Saturday, April 1, 2017

IN DEPTH: Poetry event hopes to foster understanding

By Tiffany Gaines and Briana Mangum 
Bengal News West Reporters

West Side is taking action to remind its newest residents that they are welcome and their culture is important.
            Timothy McPeek, a poet and playwright, has organized a two-day installation exhibition at Rust Belt Books, at 415 Grant St. This event, taking place on April 14 and April 15, will include poetry readings and displays of poetry from recent immigrants.
            One immigrant who is slated to read is Fatima Nor, a lover of poetry and an immigrant from Somalia.
Fatima Nor
Nor came to Buffalo in May 2000 and is studying psychology with a pre-med track at the University at Buffalo and plans to attend medical school. She was heavily influenced by her father, who wanted to come to America for the rich education. This is a value he has instilled in his children since their youth.
Somalia, located in the Greater Middle East, is a predominately Muslim country. It has been the subject of the recent Muslim country travel ban.
President Trump’s January immigration ban prevents refugees from seven countries from entering the United States for 120 days; Somalia is one of these seven. McPeek hopes that people affected by the ban and those who support them will be able to make connections.
 “There’s a possibility to that kind of dissemination to reach people in a fundamentally human way,” McPeek said.
            Rust Belt Books owner, Kristianne Meal, welcomed this event to her store and encouraged McPeek. She said she believes it is a “small and meaningful way to provide bridges and connections.”
She said she is is open to hearing about the experiences of others, especially those impacted by this situation.
“One of the most beautiful things about Buffalo in my experience is that it pretty much is open, its multi-faceted, multi diverse and kind of been off the map and an inexpensive place to be. Everyone has just coexisted in a way,” Meal said.
Despite the ban, however, Nor and her father remain optimistic. Her father is an imam, an Islamic leader within a mosque, and has faith in the American people.
“To be told, even though it’s not affecting me because I’m already here, it still sends out a statement. It’s saying that people like me don’t belong here. It makes me feel a certain type of way about being an American citizen because people are looking at me like ‘you guys don’t belong here’ and it kind of hurts,” Nor said.

Fatima Nor, on encouraging understanding:

Nor, like many West Side residents, came to the United States to take advantage of better opportunities. For Nor and her family, the members of the West Side community have been supportive. An old teacher of hers has shared many of her posts on Facebook about Islam and has defended her and her family on numerous occasions.

McPeek, on the purpose of the poetry event:

Being raised in the West Side has come into contact with other people from diverse backgrounds and refugees. These refugees often come from places that are in distress.
“I’ve been surrounded a lot by refugees. I learn more from them than I have in any history class, Nor said.
              With the ban a major topic of discussion this year, the community has come together.
 “Even though we all have our own communities, even though it’s a bunch of different countries, we go to the same school and we kind of have this one middle ground because we’re all kind of foreigners here,” Nor said. 
Nor wants to be the best Muslim she can be, wants to show people how beautiful Islam is, despite what some media portrays. She hopes to show another side that people don’t see.
“You just have to step out and actually try to understand people for who they are,” Nor said.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Women help stitch together refugee lives

By Darius Crolle and Shavella Saint Pruex
Bengal News Reporters 
Stitch Buffalo has brought together a variety of women from different parts of the world to share one common skill: stitching.

        Dawne Hoeg and Shelby Deck, co-founders of Stitch Buffalo, have been hard at work for the past year and a half by teaching a group of refugee women sewing, beading, and embroidering. They meet up from 9 a.m. to noon every Thursday at the Concerned Ecumenical Ministry on 286 Lafayette Ave.

From left, Karma Tamang, Tila Bastola, Dawne Hoeg and Kala Nijoula

With the skills the refugee women are taught, they create prayer pouches, Buffalove heart pins, and another displayable art pieces.  

            Stitch Buffalo came about after adjunct professor at SUNY Buffalo State and textile artist, Dawn Hoeg, noticed many refugees and immigrants on the West Side. She wanted to improve the refugee community by using her textile design background to bring refugee women closer together.

