BUFFALO, NY (WKBW) — Transforming the Tops Market on Jefferson Avenue in Buffalo two months after a mass shooting was about more than just adding new food products.
It is also about creating a welcoming space that celebrates Black culture following the murders of ten community members who died because of their skin color.
“Our spirit and our legacy can not die — it can’t,” declared Jillian Hanesworth, Buffalo’s poet laureate.
That's why African symbols have been added to the store windows.
“I love the idea that our culture was incorporated into the store,” remarked Hanesworth.
Accent African American symbols are called Adinkra Symbols. Several now adorn the entrance and exit windows at the newly refurbished Jefferson Tops store.
They mean hospitality, generosity, peace, harmony, and farewell — symbols of Black culture. They honor the ten black men and women killed at the store.
“We lost pillars in our community. We lost builders — people who actually gave us something we can stand on, so I’m very proud that we are standing on it and that we are taking that same spirit and that same culture and diffusing it into this part of the city and I think we need to infuse it all over,” Hanesworth noted.
Hanesworth is Buffalo's first poet laureate. She wrote a poem about water that has been incorporated into the waterfall display inside the store.
Hanesworth says the store now features Black products and Black artwork meaningful to a very proud community.
“The design of the store pays homage to our culture and that's something that's worth being able to breathe about,” Hanesworth described.
The symbols have a deep symbolic meaning in the Black community.
“These symbols are actually from Guyana — Guyana Africa,” explained Yao Kahlil Newkirk, artistic director, Paul Robeson Theatre at the African American Culture Center. “And what I love about the Adinkra Symbols is that they represent more than being a symbol — just a single word.”
Newkirk said the symbols now displayed at the Tops came from the tragedy, but it is an opportunity to disperse the knowledge to the entire Buffalo community.
“And so each of those symbols has that sort of attachment to a proverb or something significant that can be used to help guide your life, so each of those symbols is very specific to helping guild you,” remarked Newkirk.
Kat Massey was among the ten victims who worked tirelessly for civil rights and education. She was instrumental in getting the African symbols placed along a section of Cherry Street that runs parallel with the Kensington Expressway.
“I think it's a wonderful way of honoring their memory, especially for Katherine Massey, who was very well known around the City of Buffalo for her use of symbols and her work around the city, so be able to see that on full display at any given moment is a great way to honor her memory and their memory,” Newkirk reflected.
“This attack is something that all of Buffalo needs to remembered. It was and it is a reckoning of the things that people deal with in this city — systemically and I think that the same culture and unity that we are feeling right here. We need to feel throughout the city or we are never going to be a city that isn't divided,” Hanesworth said.