A Buffalo church founded during the Civil Rights Movement is using faith to oppose racism
It’s a Saturday morning in late April, and members of the Good Samaritan Church are helping to stage a food giveaway on a vacant lot on Leroy Avenue in Buffalo. Neighbors have lined up for cartons of soup from the Daily Bread food truck, to collect filled grocery bags from the back of a rented box truck, and browse under a tent of tables with non-perishable food items and loaves of bread.
A livid-colored sky hangs overhead, but sun breaks of golden light offer hope.
The Good Samaritan Church of God in Christ had been a fixture in this neighborhood through the 1970s, '80s, '90s, and early 2000s, holding worship services in the church building just across the street before moving to its new home in Cheektowaga. Members of the church also operated a food pantry and soup kitchen here, and this event was launched in memory of Pearl Young, a church missionary and dedicated soup kitchen volunteer who was killed in the May 14 racist mass shooting in Buffalo.
Among her family members here helping is Pamela Pritchett.
"Pearl Young is my mom and this is what she did every week on a Saturday for 25 years," Pritchett said. "Like, she was so consistent, and so not only to be here but to see this awesome turnout from her church, family, and people in the community — I was just talking to a lady a minute ago, and she was sharing about how she came to the pantry. So, I mean, I'm just grateful."
Pearl Young’s family and her church are now working to establish a permanent soup kitchen in her name to be built at this site.
At Sunday morning services, Good Samaritan congregants are gathered at their church on Cleveland Drive in Cheektowaga. Bishop Glennwood H. Young, Pearl’s brother-in-law, is the pastor. He said he heard God’s call when he was a teenager but believes he was preordained to serve.
"Well, I always had the passion to help people and a passion to administer the word that I had been taught," Young said. "I call it a burning. I feel like I was born for this. I never make it about myself. And it's always about someone else.
"And I haven't changed. My age has changed. I can't do as much, but I still have that passion."
Young said what matters most is what happens after worship services.
"I tell the people all the time that our ministry is not coming to this church in the four walls, but the ministry really starts after you leave this church and after you go out outside, then that's when you gotta do community work," he said.
Good Samaritan was founded in 1963 by Reverend Oliver Young Sr., the Bishop’s father, who led the congregation through some of the most turbulent years of the civil rights movement.
Glennwood Young, who had been ordained after completing his draft service as a medical specialist in the U.S. Army, took over as pastor of the church after his father’s death in 1968. Today, Young said that despite the progress made since the founding of Good Samaritan, racism persists.
"It's there, we can't say it's not there because it is there. I was born in Buffalo, New York. So, I got to see it but not like my father and mother experienced it when they were in the Southern States and couldn't hardly look at another person," Young said. "We've come a long way, society has, but there's still more room. The one thing that should bring people together is Christ."
Young also said the other place to address division is in education.
"The stereotypes are still there. And I know it's difficult, but society has to get to where I don't see Black or white," he said. "Our schools, some of them are inferior. We got the different schools in Buffalo, we got the schools that give better training. And every student can't get in there. I believe that we ought to be training children all the same so that they can be successful in life."
After Sunday services, church members gather in the dining area for a Taste of Good Samaritan. They line up for take-home containers of home-cooked meals. The Bishop’s sister, Doris Lockett-Page, shares her belief that racism is still ingrained in Buffalo.
"I was young when I came up in Buffalo, and racism was very blatant. They had Hengerer’s and Berger’s, and AM&A’s were the main stores, I would go in there to buy a dress or a blouse or something, and the sales clerk would follow me around," Lockett-Page said.
"Racism hasn't changed very much. No. Buffalo has always been racist as other cities and other states. It's embedded. I say unless people have Christ in their lives and their hearts are changed, you will not altogether remove racism."