            “We went to refugee resettlement agencies with these post cards saying we’re starting this beading and embroidering group and to send us people who they knew might be interested,” said Deck.

Shelby Deck, on creating Stitch Buffalo:

            However, the beginning didn’t go as they planned. No one attended their first class, there second class had three women from the Congo, and the third class consisted of five people. From there on, the class size began to grow.

            The Stitch Buffalo workshop, which is entirely funded by Hoeg and Deck, has an interesting way of distributing funds to the refugee women for their work. 

            “Everything we do sells for money, and out of that money 70 percent goes back to the woman who made that piece. It doesn’t go into a pool but rather goes to the individual women,” said Deck.

            This leaves Hoeg and Deck with 30 percent of the profits, which isn’t sufficient to cover the expenses. “It doesn’t cover the money for rent, the floss, fabric, beads, and other expenses,” said Deck.

            However, as Stitch Buffalo continues to grow and gain support from the West Side communities, Deck and Hoeg hope to receive grant money from foundations.

            “We have established that there is a need for this. We have established that this is beautiful and that people respond to it. We don’t want to see this go away. I don’t think anyone who is being touched by this would want to see it go away,” said Hoeg.

            One of the ways Hoeg and Deck plan on increasing business and raising awareness is by having pop-up events at different craft shows. Recently, Stitch Buffalo had a hands-on gallery exhibition at Buffalo State. That was its first ever gallery showcase, where they were able to display their work to the public and the Buffalo State community.

            “Stitch Buffalo is such a wonderful support system for immigrant women in that it provides a safe place to gather, opportunity to get to know other women from the community, and utilize their amazing hand skills,” said Carol Townsend, associate professor at Buffalo State.

            Stitch Buffalo will also be displaying and selling items for the upcoming holiday seasons. It will be setting up table stands outside of the workshop. The stands are fully decorated with various unique art pieces that were made by the refugee women.

            “We make a beautiful booth. For the one we are in this weekend we have beautiful lights hanging on the branches of trees and are selling some of the cuffs and pouches that we make,” Hoeg said.

     Most of the women who attend the Stitch Buffalo workshop don’t speak English very well, making it more difficult for the women to communicate with Hoeg and Deck. Nevertheless, Hoeg and Deck have found interesting ways of communicating with them during the workshops.

            “We have a lot of visual cards that we’ve been using to teach the women. We also use a lot of show-and-tell and hand gestures,” Hoeg said.

            Communicating among the refugee women was one of the most challenging roadblocks for Hoeg and Deck. However, this is one of the reasons they chose the idea of stitching, which involves nonverbal communication.

            “Communication is kind of the key of this whole thing. You don’t have to share a language in order to show somebody how to do something. Most of the three hours of our class we have no idea what they’re saying, ” Deck said.

All of the women who attend Stitch Buffalo are living on the West Side, which is known to be a multicultural melting pot for refugees.

“I think it’s great for people to travel all around the world and experience different cultures; I think that’s a wonderful experience for people to have,” said Deck.

Deck, however, doesn’t have to physically travel all around the world to experience different cultures. The women at Stitch Buffalo provide her with that luxury.

“I don’t have to leave the country," Deck said. "I travel all around the world every Thursday with this group of women.”

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Buffalo winters don’t scare bicyclists

By Darius Crolle and Shavella Saint Preux
Bengal News West Reporters
          Fall is coming to an end and cyclists, like motorists, are preparing their rides for this upcoming winter. 
Biking in Buffalo has become a major phenomenon lately and the bikers don’t seem to be intimidated by the extreme weather during the winter, as long as they are properly prepared. 
“Biking in the winter is definitely possible and is done every year by numerous bikers,” said Tony Mueckl, sales manager and buyer at Campus Wheelworks  bike shop, 744 Elmwood Ave.  
            However, without the proper preparation and tutelage, winter biking can become an arduous task. First and foremost, choosing the right bike is essential to the preparation process. 
According to Muecki, some of the most efficient bikes for the winter include the cyclocross,  mountain, and the newly designed fatbikes. The fatbikes stand out because of their unusually large tires. 
Matt Dunning, on winter bicycling:

