From the third floor roof of the recently renovated Johnnie B. Wiley Amateur Athletic Sports Pavilion tower at Jefferson and Dodge on Buffalo’s East Side, Cedric R. Holloway looks across a beautifully manicured baseball field and over what was the right-centerfield wall of the old War Memorial Stadium where Roy Hobbs (aka Robert Redford) knocked out the light standard with a dramatic home run in The Natural.
Beyond that, he looks directly down Grape Street, the scene of two gruesome drive by shootings last month, including the murders of a grandmother and her 17-month old grandson.
Holloway is the founder of Omega Mentoring, which will celebrate its 20th year in 2019. He is also President of the Johnnie B. Wiley Amateur Athletic Sports Pavilion, named after his late father, a long-time community activist who advocated for the youth on East Side. Holloway, who grew up in the neighborhood, has been a Buffalo Policeman for 34 years and is currently a Detective Sargent and Commander of the SWAT team. Over the years he has seen more bloodshed and death on our streets than he cares to recall.
However, he has never seen anything so horrific as what he saw after the double homicide at 284 Grape Street on July 2.
“It broke my heart to see autopsy photos of a 17-month old baby killed by a bullet,” he says. “That affected me so much because this baby was an innocent victim just like his grandmother.”
After a second drive by shooting at the same house on July 26, Holloway and the 30 high school students who participate in Omega Mentoring had enough.
“This neighborhood needs an uplift,” he declares. “They need to come together with the police and they need to realize they can end these acts of violence if they partner with neighborhood groups and the Police Department. That’s what needs to happen.”
Realizing tonight is the 35th annual National Night Out, whose mission says, “Together, we are making our communities safer, more caring places to live,” Holloway and his students asked: “We need a National Night Out right here.”
Last year 38.6 million people from 16,377 communities from all 50 states, U.S. Territories and military bases worldwide participated in the annual community-building campaign that promotes police-community partnerships and neighborhood camaraderie to make neighborhoods safer, more caring places to live.
The only problem for Holloway was that registrations had closed. That did not stop his team from creating an event this evening from 5-10 p.m. that includes many activities, entertainment, refreshments and a short, powerful program at 8 p.m.
Common Council President Bishop Darius G. Pridgeon will introduce Holloway to open the program and he will proudly introduce Thurman Thomas, the National Football League Hall of Fame running back who will have his No. 34 jersey retired by the Buffalo Bills on a Monday Night game in October at New Era Field. Thomas was the first President of the Wiley Amateur Athletic Sports Pavilion Board of Directors 15 years ago.
“When Thurman speaks, these neighborhood kids listen because of whom he is,” Holloway says. “I truly believe people will hear his message tonight.
“This community really needs to come together and help each other out, they need to take care of each other and stop this senseless violence. These shootings do not just hurt the intended victim but now too many innocent bystanders are getting killed or hurt seriously,” he adds.
“Law enforcement is ready to lock up the shooters. We just need the community to help us out. Everyone there knows who did it.”
Holloway and the Omega Mentoring student’s goal for this evening is simple: “We just need to join hands with the community and our Police and elected officials around this facility on National Night Out. That is what the mission of the program is all about so why not do it right here at the scene of two horrific crimes.”
Among the activities will be flag football, soccer, kickball, dancing, Zumba, exercising, arts and crafts, chalk drawing, face painting, community and banner making and a movie in the second floor meeting room. After the short program there will be a little league football scrimmage.
Delta Sonic is the primary sponsor and it created and donated t-shirts. Steve’s Meats donated hot dogs and many organizations have agreed to attend and set up information tables.
Holloway says everyone is welcome and encouraged to attend the festivities.
Lead images: Cedric R. Holloway, left, the late Johnnie B. Wiley