BUFFALO, N.Y. — The city of Buffalo’s African-American population was a target on May 14, 2022. In the year since that tragedy, we’ve seen a renewed focus on the complex problems that have led to poor housing, health and segregation in the city and Erie County as a whole.

"We’re in one of those moments, I think, where we’re experiencing the worst of times and the best of times," said Henry Louis Taylor Jr. of the University at Buffalo Center for Urban Studies.

For decades, Taylor has been researching urban development and social, economic and racial justice. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, nearly 28% of people in the city live in poverty, and the median household income is about $42,000.

That has a drastic effect on people of color, with 75% of Blacks in Erie County living within the city itself.

"Always you would see African-Americans and the Latinx population concentrated at the bottom at the economic water," said Taylor. "Always you would see them living under the kind of oppressive conditions that produce a variety of issues, poor health outcomes, violence and crime."

The root causes for Buffalo’s concentration of poverty and racial segregation are many. Taylor looks back at past policies that discriminated against people of color in trying to obtain mortgages and housing in certain parts of the city and the suburbs.

"African-Americans and many people of color are restricted in terms of access to the suburban region," he said. "They’re concentrated in the city."

In many neighborhoods, housing is sub-standard. You see dilapidated buildings, dangerous lead paint in many of the homes and issues with air and water quality.

"And then the city and the county allow people to live these in these sub-standard units because they will not raise the standard of the units to a level where they’re safe and humane," Taylor said.

That raises a host of social and economic problems where Taylor says Black people are nearly three times more likely to die prematurely than white people.

"Right now, you’ll get in more trouble for running a stop sign than you will from renting a substandard house to somebody that’s killing the children," said Taylor.

"There has to be a time on our journey where we are valued," said Pastor George Nicholas of the Lincoln Memorial United Methodist Church.

The church where Nicholas preaches is about a mile from the Tops on Jefferson Avenue. He also heads the Buffalo Center for Health Equity. He says African-American people living in these areas suffer from high rates of chronic health problems like hypertension, heart disease and diabetes.

"These high rates of chronic disease are caused by the lived environment," said Nicholas. "There’s nothing biologically and physically deficient about people of African descent."

In the year since the murders at Tops, both Nicholas and Taylor have seen sentimental and symbolic projects in East Buffalo from policymakers, but little real and effective action toward change for the better.

"The people who are in those communities are still facing those same issues that were there [on] May 13 of last year," said Nicholas.

With a spotlight on Buffalo, Nicholas believes now is the time for leaders from governments, organizations and the private sector to step up and take on big challenges and come up with ideas to address these issues.

"In the African-American community, there just seems to be a lack of energy and commitment and investment and prioritization of the needs of that community," said Nicholas.

Nicholas looks at the hundreds of millions of dollars in public money dedicated to a new football stadium for the Buffalo Bills and wonders where similar efforts are for lifting up one of the poorest cities in America.

"Well, can we get that same kind of commitment to help people who are struggling to eat?" asked Nicholas. "Who, a community where when the blizzard hit, half the fatalities came from that community because people had sub-standard housing?"

Henry Taylor sees a lack of a comprehensive plan for East Buffalo — in stark comparison to other areas of the city.

"There’s a plan for downtown," said Taylor. "There’s a plan for the waterfront. There’s a plan for Larkinville. There’s no plan for these neighborhoods. Just a whole series of haphazard projects."

And while he’s critical of some government leaders and private developers in the city, Taylor is hopeful for the future based on the people of Buffalo.

"A lot of the groups and the people down on the ground and in the neighborhoods, I see something very exciting and brewing here in Buffalo," Taylor said. "And I see from all of the conversations and discussions that I have with all kinds of different people from the doctors over at Jacobs Medical School to professionals in downtown Buffalo, to even a whole lot of people in City Hall itself, visions of a new type of Buffalo where the kinds of conditions that we’ve been talking about don’t exist."

In 2021, Taylor and the Center for Urban Studies published a report called “The Harder We Run.” It determined that Black Buffalo had made little if any progress in the three decades since 1990, as researchers looked at conditions impacting Black residents of the city. They examined issues such as home ownership, poverty, household income, employment and education.