Our Breaking Barriers Ride this coming Monday, September 21st, starting from Kerns Ave Bowling Center (163 Kerns Avenue, 6:30pm start, see below for the many pandemic-induced changes to Slow Roll), is an opportunity to meet the young men and mission of Breaking Barriers, “a group of young men of color, 12-24 years in age, creating a unified voice that advocates for racial equity, social justice and policy change.”

One of these young men is Xavier Lamar, a Buffalo native in his junior year at Tapestry Charter School who lives along the 12-mile route we’ll ride on Monday, from Kerns to Zone One Family Entertainment Complex (30 E. Amherst Street). Xavier took time to talk about Breaking Barriers, life and school in a pandemic, and how his Breaking Barriers brothers came to call him “Xa-bama,” after Barack Obama.

How did you get involved with Breaking Barriers?

My mom really wanted me to get involved in the community, because I’m very interested in political stuff. Breaking Barriers is not exactly political, but it puts my face out there. I came to the first meeting a little shy and all, but over the course of the year they really broke me outta my shell. It’s a really good environment – I love being around all these young men of color.

What part of the work of Breaking Barriers resonates most with you?

The best part is that it really opens your whole worldview – Breaking Barriers will truly highlight to you the racial injustices that are in this country. Before, my views about race were completely naive; I really used to believe that racism only existed in some parts of the South, with incidents of policing, but it’s far beyond all that. That’s depressing, of course, but still amazing, and it’s better to be knowledgable than ignorant.

I like the work of trying to change the narrative. We’re always out there in the community doing different things, like throughout the summer delivering dinners to seniors citizens through the Northland Center, making sure they’re all good, because the pandemic has been hard on them especially. That’s the type of work I like, helping the community out – that really goes a long way toward changing that narrative.

What does that term “changing the narrative” mean to you?

To me, changing the narrative is all about changing the way the world views young black men. Often times, people turn on the news and see these protests, see young black men portrayed as violent and causing trouble, see a mug shot, but never get an opportunity to see all the good things we do. We’re changing the narrative by being out helping our community, changing that whole perception of what young black men are in our society. That’s what I love about Breaking Barriers.

How did you earn the nickname Xa-bama?

When I came in there, although I was a little shy, I was always ok talking about what I wanna be when I grow up. Let’s be honest – most kids my age talk about being a basketball player or rapper, all that stuff; me, I just wanna go into politics. I’m not just saying this – I love it. Debating, all that stuff. I find it to be an interesting field.

What inspires you to get involved in the community?

I guess it comes from my interest in politics. Politics is supposed to be doing what you can to make people’s lives better, so being involved in the community is a good place to start. This is what I wanna do – help make sure people are secure and stable. It puts a smile on my face to know that everyone is doing the best they can.

In your opinion, what is Buffalo’s greatest asset and most urgent problem?

Hmm, that is a very interesting question. Can I take a short time to think?

Sure, take your time.

I think our greatest asset is that we’re not too big, and also not too small. I feel like it’s easy to get to know new people and be connected. Somehow, someway, no matter who you meet, there’s always a connection. When we say “City of Good Neighbors,” we really are genuinely connected.

I think our most urgent problem is our sense of care for our communities. We’re seeing a lot of people leave Buffalo, saying there’s nothing they can do for this city, and I feel like we really need to take that on, stand up and make the changes necessary. There’s nowhere I could see me going right now besides staying here – maybe an opportunity could come my way, but I feel like my calling is right here in this city, to take care of it, to do better and make the changes we need. As a city, we need to come together make the changes.

How has the pandemic affected your life?

Oof. It’s completely altered my way of living in general. I was little scared in the beginning to go places – even though it doesn’t affect young people as much, I do live with my grandmother and mother who are high-risk, so I’m always careful where I’m going, what I touch, all the guidelines.

It’s mostly affected my schooling. Before the pandemic, I was doing really great at school – 90s, all that stuff – but when online learning started, it really altered my mind and was hard to adjust. I still got somewhere around the 70s for my last quarter, but I prefer to achieve higher, like in the 90s, and since I did great the whole school year before, I was still able to get an 87 GPA.

It’s a new world I had to adjust to, and they even admitted themselves at school, teachers and staff, they weren’t prepared. It’s what you have to do, adjust. Luckily, I’m starting better for this year, because now I know this is the new normal.

Outside of school, it’s been hard not going to favorite places, restaurants, can’t hang out with your friends that much. It’s been tough to deal with.

How do you envision your future?

I envision a future where I’m in a position to really create fundamental change, not only for my community, for my city and state, but for the world. I really think that there needs to be fundamental change in this country, and I wanna help create that change somehow, someway.

I’m gonna let you know, my genuine desire is to be the President one day – I really feel like I can implement the fundamental changes that are needed. But I put that desire for fundamental change over my personal desires; that means that if I can put someone else in that position to make that change, and I never get credit – listen, at least I can make that change.

I genuinely want people to be happy, to be stable, to never have to worry about struggles, to never have to worry about kids being murdered in the streets – whether by police or their own community. I want to achieve that for our society, and I really think we can.