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Place 18 of 52: From Refugees to a Reunion, Buffalo Lives Up to Its Welcoming Reputation

Place 18 of 52: From Refugees to a Reunion, Buffalo Lives Up to Its Welcoming Reputation

The students were in finals week and the coaching staff was busy setting up the next season, but they all remembered me and were happy to catch up. They had ended the season having earned the first N.C.A.A. tournament round of 16 berth in the school’s history.

“Everyone that touched us through the process is part of the responsibility of us becoming what we became this year,” Ms. Legette-Jack said. “Sure, things went wrong. But what went right was beautiful. Us meeting you. Meeting the gentleman playing the piano. We just made the most of it. You’re part of our story of having a historical season, so thank you.”

I was sitting down with two assistant coaches, two players and Ms. Legette-Jack. Almost every person in the room had come from elsewhere and stayed in Buffalo because they loved it so. They all raved about the revitalizing downtown and Canalside, a promenade that was once the western terminus of the Erie Canal and a place where you can start sailing on Lake Erie or enjoy live music.

Mostly, though, they talked about feeling welcome. Ayolek Sodade, a shooting guard, was from Nigeria, and a new teammate was from Lebanon. (The UB athletics program has won a diversity award from the N.C.A.A. two years in a row.) “We’re starting to thrive again; it’s an exciting time,” Ms. Legette-Jack said. “But don’t tell too many people. This is our town!”

Home of the Brave

That diversity may be best seen at the West Side Bazaar, a small business incubator full of refugees selling their native clothing and food. Kayla, Michael, and my friend Aileen, who had come up from Syracuse, N.Y., munched on traditional Mexican tacos and Ethiopian sambusas. And I spoke with Gysma Kueny, a South Sudanese refugee who sells jewelry and crafts. When she applied for refugee status, she said, she didn’t have a choice of where to live. “I just knew I was going to a place called New York and then a place called Buffalo,” but she was grateful she was able to own a small business.

Across the hall from her was Nadin Yousef of Iraq (most of the vendors in the market are women), who had fled her country in war and come to Buffalo after six years in Syria and two in Turkey. She sells handmade macramé and has done well enough to open a second booth with goods from Jordan. “What I like about Buffalo is that they respect diversity and culture,” she said. “I like how when I work hard, I get something. I never see that before.”

Grain Silo Performance Art

Drive over pockmarked roads into the deep industrial territory of the Buffalo River and you’ll see an array of foreboding grain silos loom into view. You’ve entered Silo City, a great place to film a post-apocalyptic movie or put on some performance art. (There are tours where you can kayak between them.)

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