A Brief History of VOICE-Buffalo

In 1996, a diverse group of faith, labor, business and community leaders saw injustices happening in their community. Public officials and unofficial power brokers who make the key decisions weren’t prioritizing regular folks. Our founders asked, “Who stands up for the common citizen? When government and private sector decisions ignore the needs of the people, who will speak up for them?” The answer? Regular folks, acting collectively and using our VOICE. So, they organized, and VOICE-Buffalo was born.

Without the advantages of high position, great wealth, and insider networks, the leaders of VOICE-Buffalo began to awaken ordinary people to their shared interests. They invited nationally renowned trainers from the Gamaliel Foundation to teach them how to build relationships, break through social barriers, and create a network of congregations and community organizations. These clergy and activist lay people developed the power of networked groups and organized strategic plans. Each year VOICE trained regular people into grassroots leaders.

In 1999, VOICE won a long fight to get Buffalo to adopt city-wide use of the blue tote garbage cans to improve sanitation in our neighborhoods and turn back an explosion in the rat population.

By 2003, VOICE declared “Project Holy Ground.” VOICE leaders leveraged the strength of organized people to get the City to correct unequal enforcement of housing codes. In the same year, VOICE joined a network of Upstate NY organizations in Rochester, Syracuse, and Albany, which became known as the Thruway Alliance. Together, that alliance helped to fight for state-level investments in underserved communities.

In 2006, VOICE successfully pressured the State and City to invest $7 Million in the Genesee Street Reconstruction Project, the first restoration of an inner-city Buffalo thoroughfare in decades.

In 2010, VOICE was victorious in getting the County Executive to reverse his draconian cuts to childcare subsidies, enabling low income workers to access quality childcare and keep their jobs.

In 2012, in response to severe cuts and restructuring of crucial public transit services, VOICE formed Transit Riders United to give mass transit riders a voice in the decisions made by the Niagara Frontier Transit Authority. That same year, VOICE allied itself with several East Side leaders to win over $200,000 in City and private funds for the Peacemakers Initiative, training community members to create neighborhood neighborhood interventions to prevent gang violence.

In 2013, VOICE-Buffalo partnered with several progressive nonprofits to create Open Buffalo, a grassroots initiative to increase civic engagement, foster greater leadership opportunities for people from marginalized communities, and to expand substantial economic opportunity to people from all backgrounds.

In 2015, VOICE-Buffalo successfully reinstated the Local Conditional Release Program to reduce mass incarceration, and worked with Kaleida Health and Erie County officials to secure healthcare navigators for the Erie County Holding Center so that those returning to the community are enrolled in healthcare, which previously was not happening.

In 2016, VOICE-Buffalo worked with NOAH to bring the former U.S. Secretary of Labor, Thomas Perez, to Buffalo for a public meeting attended by over 1,200 people focused on expanding workforce diversity and development opportunities.

In 2016 and 2017, VOICE-Buffalo and NOAH worked with local and statewide organizations to successfully push for legislation raising the age of criminal responsibility from 16 to 18 in New York State, helping to ensure that minors who get into trouble have access to age-appropriate interventions instead of automatically being processed through the adult criminal justice system.

VOICE-Buffalo trains people to develop long-lasting, sustaining relationships that connect people to each other. Our collaborative actions make our community safer, more equitable, and prosperous. We train churches and community organizations to spread a culture of accountability. When regular people lead, and demand better neighborhoods, better schools, more responsiveness from our government, our community is reborn through civic engagement.

You may have heard of the restoration of downtown, the construction of Canalside, the medical corridor, and the Buffalo Billion. Many say Buffalo has stopped shrinking, and opportunity has begun to return to our city. But, a city is only as strong as its most impoverished neighborhoods. VOICE-Buffalo is fighting to make certain that people from all walks of life can access living wage jobs, quality schools, and a full participation in charting the direction of our community. For us, the real “Buffalo Renaissance” means opening power and prosperity to our entire community.

Are you in?