by Brian Davis
Buddy gray (he preferred his name in lower case letters) was a war resister, carpenter, preservationist, poet, community journalist, baseball coach, and friend to many. And he was known best as a relentless and uncompromising advocate for low income housing and other services for the poor. He came from a small-town, working-class family to live in Over-the-Rhine because he believed in the cause of liberation. He had decided, when he was still a young man that he could not tolerate the poverty and discrimination he saw in the world around him. So he entered what his brother Jack called “a journey of fearless, selfless service.”
Buddy gray was killed by a disturbed man who was a neighbor to gray in 1996. The man shot buddy in the shelter after hate materials were posted and distributed in the neighborhood. This mentally ill man who had experienced homelessness was apprehended and later died in prison. To mark the 10th anniversary there were a series of forums culminating in a march and memorial/grief session. There were speakers, poets, artists, and musicians who remembered buddy gray and his impact on Cincinnati and the United States.
Michael Stoops from National Coalition spoke and Barb Anderson from Indiana came to remember her friend, buddy. Georgine Getty from the Greater Cincinnati Coalition and buddy’s close friend Bonnie Neumeier talked about gray’s legacy. Each individual spoke for 2 minutes with civil rights activists from the 1960s and 1970s standing witness along side college and high school students from Moeller High School and Xavier and Miami University. Cleveland was represented by Brian Davis of the Coalition for the Homeless and Duane Drotar of 2100 Lakeside Shelter. I spoke about gray’s legacy and how everyone misses these “Saints of the City” as poet Daniel Thompson described social justice activists. Donald Whitehead, who was the previous director of National Coalition for the Homeless and the Cincinnati Coalition, talked about buddy saying “I’m glad you are here,” when Whitehead was at a low point in his life.
There were so many stories and so many programs touched by buddy gray. His legacy was not extinguished when he was killed. The National Coalition and the State Homeless Coalition, both started by gray, carry on the struggle. The Drop Inn Center has expanded over the last 10 years and continues to fight against gentrification. Buddy’s Place opened and is a welcoming meeting place for activist. It was easy to see potential conflict between the nearly 100 condominiums being developed while homeless people struggle to find affordable housing in the Over The Rhine neighborhood. Young activists took over gray’s development work, management of the shelter, and working to overcome injustice. Drotar said that it was a wonderful event that will keep the fire burning for those who are working to end homelessness.
Copyright Homeless Grapevine Issue 79 December 2006-January 2007, Cleveland Ohio.