We Remember buddy gray
Decades ago, buddy gray and a group of devoted activists saw an emerging need for social services and housing solutions here in Cincinnati. They began by picking up homeless people off of the street and bringing them into their very own apartments in Over-the-Rhine. They took care of them as if they were family, coaxing them out of alcoholism, feeding them, and clothing them. buddy was one of the biggest inspirations in the development of Streetvibes. Here, Bonnie Nuemeier remembers and reflects on the impact one man could have to so many.
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 man buddy had befriended.
buddy was 46 years old. No one knows if he 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.
“I Remember Buddy”
A poem by Bonnie Neumeier
Zipping through Washington Park on his bike
Wearing his yellow hard hat fixing up housing
Carrying a huge stack of documents to the podium at City Hall
Drinking a carton of chocolate milk
Hugging children on the street
Putting his arms around friends homeless in the park
Picking up Nannie to defend our homes from demolition
Encouraging involvement in our efforts
Sending little notes at meetings to keep us sane
Calling his Mom often
Playing an energetic game of baseball
Remembering names and phone numbers by rote
Watching election returns and naming senators in each state
Riding around in his blue truck
Wearing headbands of all different colors
Saying so much in a small sound bite
Taking lengthy notes for clarity and documentation
Listening to Phil Ochs, Pete Seeger, and Peter, Paul & Mary
Carrying his tools in a big 5 gallon white bucket
Offering ReSTOC housing to displaced neighbors
Planting trees and seeds for change
Sacrificing his life for what he believed in
Making mountains of phone calls late at night
Teaching others how to lead and live simply
Dreaming big dreams
Doing the seemingly impossible
Building connections around the country
Standing up for human rights
Laughing to help get us through
Loving Wilbur his friend who pulled the trigger
Buddy was as ordinary as you and me
But with extraordinary fiery determination to put all he had in the service of his vision
Believing that one day we all will be free
Demanding justice shine in Over-the-Rhine
As well as all over this land.
A poem by Willa Denise Jones, Streetvibes Contributing Writer and Distributor
Do you ever think of the days of the past?
Do you ever think those being the good days, why they couldn’t
Remembering when we were children doing everything our
Remembering eating breakfast, lunch, dinner and even what
time it was for bed
As time passed some of us traded going to church for drinking
beer and wine
Some of us grew up and changed so fast that we just simply
ignored the signs
As time passed everything changed all the rules even people,
places and things
But time goes on carrying us with it, and we know it can’t end
until the fat lady sings!
So we keep going on trying to keep up with time and loosing our
sense of being free
Today we never forget to lock all door, windows and try never to
go out alone, you see!
So much robbing, back stabbing, short changing and all of the
I love to let my mind drift to the past because the present is so
So for me taking my memory back as far as I can
Keep me in tune and my eyes