East Side resident looks to build multi-purpose cultural center to educate and unite.

Could you please tell us a little bit about yourself?

I was born and raised and still live in the city of Buffalo on the East Side proper. My family came here in the 40s from Alabama. I was educated here and went to school here. Early in life, music and culture became one of my passions. One of my current jobs that I’ve been doing for the last 20-plus years is a DJ and radio show producer for WUFO, the black-owned radio station. I’m also a second-generation union carpenter, Local 276.

Please tell us about your project.

What I am proposing is to build a cultural center that’s not just culture-based, but also multi-purposed to meet needs of the community. Specifically, I want to create a bridge between building trades and skills study. These things are not taught in Buffalo schools, so most of our students aren’t prepared for the trades, even though you see all kinds of construction going on. Lack of contractors has been a problem for decades. The cultural histories–me working at the Juneteenth, working with Kwanzaa, looking at the schools, our communities really don’t know the history of each other. The City of Buffalo is becoming an international city and most people don’t know the history. One, of Black America; two, of Caribbean persons who are coming, and even of the African immigrants and refugees who are coming here. So, being able to have that multi-purpose cultural center that can educate, unite, and then at the same time provide career training is my goal.

We’re proposing constructing a new building at the corner of Sycamore and the intersection of Fox Street. There are some vacant lots there. They’ve been vacant for about 25 to 30 years. We want to build from scratch. And we want to integrate clean energy. We want to move into the whole aspect of green economy efficiency with building solar and all of the efficiencies as we try to educate the community about what the future needs.

How will what you learned in the class help you accomplish your development goals?

It gave me a whole other perspective on what I dreamed about for decades and how to physically get things started, how to get things established, what’s needed to get prepared. Even as of yesterday, talking to the different lenders and understanding the different programs that are rapidly approaching. The class gave us an outline of some specific areas that we want to focus on. I happen to live, work, and play in those same zones. A lot of my thoughts and dreams matched up with what the class objective was: to rehabilitate the East Side. Now understanding what it takes to plan out a project, how to source it, how to go about looking at properties, how to go about looking and applying for tax credits, how to understand building codes, zoning codes. It opened up a very fast-paced, holistic view of approaching something that many people spend years and years studying and getting into. I did have some construction background, but being able to crash-course condense it is phenomenal. And I don’t know which was more phenomenal – the class, or meeting other people who all bonded and are now talking about how we might help assist and complement each other. It’s just phenomenal from my perspective.

Would you recommend this program to others?

I would definitely recommend it. There are so many different projects — housing, commercial, and mixed-use. I think I might be one of the only ones focusing on a non-profit building first, but I would definitely recommend it because of the background, wisdom, and the proper approach you get. And, because time is of the essence, this crash course, even though it’s a lot of work, it’s super valuable — like a treasure chest. If people are really serious and are really desirous of helping to shape and build and maintain, the New East Side, East Buffalo, this would definitely be one of the most important things you can do. If you want the connection to the people, those who are doing other projects, those who have experience, those who have expertise in different areas, from developing to funding to financial advisement to forecasting, payment, and repayment, this is where you can get it.

So what are your immediate next steps?

My next steps would be to create a proposal to purchase the land from the city and to move forward with this project. I’m very excited about that and watching the co-development of the other areas and zones that are very close to there — the African-American Heritage Corridor, Jefferson — those neighborhoods, all of these projects will, I think, play together. And I would love to be on course with building a greater Buffalo for the world to see and for us to enjoy.

What is your vision for the East Side?

My vision for the East Side, is that it is a place that reflects the history and legacy of black Buffalo. That it is a place that shares the history and story where everybody can come and learn of the contributions simultaneously. It should have an upscale place like you have in other major cities, Massachusetts and New York, a place that people want to come and visit and also a place where the people who live there want to stay and remain. I want it to be where if anybody from any city, state, or country comes here, we say, “hey, you got to go in that corridor, you got to go to the East Side.”