BUFFALO, NY – Thurman Thomas and his wife, Patricia, were at the forefront following the racially motivated shooting at Tops Friendly Markets in East Buffalo that killed 10 people and injured three, raising money and working to support and be there for the community.
As the Hall of Fame running back heard stories about those who had been killed, a clear theme emerged.
“The one thing I learned and hear when you talk about every victim someone talks about is that they were here trying to help someone else,” said Thomas. “And that tells you the love that people have for each other in Buffalo. We’re just at a point where we don’t see it often enough. But man, I love being there. I have I’ve been there for about three hours I have a lot to do but these people just stop me from talking to them and smiling and taking pictures or anything It’s like if that was a hello, it’s time to start healing, because it’s time to start healing.
A day after the Bills organization – players, coaches, staff – visited the site of the shooting and volunteered, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell – who is from Jamestown, New York, about an hour and half south of Buffalo – Kim and Terry Pegula, owners of the Buffalo Bills and Sabers, and a variety of former Bills and Sabers players and others gathered Thursday to tour the memorial and the many volunteers on Jefferson Avenue, while distributing groceries and other supplies to the Western New York Resource Center.
The group wore shirts that said “Choose Love,” as the Bills, Sabers and Buffalo Bandits of the National Lacrosse League did the day before.
Goodell and his wife, Jane, are donating $50,000 to the Bills Social Justice Fund, in addition to the Buffalo Bills Foundation and NFL Foundation’s $400,000 donation to the Buffalo Together Community Response Fund and nonprofits local profit.
“I have a personal connection to this community because it truly is my home,” Goodell said. “I think we wanted to make sure people here knew they weren’t alone, that we all have their backs and how proud we are of the way they are responding. The thing that gave me the most comfort was to talk to the individuals.. We all know we have a tragic circumstance here, 10 victims, but there are many other people here who are really hurting. We just want them to know that we are all behind them and that we’re all going to do whatever we can to support them.”
The Thurman Thomas Family Foundation has also raised more than $200,000 to give back to the victims’ families and the community.
Jim Kelly noted how proud he was of the current Bills players for defending the city of Buffalo and that former players recognize that “it’s our city too”.
A variety of emotions were present throughout the day as Hall of Famer Bruce Smith wept at the memorial for the victims, while Terry Pegula was also visibly moved.
Smith felt compelled to pay his respects after, as he described, “the horrible rampage of murder, murder of innocent African Americans just walking to the grocery store.” The Hall of Famer wanted to show his support for a community that has been there for him.
“I needed this moment to be able to start this healing process,” Smith said. “And being here today, handing out food and with my brother Thurman (Thomas) and Jim (Kelly) and the Pegulas and Roger (Goodell) and so many others.
“And then seeing the community. I bet that racist wasn’t counting on this outpouring of love that’s happening right now. The building of this community that’s happening right now. And we’re going to build on that.”
Regarding the future impact the Bills and the NFL plan to have on this part of the Buffalo community, Goodell noted the importance of making “lasting changes that will hopefully prevent this in the future.” ‘Future’, far beyond the elevation that can come from an afternoon, it’s still a work in progress.
“That’s one of the things that really touched (people in the community), is it just what happens after the cameras leave? What happens when it’s not the news of the week,” said Kim Pegula. “This is where we want to listen to them and understand what the real needs are, and with the objective of sustainability. How can we improve what we are doing, what has been done? How can we prevent things like that, how do we change our behavior and our mind, but in a way that really lasts and makes sense?”