“What happens after a racist mass shooting in your neighborhood?” NPR attempts to answer this very question in a new three-episode podcast “Buffalo Extreme,” which hands over the mic to a group of Black cheerleaders in Buffalo, NY.
It’s been over a year since a white supremacist callously murdered ten people and injured three others at the Tops Friendly Markets store on the East Side of Buffalo in the predominantly Black neighborhood. The shooter walked into the grocery store on May 14, 2022 with an AR-15-style rifle, opening fire with the intention of targeting Black victims.
Buffalo All-Star Extreme (BASE) gym is located just a few blocks from the site of this deadly mass shooting. BASE gym was founded to be a safe haven, and it is “home to one of the few all-Black girls’ all-star cheer teams in the country.” Ayanna Williams, the head coach, founded the gym in 2013 so that Black girls would have the ability to “thrive in the predominantly white world of competitive cheerleading.”
The day of the shooting the girls were practicing at the gym, just around the corner from the mass shooting. “Buffalo Extreme” tells their story.
Hosted by 19-year-old Na’kya McCann, a former team member at BASE and now junior coach, the podcast “seeks to correct for something that happens too often in journalism — especially in the face of tragedies such as mass shootings — by letting the people most impacted speak on their own terms about their pain, trauma, loss and the path forward.”
In McCann’s eyes “in the initial days and weeks after the shooting, ‘We felt like we were in a zoo — and everybody got their picture and then they left.’” But, this time was different, and it all started with one interview. After NPR reporter and producer Marianne McCune came across the piece, she said “I knew I wanted to work with her to tell this story.”
McCann told ESSENCE how she didn’t expect the project to take off. McCann also said that she didn’t think that she was the right person at first, relaying how she told McCune, “there’s so many other people that were directly impacted by this. I’m not the right person.” McCann added, “But as I started getting into it, I realized the importance of doing the podcast was displaying and showing everybody that it doesn’t matter if you’re closely related or you are indirectly impacted. You feel something when something so tragic like that happens in your community, especially a small city like Buffalo.”
Doing the podcast was therapeutic for McCann, who said, “I shied away from my feelings at first, and I kept them inside as much as I could, but doing all the interviews and listening to what my cheer sisters and what my mom and my coach had to say really did help me. It helped me because when it initially happened, nobody had answers.”
McCann spoke with ESSENCE about what she learned, stating that “even a couple of sentences goes a long way,” reflecting on how “talking in therapy is a good outlet, and I’ve also learned that I’m not alone with pushing my feelings to the side. I’m not alone in feeling the way that I felt after the mass shooting, and I’ve also learned that if you have a story, anybody’s willing to listen, regardless if you feel like your story is small.
You can listen to Buffalo Extreme here.