Thursday, November 17, 2011

buddy gray remembered 15 years later

buddy gray a man ahead of his time

November 15, marked the 15th anniversary of the death of buddy gray (he preferred his name not be capitalized) in Cincinnati.  He took over buildings and established the Drop Inn Shelter in the Over the Rhine neighborhood.  There was a memorial held by activists down in Cincinnati, and a nice remembrance in the Enquirer on Sunday

The Occupy Wall Street and Occupy Cincinnati movement has its roots in the advocacy of buddy gray from 35 years ago. He took over spaces in the Over the Rhine when the parents of most of the current Occupy protestor’s were still in high school.  Buddy was offering sanctuary and unconditional love to those forgotten by society in the 1980s.  He gave Cincinnati a heart. Buddy battled the City to bring to light the problem of homelessness and stopped elected officials from trying to sweep the problem under the bridges.  The social justice movement in Cincinnati grew up on the strong shoulders of buddy gray.

He acted with compassion to those forgotten, ignored or neglected by society.  Buddy was a friend to the addicted, the folks re-entering from jail, and those with a mental illness.  He helped build housing, maintain a shelter for those in need, and he transformed the Over the Rhine neighborhood.  His guiding principle was to fight against discrimination and poverty by any means necessary.  This meant that he embraced civil disobedience, he demanded action from community leaders, and he was not satisfied with social services managing the problems associated with poverty.   Buddy was an inspiration to case workers, other advocates, and volunteers who were infected by his charisma and passion for the issue of ending homelessness.

While buddy fundamentally changed Cincinnati, he had a profound impact on the national movement to reduce deaths attributed to homelessness.  Buddy helped to create the Coalition on Homelessness and Housing in Ohio by assisting with the merger of the state housing and homeless organizations, and sitting on the board for years.  COHHIO successfully lobbied to make housing a right contained in the Ohio Constitution, and pushed for the creation of a dedicated fund to build affordable housing.   Buddy’s legacy at the state level is that, unlike many states, there is a statewide network in place to push legislators to focus some energy on working to improve the lives of those without housing. 

Buddy was also a strong guiding force in the development of the National Coalition for the Homeless NCH and the Housing Now march in DC.  As a current member of the National Coalition for the Homeless board of directors, we still talk about the days that buddy was on the board. He brought a clear loud voice to the movement, and stood his ground against the other strong advocates from around county who met to push for social change.  Ohio has had a representative on the NCH Board since the beginning of organization.  Buddy and other advocates pushed for an emergency relief act, which became the McKinney Vento Continuum of Care funds.  He stamped the organization with a strong commitment to protecting the civil rights of homeless people, and that has endured for 30 years.  The National Coalition has a national reputation for respecting, listening and amplifying the voice of those struggling with their housing, which we learned from buddy.  NCH has always had those experiencing homelessness in leadership positions and a sizable number of our board are currently or formerly homeless individuals. 

We miss buddy gray, and we know that he would have been a leader in the Occupy Wall Street movement if he were still with us.  He would have been a national voice in protecting the rights of homeless people against these new restrictions on voting sweeping the country.  I believe he would have led a freedom march down to Florida to oppose the restrictions on the distribution of food by religious organizations.  Buddy would have figured out a way to stop the various attacks on social service providers serving homeless people taking place today throughout Cincinnati.  We lost a non-violent general in the War on Poverty.   I am sure that we would be much further along in correcting the imbalances and injustices that exist in the United States if buddy’s voice had not been silenced.  

by Brian Davis
Vice President of the National Coalition for the Homeless
Community Organizer in Cleveland, Ohio.

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