To Malik Stubbs, Breaking Barriers is more than just a program. “It is a brotherhood,” he said. “It is a family.”
Leaning on his Breaking Barriers family in the challenging days after the horrific racially-motivated shooting on May 14 helped Malik realize that he is not alone. Two days after the tragedy, he and his fellow brothers met over Zoom to share their stories and tears, and offer each other much-needed support.
Malik commended Breaking Barriers leaders Tommy McClam and Daniel Robertson for springing into action to hold the call. “They showed us true leadership in that moment,” he said. “Pastor Tommy always tells us, ‘The true leaders come in the dark times, the very bad times.’ And on that day, they stepped up and helped us cope with our emotions.”
Growing up in Buffalo’s Central Park district on the east side of Buffalo, not far from the Tops Market on Jefferson Avenue, Malik was raised by his mother. She regularly shops at that Tops and was supposed to be there that day, but had delayed her trip. Malik recalled his mother’s longtime friend Deacon Heyward Patterson, one of the 10 Black victims murdered in the shooting, would often drive her home after grocery shopping so she did not have to carry her heavy bags.
As the young men of Breaking Barriers shared their heartbreak after the shooting on their call, there was mounting concern over food access in the neighborhood with the Tops shut down.
“The Tops Market on Jefferson is the only place to get groceries in Buffalo’s East Side, and we have all experienced going in that store,” Malik explained. Without it, he said, there is no nearby place to purchase healthy foods, like fresh fruits and vegetables, and the shuttle system taking people to other stores is not a helpful option for everyone, including his mother, who has mobility issues. Advocating for residents of the Jefferson Avenue community, Malik sees the aftermath of the tragedy as an opportunity for Breaking Barriers members and others to step up and create change in his East Buffalo neighborhood.
Advocacy is an important part of the Breaking Barriers Leadership Council. Participants, which include young men of color ages 12 to 24, learn the importance of advocacy and develop their personal and collective leadership skills to be able to influence positive change.
“Breaking Barriers has taught me that young men in our community can make a difference,” Malik said. “You don't have to follow everyone else. You can be your own type of person. And you can be your own type of leader.”
Discovering his passion for public service, after graduating from McKinley High School and then Canisius College in 2018, Malik successfully ran for a position as an Erie County Democratic Committee member in the Masten Four district. Currently, he is continuing his education by pursuing his Master’s degree at Medaille College and also taking courses at Harvard University. He attributes his ongoing success to Breaking Barriers, and says that he is now its “old head of crew.”
“Breaking Barriers empowered me to become a young leader in my community,” he said. “It has shown me that young men have to make a difference right now. Not wait until they are 18 or 25 or 30. The need in our community is here. And we need to be involved.”
And Malik is involved in several ways. He is currently working with one of his professors at Canisius to produce a documentary on the 5/14 tragedy. He is hoping that the film, with a title that is yet to be determined, will be completed in the fall and tell a powerful story through the eyes of a young Black leader. He is also working over the summer as an Upward Bound instructor at D’Youville University, where he will be teaching high school students from underserved communities about science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). Additionally, he is restarting his small business, Explore STEM Buffalo, that works with underserved communities to teach STEM education.
As Malik and his extended family continue to heal and come together in the wake of the tragedy, Malik feels that the Racial Equity Roundtable and Say Yes Buffalo have been game changers in the community and strongly encourages other young men to join Breaking Barriers. “This program changed my life,” he said. “Breaking Barriers taught me that I could do anything that I put my mind to. It gives young men of color better opportunities and better outcomes. Even in the most difficult of times, like in the aftermath of the 5/14 shooting, it teaches us to change the narrative.”
To learn more about Breaking Barriers, visit https://www.breakingbarriersbuffalo.org.