buddy gray remembered 12 years later


buddy gray being interviewed by filmmaker Michael Moore for his movie 'The Big One.' Buddy was killed before the movie was completed. Photo by Jimmy Heath.

buddy gray (he preferred his name in lower case letters) was a war resister, carpenter, preservationist, poet, community journalist, baseball coach, and friend to many. And he was known best as a relentless and uncompromising advocate for low-income housing and other services for the poor. He came from a small-town, working class family to live in Over-the-Rhine because he believed in the cause of liberation. He had decided, when he was still a young man, that he could not tolerate the poverty and discrimination he saw in the world around him. So he entered what his brother Jack called “a journey of fearless, selfless service.”

Many people are dedicated to feeding and housing the poor. Others are dedicated to organizing for change. buddy’s insight was to bring these two ways of service together. He saw the people of Over-the-Rhine, not just as downtrodden souls to be given a meal or a bed for the night, but partners in a struggle to change the system and heal society.

Therefore, buddy worked to organize people and groups into an Over-the-Rhine People’s movement that includes organizations like the Drop Inn center, ReSTOC, the Over-the-Rhine Housing Network, and the local, state, and national Coalitions for the Homeless. He worked with many homeless people who are now leaders in that movement.

His capacity for work was legendary. Within a day’s time, he might attend a City Council hearing, work on the plumbing of a ReSTOC building, help an old man get off a park bench and into the shelter of the Drop Inn, write a poem, and do the notes for the next day’s meeting. He lived very simply, in an apartment on Race Street, owned little, and cared nothing for fashion or show. As Jack Gray said at the memorial after buddy’s death, “He feared no man. He took nothing and he served everyone. He worked to feed the hungry, free the captive, and heal the sick.” Many people are alive and living healthy lives today because the work of buddy gray. He earned, thereby, the respect and love of many.

He also earned the bitter hatred of some real estate developers and some politicians, including, of course, some developer-politicians. For months before his death, an unknown person (or persons, or class of persons) maintained a hate campaign which featured death threats, a stop-sign-shaped stickers reading “NO WAY BUDDY GRAY,” and if you called a certain number, a seven-minute, anti-buddy recorded phone message. On November 15, 1996, during a meeting at the Drop Inn Center, buddy was shot and killed by a mentally ill, formerly homeless many buddy had befriended. buddy was 46 years old. No one knows if the many had contacts with the NO-WAY-BUDDY-GRAY campaign. No one knows how he obtained the expensive pistol he used in the shooting. Within an hour of buddy’s death, the phone recording was disconnected.

Eight days later, over two thousand people from Cincinnati, Boston, Washington, and Chicago, and other cities marched silently through the streets in buddy gray’s honor and in support of the homeless.

-Bonnie Neumeier