          “The new fatbikes are great with riding in the snow because how flat and wide the tires are,” said Nate Hill, a bike mechanic and member of GObike Buffalo.
          These bikes, however, come at a costly price. Some of the fatbikes can equal the cost of a motor vehicle, ranging anywhere between $1,500 and $3,000.
Hill also teaches after-school biking lessons at various elementary schools on the West Side, including, D’Youville Porter Campus and Herman Badillo Billingual Academy.
          Keeping your bike well maintained is another prerequisite for riding in the winter.
          “You have to make sure you keep your bike clean by greasing it and lubricating it, if not, the salt will definitely ruin your bike,” said Muecki, who has biked through the winter for the last four years.
GObike Buffalo offers workshops on how to properly prepare and maintain your bike through the fall and winter. Workshops are held every Sunday at GObike's  center, 98 Colvin Ave.
Although the proper bike maintenance is an important factor for those who choose to ride in the winter, it is also very important that riders themselves adjust to the inclement conditions. Moreover, there are certain useful techniques one needs to know when riding bikes on slick, icy roads. Body control, for one, is a way of preventing the dangers of falling off the bike.
“It’s important that you keep yourself loose and not stiffen up when riding over icy roads. If you stay loose, the bike just does its thing and you keep going,” said Matt Dunning, an avid cycler and employee at Campus Wheelworks,  who has biked through many winters.
For some, biking through a cold Buffalo winter may seem intimidating and precarious. Simply bundling with heavy jackets, scarfs, gloves and hats may seem logical. However, contrary to popular belief, undressing is sometimes better for those who bike through the winter. More specifically, fleeces and fitted thermal gear may be more preferable than a bulky winter jacket.
          “Usually you want to wear thinner clothing like a fleece because of how warm you will get from the peddling. You don’t want to end up too hot. If you dress for the right weather you will be fine,” Mueckl said.
Safety concerns, like riding with the traffic in the street, may seem more dangerous in the winter because of the icy roads. Nonetheless, riding with the traffic in the winter can be much easier than what people may think.
           “From my experience, drivers are actually a little more careful of cyclists in the winter,” Dunning said.
The new sharrow lanes that are present on numerous streets on the West Side and across the city  have also played a major role in people’s ability to bike through the winter safely. The sharrow lanes, which are used to delineate the given space between car traffic and bikers are very useful and provide bikers with their own single lane to occupy.  This single lane, though, isn’t always respected and is sometimes disregarded by drivers who aren’t aware of their significance. Hill mentioned the importance of educating car drivers on how to properly share the road with bikers.
          “I think it’s important that they are educated on how to drive with bikers and how bikers do have the right to ride along with the traffic,” he said. “Some drivers are simply not aware and are upset when they see a biker riding their bikes alongside of them.” 

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Skate park helps revitalize waterfront

By Nick Malahosky and Jason Saul
Bengal News West Reporters
           It’s a crisp day at Buffalo’s waterfront. There’s a beautiful sunset over the water to your right, and a field of rusting industrial equipment from the Buffalo Waterworks to your left.
          This is the image that LaSalle Park offered visitors as recently as three years ago. Since then, a bustling skate park and a growing micro-parks system have begun to drive LaSalle’s revitalization. Phase one of the skate park was completed three years ago; it has since been extremely overcrowded.
          This is one of the problems that was addressed at the phase
Jason McCarthy of Buffalo Micro Parks checks proposals
two planning session on Sept. 24 at the Belle Center on Maryland Street. Skateboarder slang words such as “crooks,"  "backtail," "goofy" and "hubba”  flew around the room as designers, local skaters, and representatives of the city hashed out ideas and suggestions. The current designs for phase two will effectively double the size of the park and include a “street section,” to help reduce skater traffic.

