to food insecurity

Buffalo has been dealing with the aftermath of the attack, similar to other communities affected by gun violence this year — like Uwald and Texas in Highland Park, Illinois — and bear the brunt of the wave of mass shootings.

“There’s no way to prepare yourself mentally for someone who’s going into your city’s black neighborhood and slaughtering it,” Hanesworth said.

About two months later, the supermarket reopened after renovations that included emergency exits and evacuation alerts – a decision that drew mixed reactions from the community, Associated Press report.

Police in front of the grocery store.

Police officers walk out of a Tops grocery store in Buffalo, New York, on May 15, 2022.

Joshua Bessex/Associated Press


“We were comfortable in the beginning that people needed and wanted a store, as long as we could deliver it,” Tops President John Persons tell NPR last month. “We also understand that we need to take steps to give them the best food retail store possible, make it different, make it look different, make it feel different, and what makes them proud will serve them better .”

Tops is one of the major full-service grocery stores in the area, and as such is a staple in nearby communities food insecurity and unemployment rate slightly higher than the national average.

The attack will only exacerbate those problems, Hansworth said.

After the reopening, protesters gathered outside the store, calling for more options to open in the area — especially for those who may need more time to get into Tops again, according to local news reports.

“We are being held hostage by inhumane decisions and choices,” campaigner Jalonda Hill Tell Spectrum News“So, either we choose to go back to a store where we walk with the blood of our elders, or we stay in a community where we’re going through food segregation.”

“It doesn’t matter which side these people are on, whether it’s ‘I’m going there every day because I need something every day,’ or I’m never going to be there again, ‘it’s valid,'” Hanesworth said. .

‘It was intense’

A memorial to the victims of the supermarket shooting is set up outside the Tops Friendly Market in Buffalo, N.Y., on Thursday, July 14, 2022. A racist attack.

A memorial to the victims of the supermarket shooting is set up outside the Tops Friendly Market in Buffalo, N.Y., on Thursday, July 14, 2022. A racist attack.

(AP Photo/Joshua Bessex)


Days after reopening, Topps was again threatened by a Washington state man accused of saying he was going to shoot a black man at the store.Officials say he is arrested and charged Create an interstate threat.

“It’s exhausting and outrageous to know that people are using the fear of this moment against so many people making all these false threats,” Hensworth said.

For Hanesworth, using her art to help the community is part of the road to recovery, she said, and helps her get out of bed every day.

“In the first few days, I was just heartbroken, but also shocked,” she said. “It took me a while to fully process what happened, even though I’m seeing the consequences firsthand.”

She remembered the first moment she heard gunshots. She was at a friend’s baby shower when the news started pouring in – prompting her to head to the supermarket.

Hanesworth recalled seeing police officers and people facing the store when they were gathering any information from social media.

“It was intense,” she said.

“I was there when they started queuing up gurneys in front of the store to start taking people out, and I was there when they brought out a few bodies,” she continued. “If I can see, that’s the only thing I can see.”





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