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Rooted in the Buffalo Community: The City of Good Neighbors

Photo by Tomoko Gelbaum.

Cristina D’Angelo (Women’s leader): In Buffalo, I almost always run into somebody I know—it’s this connection that I appreciate most. So when I see someone struggling, I think to myself, How can I help this person? 

I chant to be able to share Buddhism with others, especially when I’m struggling. And it happens; I naturally get into open conversations. 

It’s easy to convince myself that I don’t have time but when I continually make excuses for myself, I wind up staying in the same place or backsliding. For the effort I put into sharing Buddhism or supporting someone, I change.

Stanley Simmons (Men’s leader): Having been in Buffalo my entire life and being an educator, too, I’ve had opportunities to meet many different people, hear their stories and see the community from all angles. And I see a lot of pain and suffering among the youth—more than any other group that I deal with.

I take every opportunity I can to talk with them about life, and I start out with: “How are you doing? Are you winning?” I probably drive people crazy sometimes with my glass-half-full spirit, but I want to have a positive effect on others. 

Shawna Saha (Young women’s leader): I started my Buddhist practice because of the amazing people that I met in the SGI. There are multiple reasons for why I share Buddhism: to help people overcome their obstacles and give them hope for a better world. 

I was apprehensive at first when moving to the U.S. as an international student. But the SGI community here was very welcoming, not once did I feel like an outsider. Because of that, I’d really like others to find this amazing community of people who are ready to support you no matter the time of day. Such genuine connections are so rare to find.

Lynne Berg (Women’s vice leader): The city of Buffalo is known as the “city of good neighbors.” Sure, we have our problems, but there are so many good-hearted people. It’s more uncommon to not engage with someone. This is more so the case in our SGI community.

When I was young, I wanted to work for peace, and I participated in all kinds of efforts. But I’ve come to realize that it’s one-to-one dialogue and connections that create ripples of lasting peace. For example, my cousin joined the SGI after three years of wonderful dialogue. The entire process helped me grow; it’s a way to peace that benefits us, too.

Cristina: I’ve rediscovered the importance of going back to the basics of chanting. With the new year, we all made our determinations toward supporting youth and sharing Buddhism. Constantly revisiting this determination with prayer keeps it in focus for me.

During the pandemic, we fell out of the rhythm with chanting together. So now I consistently invite others over or go to others’ homes to chant—it helps everyone involved.

Then, I make sure to communicate and move together with our district and group leaders to visit our members and guests. This unity, this shared sense of purpose to care for one another: this has been key.

Stanley: There are many things I’m still learning about leadership. But I truly feel that our chapter has tremendous people—selfless, dedicated people who are leading by example. Being in this environment, I feel inspired to give it my all, too. 

When there’s such a deep connection and resonance among the community, you feel it. It’s magnetic to be in this kind of space; it’s a place of celebrating, dreaming and fighting together. Also, our intention is always directed toward supporting new people and empowering them, which enriches our community further. I feel that continuing to nurture this kind of community has been key.

Shawna: I seek genuine friendships. That’s what motivated me to keep coming back to SGI activities, and I’m sure it’s true for many others, too. When you’re being genuine, the other person reflects that back. So, I try to keep in mind Ikeda Sensei’s heart to value the person in front of us.

There are times when I feel overwhelmed with all the things I have to do—especially in kosen-rufu; it’s an effort that never stops. When I do, I think about the effort Sensei and our pioneers made to build this organization we have today. It comes back to embodying Sensei’s guidance, not just reading it. 

Lynne: I think another important thing is how in sync we are as a chapter team. I once received guidance from a senior in faith about how to unite as a team. They said that it wasn’t about being right but about creating value. Initially, I thought, What’s wrong with being right? But I understand now that it’s about directing our focus to supporting the members and guests, and respecting one another.

I can’t drive around for SGI activities as much as I used to. But I’m trying to not let that define me and to find new ways to support at this point in my life. We all have something unique that we can contribute.

Cristina: With the spirit of humanistic competition, we want to be the No. 1 chapter introducing youth every month—a chapter brimming with young people and happiness!

Stanley: I want to see more people in Buffalo living their best life. That starts with young people—they carry into the rest of their lives what they learn today. I want to put this challenge for kosen-rufu front and center in my life, and be a part of their journey.

Shawna: I feel the gravity of the situation we are facing in the world today. We need young people equipped with the best values to take on important positions in the world. I’m determined to introduce and foster young people—beyond my own limitations.

Lynne: With that, our vision is to triple our youth division here! When people in Buffalo think about world peace, SGI will be the first organization and movement that comes to mind. They’ll know it as the place that actualizes peace, starting with our own lives.

Ethan Gelbaum (Upstate New York Region 4D Leader): Having the fortune of supporting Buffalo together with everyone, I see how each person on the chapter team personally leads the way with sharing Buddhism. It’s not theory—they each have welcomed someone to the SGI recently. Enduring blizzards and all, the members of Buffalo will lead with the courage to share Buddhism in our community!

June 21, 2024, World Tribune, p. 9

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