           Since the park’s construction, Nike has filmed a commercial at the park and more than one team of professional skateboarders have visited. Phase one  of the park has been so successful that construction for phase two is slated to begin in spring of 2016.
          “We work on a lot of skate park design projects,” Bill Gurney, lead designer of the park, said. “And they end up showing multiple phases -- phase one, phase two, phase three -- and for a lot of those projects phase II just sits on paper forever. They rarely I’m very pleasantly surprised that Buffalo is, in a three year time frame, doubling the size of their park.”
           Perhaps this is because LaSalle has not been plagued by some of the issues that trouble other skate parks and public places, such as graffiti and vandalism. This surprised many at the planning meeting, from the designer to local skaters.
           “I haven’t heard of any negative comments in the three years since phase I was complete,” Gurney said. “I know it’s really busy and is overcrowded which is a big reason for why we’re doing phase II so I was really surprised by the fact that I didn’t see any graffiti. I can’t explain it, honestly I find it amazing.”
          Drew Ferraro, a local skateboarder, offered his take on why the park has done so well since its inception.
           “I think it’s because we feel a sense of ownership, you know,” he said. “Not a lot of people are lucky enough to get a park this cool, and I think people want to show Buffalo that we can handle this. I know if me or any of these guys here saw someone pull up with a spray can, we’d make sure they got out of here. We love this place, we want to keep it nice.”
           Jason McCarthy, the founder and chair of Buffalo Micro Parks has been instrumental in pushing for the area’s rebirth. He was a driving force behind getting several “micro-parks” and phase one of the LaSalle skate park built.

           But why does LaSalle  need a skate park?
            “Skateboarding is the most actively participated sport in America, more kids skate than play any one team sport,” JP Gillespie, owner of Sunday skate shop, said. “Once the city realized ‘Wow, Dunkirk has a skate park? Okay, wait.’ When the town of Dunkirk has a skate park and the city of Buffalo does not, there’s something wrong. To be a city you need to have one of those to draw the youth and keep people here and keep kids doing something constructive.”

Monday, June 22, 2015

Neighbors rid drugs from Garden Walk area

By Jeffrey Mayne
Bengal News West Reporter

               As temperatures continue to rise and memories of a frigid winter fade, Western New Yorkers have started to anticipate Garden Walk Buffalo, an annual event that highlights the city’s unique architecture, community, culture and nationally-renown penchant for gardening.              
               But just beneath the surface you will find a narrative of camaraderie teamwork and determination that galvanized the once-struggling Cottage District to blossom into one of the walk’s must-see destinations.  The Garden Walk takes place on July 25 and 26.
                 In 2009, residents of Summer and York streets found themselves engaged in a battle as multiple drug houses threatened the current and long-term vitality of the neighborhood.
                 Playing a part in the turnaround has been Manhattan native Ellie Dorritie, a retired postal worker who owns one of the Garden Walk’s featured properties just off the intersection.  Dorritie was among the first participants in 1995, just one-year after originator Marvin Lunenfeld gathered a handful of his Norwood Avenue  neighbors to tend to their gardens. Over the years, other Cottage District residents started planting and beautifying the landscape before unifying to drive drugs out of the neighborhood.
          After observing drug houses operating within the community, the epicenter being what residents refer to as the dairy building at the intersection, neighbors collectively activated the dormant Cottage District block club. The building carried a reputation for illegal activity through apartments in the front and both flanks.  Richard Potwora, who joined the neighborhood-wide effort to mobilize the block club and take control of the streets, points out that as an established Garden Walk destination, the city could not ignore the club’s plea for help. 
                 “Community members started noticing things happening, but we didn’t have a lot of time to sit around and watch everything,” Potwora said.  “Everyone’s individual calls alone wouldn’t do and that’s where the block club really stepped in.”
                 What the block club’s collective efforts identified was a pattern of absentee landlords, specifically at the 12-unit dairy building.  Residents responded by first approaching the landlords, before soliciting assistance from the city and housing court after the initial intervention went unresolved.  Dorritie says the block club was fortunate to have City Housing Court Judge Henry J. Nowak to hear their concerns.
                  Once the landlords were forced out, the neighborhood was posed for positive change, allowing the community to move forward and focus on their gardens. 
            Connie Stofko,  who publishes Western New York’s online gardening website says that the Garden Walk is a draw from both inside and the outside area.
          “The walk is huge," Stofko said. "Everyone knows about it, it’s referred to as the Garden Walk and people come from not just neighboring communities, but other states.”
          The Garden Walk is more than a two-day walking tour.  It is one of 12 garden-themed events that, along with bus tours, all fall under the same umbrella. 
          These days, a walk around the Cottage District yields anecdotes of residents working hard on their gardens and a tangible sense of community.  Next to the refurbished and thriving dairy building, now a symbol of transformation, neighbors pitch in with each other’s gardens, walk dogs and converse.  Potwora, who was the first to paint his house in vibrant color, spurred the purples, blues, pinks, reds and oranges that now adorn the network of houses.
          “My intentions  were to mirror the blooming plants around the properties," Potwora said.

