Having lived in, traveled to, and interacted with people in Boston, California, Mississippi, Texas, and West Virginia, among others places, one Buffalo native was determined to build up her own strong sense of Buffalo identity, upon coming home.
Jess Kent (lead image) lived away from Buffalo for nearly 15 years, first attending college and graduate school, and then traveling wherever life took her. When she finally decided to make the return trip to Buffalo, to put down some roots, she was determined to feel like an insider. But Buffalo didn’t feel like the same place that she left – a new world of architecture and people were in front of her eyes that she hadn’t seen before.
This newfound landscape prompted her to learn more about what “Buffalo identity” actually means – through speaking with others in her community.
In order to do that, Kent set on to complete a passion project which she deemed “100 Buffalonians in 100 Days.” Her family encouraged her to get to know people through a set of informational interviews and to put herself out there, to learn people’s stories and to learn about different communities and neighborhoods.
Kent made a list of 100 people, and committed to talking to them in 100 consecutive days.
Kent made a list of 100 people, and committed to talking to them in 100 consecutive days. With that, she uncovered 100 different narratives that collectively spoke to her in ways that she never could have imagined.
Kent spoke with factory workers, detectives and sergeants, professors, refugees, nonprofit leaders, janitors, prisoners, attorneys, and many other people who were open to sharing their stories. In the end, she only had one person say “no,” and that person eventually came around to the idea.
Specifically, Kent asked her interviewees three different questions: What people love about Buffalo, why they stay, and what they’re committed to in Buffalo… and if they have any other ideas of people whom she could talk with.
“It helped me understand this Buffalo that I was raised to love but was returning to without a clear sense of my belonging here,” Kent said. “One of the things that’s most striking to me about Buffalonians is this real commitment to community.”
For one of her interviews, Kent went into it thinking she was going to be talking to an accountant and was going to learn about the financial well-being of Buffalo. To Kent’s surprise, that person had left their career as an accountant to pursue their dream of becoming a beekeeper.
Kent also recalls speaking to someone who wanted to open a Nigerian restaurant. As a student and professional, his main passion was to create a space where he could provide Nigerian food to people who have never tasted it before. She was invited to taste dishes that she never would have known about otherwise.
“I was amazed by – not just what the stories were that people shared about themselves – but really the dynamic connection that they had, and the commitment to a cause that they felt Buffalo helped them with,” Kent said. “People told me really specific instances, not just of past experiences, but also of their dreams.”