BUFFALO, N.Y. — Thurman Thomas and his wife, Patricia, have been at the forefront in the wake of the racially motivated shooting at Tops Friendly Markets in East Buffalo that killed 10 and injured three, fundraising and working to support and be there for the community.
As the Hall-of-Fame running back heard stories about those who were killed, a clear theme emerged.
“The one thing that I learned that I hear when you’re talking about each victim, somebody talking about them, is that they were here trying to help somebody else,” Thomas said. “And that right there tells you the love that people have for each other in Buffalo. We’re just at a time right now where we’re just not seeing it often enough. But man, I love being out there. I’ve been out there for about three hours. I got a lot of stuff to do, but these people keep me here just from talking to them and putting a smile on their face and taking pictures or whatever it may be. It’s like, that was a good day, it’s time to start healing. Because it is 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 a half south of Buffalo — Kim and Terry Pegula, owners of the Buffalo Bills and Sabres, and a variety of former Bills and Sabres players and others joined together Thursday to visit the memorial and the many volunteers on Jefferson Avenue, while also handing out groceries and other supplies at the Resource Center of Western New York.
The group wore shirts that said, “Choose Love,” as the Bills, Sabres and National Lacrosse League Buffalo Bandits did the day prior.
Goodell and his wife, Jane, are donating $50,000 to the Bills Social Justice Fund, in addition to the $400,000 donation by The Buffalo Bills Foundation and The NFL Foundation to the Buffalo Together Community Response Fund and local non-profits.
“I have a personal connection to this community cause it really is my home,” Goodell said. “I think we wanted to make sure people here knew they weren’t alone, that we were all supportive over them and how proud we are of the way they’re responding. The thing that gave me the most comfort was talking to the individuals. We all know we have a tragic circumstance here, 10 victims, but there are a lot of other people here really hurting. We just want them to know that all of us are standing behind them and we’re all gonna do whatever we can to support them.”
The Thurman Thomas Family Foundation has also raised over $200,000 to give back to the families of the victims and the community.
Jim Kelly noted how proud he was of the current Bills players for standing up for the city of Buffalo and that the former players acknowledge that “this is 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 also was visibly moved.
Smith felt compelled to pay his respects after, as he described, the “horrific rampage of killing, killing of innocent African Americans just going to the grocery store.” The Hall of Famer wanted to show support for a community that has been there for him.
“I needed to have that moment, so I could start this healing process,” Smith said. “And to be here today, passing 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 you, this racist did not count on this outpouring of love that’s taking place right now. The strengthening of this community that’s going on right now. And we’re gonna build upon that.”
As far as the future impact that the Bills and NFL plan to have help this part of Buffalo’s community, Goodell noted the importance of making “long-lasting changes that will hopefully prevent this in the future,” far beyond the uplifting that can come from one afternoon, that’s still a work in progress.
“That was one of the things that really resounded with (the people in the community) is just what happens after the cameras leave? What happens when it’s not the top news story of the week,” Kim Pegula said. “This is where we wanna listen to them and understand what the true needs are, and with the goal in mind of sustainability. How do we improve upon what we’re doing, what’s been done? How do we prevent things like this, how do we change our behavior and a mind, but in a way that really lasts and, and is meaningful?”