Richard Potwora, on the appeal of the Cottage District:

                      Sitting in her backyard, a work in progress as the Garden Walk creeps up, Dorritie says there are a number of reasons why her garden draws walk participants.
               “Longevity and its unusual construction above ground,” Dorritie said.  “It was one of the first gardens in the area that laid claim to the hell strip, the area between the sidewalk and the street.” 
               But Dorritie will be the first to tell you that driving drugs out of the neighborhood was ultimately a group effort.
              As thousands of participants stroll through Garden Walk Buffalo at the end of July, Cottage District  residents’ hard work will be on full display.  But so will a neighborhood triumph that deserves just as much appreciation as the colorful foliage that has become an annual tradition in Western New York.
               The Garden Walk’s featured event extends from Delaware Park to downtown.  More information can be found at

Sunday, April 26, 2015

West Side Rowing club preps for Henley

By Jessica Miranda and Ashley Stobnicki 
Bengal News West Reporters
The West Side Rowing Club is busy preparing rowers to participate in the highly competitive Royal Canadian Henley Regatta that is held annually in St. Catharines, Ontario.
        Celebrating 133 years, the Royal Canadian Henley Regatta, St. Catharines, Ontario, welcomes competitors from across the world to compete again for the Henley gold. This year the race takes place August 2-9 giving every team ample summer preparation.  
“The Royal Canadian Henley Regatta is one of the largest rowing events in North America,” said Peter Scott, Jr., regatta chair.
Experienced rowers travel from across Canada,  the United States, Europe, Australia and Latin America to compete in this yearly event.
“The Royal Henley race originated in Henley, England. The race was made to showcase the most well-known and skilled rowers in England. It wasn’t until many years later that the race became international and then many years later from that would it be held in St. Catharines,"   Scott said.

Women rowers prep for the Henley race
In particular West Side Rowing Club, 40 Porter Ave., sends  one female team and one male team yearly to compete in the prestigious race.
 “We’ve competed in Henley for a little over 80 years,” Boathouse Director and Head Coach Miles Schwartz said. “Whether we leave with a trophy or not competing in this race has always been an honor at West Side Rowing Club. It’s even more special for the competitors. It’s not often you can say you’ve raced against some of the best from all around the world,” Schwartz said. 
 The race is comprised of 20 events where every team or single rower is to race one mile, which is longer than the standard race distance. There are often two races at once on the course for much of the day so the finalists can be determined faster. The last day of the Henley, of course, is for the finalists. 
The rowing club  is assembling teams to compete in this year’s race for both the men’s and women’s divisions. Each boat will contain eight rowers and one coxi, the boat coordinator. So far three of the eight  seats are  filled for the women’s boat but determinations are still being made for the men’s boat.
 Just to qualify to compete in the Henley, rowers need to pass several tests of their strength and endurance, as former Henley gold medalist Monica Lorenti can attest.
“I had to try out for the team. I was timed for how long it took me to run three miles, how long it took to row a half mile, and the coaches looked at our rowing techniques,” Lorenti said.
 Lorenti said that preparation for Henley took about three to four months. This not only included physical training, but their coaches would encourage all of the teammates to hangout outside of practices to form a stronger bond that would later unify the team for the race.


