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Monthly public forums take aim at school violence

Emergency vehicles lined up in front of McKinley High School.
Tom Dinki
Emergency services vehicles sit parked outside McKinley High School Feb. 9, 2022, following a shooting and stabbing in the school parking lot earlier in the day.

"We Are Women Warriors" is a community empowerment group founded out of violence. The group is now taking on the issue of school violence in the City of Buffalo, with a year-long series of monthly forums to promote a candid introspection and do-able solutions.

We Are Woman Warriors started after the 2012 fatal shooting of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in Florida, as a way to reassure mothers about the safety of their own teenage sons. But reality has been daunting.

"I've been on East Ferry and Moselle since 1980. And these boys say, there's no use for us going to school," said the group's founder, Betty Jean Grant. "This community doesn't care about us, this city does not care about us. Why should we do this? I'm not gonna live to enjoy it anyway."

Grant is a store owner, former teacher and former county legislator.

"They believe they have a death sentence and they're absolutely correct. We have failed them," she said.

"Everyone who is watching the news and most certainly professionals in that sector know there's been an uptick in violence impacting the Black community," said Sherry Sherrill, the group's special project coordinator. "Too many of the perpetrators and victims are Black and African Americans between the ages of 16 and 24."

WBFO talked with Sherrill and Grant before the May 14 mass shooting in Buffalo, in which 10 Black people were killed and a white suspect has been charged.

Sherrill said violence can take many forms. She said the bullying, stalking and menacing that occurs on social media can be just as dangerous for young people as knives and guns.

But wherever the threat, educators can't solve the problem alone.

"A lot of other communities have suffered the same type of social circumstances, but what other communities have had that we have not had enough of is unity," Sherrill said. "This is the time. That time is now. We must unite. And we need to do it to save lives."

Betty Jean Grant (left), wearing a black t-shirt with white praying hands on it, sits next to Sherry Sherrill, wearing a black sweatshirt and blue headscarf.
Screenshot from Facebook
We Are Women Warriors Founder Betty Jean Grant (left) and Special Projects Coordinator Sherry Sherrill.

Grant talked about the February violence on the grounds of McKinley High School, in which a 14-year-old male student was stabbed and a male security officer was shot. But she says girls can be just as violent.

"They used to be, girls were the victims. In our new great world that we're in right now, girls are some of the most vicious, most violent and the most agitators of all," Grant said. "I see the issue of girls being involved in violent crime with weapons more so now than I saw 20 years ago. They're fighting in school, they're fighting in neighborhoods and girls are being killed."

Both Sherrill and Grant said eliminating violence starts at home.

"What can mothers do? To be like a women warrior," Sherrill said. "If you have anything going on, any person in your household who is a threat to your child's health, mental health, physical health, spiritual health, safety and well being and future, get them out immediately. Remove it. As a community, if there is anything taking place in our neighborhoods that is a threat to our young persons' futures, to their well being, to their physical, spiritual, emotional and mental health, get rid of it."

"We can do a lot," Grant said. "First, by turning to kids we love them. Second, by taking things out of the community that's going to harm them, like guns. And third, about providing jobs and opportunity. And so I want to say, don't give up to every child that's out there. Every youth out there, 'don't give up. You have a right to live. We're going to help you live."

The community forums are taking place the last Thursday evening of the month for the remainder of the year. They can be found online on Grant's Facebook page by date.