          “We won Henley back in 2007. Your whole heart, body and mind had to prepare for this. I felt amazing. Winning Henley was one of the best days of my life honestly,” Lorenti said.
          Throughout its 100 year existence, the rowing club   has been managed by a volunteer board of directors and officers  that commit themselves to the success of high-status races like Henley.
          According to Scott, it is races like this that have put the rowing club  on the map and showcased rowers who gone on to represent their country in the Olympics, Pan American Games and European Championships.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

For Olingou, it’s college, then boxing

Jeffery Ngayot Olingou rests after a 4-round bout.
By Taylor Gesel and Nathaniel Smith
Bengal News West Reporters
           The first punches boxers see when they begin training come fast and hard, a rite-of-passage that filters out those fighters not yet ready for the big show.  At 13-years-old, in his second week of training, Jeffery Ngayot Olingou felt those punches.  Battling a fighter that had been training over 10 times longer, the defeat was unanimous.           
            Given a second chance at the same fighter, Olingou would prove himself a formidable opponent.  Concussing his former foe, his career as a boxer that would lead to championships, was just beginning  Olingou began his training in 2009 at the West Side Boxing Club at the urge of his uncle, African boxing champion Anges Adjano. The difficulties of training though, came after years of hardship outside of the ring. 
            Born in the Republic of Congo, Olingou lived in the central African city of Brazzaville until the age of 5.  He then was moved to Montreal to live with his aunt and cousins, where he would live for another two years.
                 At the age of 7, Olingou’s family would be deported from Canada, and settle in Buffalo.
           “We didn’t know anybody,” said Olingou, “so we stayed in a shelter for a year, me, my aunt, and my brother.”
            Once his aunt, Peggy, was able to solidify work as a hairdresser, home life in Buffalo was finally stable, but Olingou’s focus was always looking forward.  Not having seen his parents since leaving the Congo, he hopes his careers in either college or boxing give him the ability to help his family back home.
            Rick Diaz, owner of the West Side Boxing Club, who has been training Olingou since he began working at the club, said Olingou’s work ethic sets him apart from other boxers that come through the gym.
            “The same focus he has in the ring, he puts into his school,” said Diaz. “I’m proud of the kid. I’ll never tell it to his face, but I’m proud of him.”

Rick Diaz tightens Olingou's protective gear

            A business major at SUNY Buffalo State with a minor in French, Olingou has put his schooling ahead of his aspirations in the ring.  Instilled by his family as well as his trainers, his desire to find success through education has put a professional career in boxing on hold.
            “One injury can change your whole life,” said Olingou.
            Until graduation, the two-time Buffalo Golden Gloves boxer, as well as 2012 World Ringside Tournament champion leaves the gloves hung up until academic breaks begin, when he can plan his next professional bout. Olingou’s involvement in the Buffalo boxing community is an example of the support that local trainers hope to give any kid that has a desire to box.
            Don Patterson, president of New York State Golden Gloves, says that the lessons he sees young boxers learn in the gym help them find success in other areas outside of the ring. 
            “All the things that can make you successful in life, you can teach through boxing,” said Patterson.  “It could be a slightly different activity, but has the same goal.  You have to guide a young person who is looking for an opportunity and give them a pathway to success.”

Don Patterson, on the benefits of boxing:

            Though Olingou’s pathway has lead him to spend more time in the library than in the ring, he hopes that achieving success in either location will give him the opportunity to make his family’s life back in the Congo better.

            “They wouldn’t like it here it’s way too cold,” said Olingou, “but as long as I can help them out, build a house, put some money in their pockets, I’ll know I did good.”