This week’s “Get to Know” feature is on our ever-caring board member and volunteer leader Karen Huffman, because of course, she signed up to help fellow Buffalonians get counted in the United States Census, which is the focus of our free and inclusive Census Ride this coming Monday, September 28th, starting from the Broadway Theatre (512 Broadway, 6:30pm start, see below for the many pandemic-induced changes to Slow Roll).
Although Karen won’t be in her familiar place in the front of the pack for our Census Ride, she did help map and scout the ride’s 15-mile route, with emphasis on areas of our city in need of the most attention as we’re in the final push for participation in this essential exercise for our society.
Born in Michigan, raised in Minnesota, and resided in many cities before making Buffalo home in the late-90s, Karen is a mother of two daughters who teaches biology at ECC and has been a ubiquitous presence in the local bicycling community since joining Slow Roll squad in 2015. Get to know Karen below.
What inspired you to sign up to work on the census?
It’s really important for people to get counted, so I wanted to help to get people counted especially in the area where I live. I became what’s called a “census enumerator” – going to houses that haven’t filled it out yet, checking for valid addresses, double-checking data, things like that. I focused on the area between Best and Utica, Linwood and Jefferson – I know this area is critical to be counted correctly.
What inspired you to volunteer for Slow Roll squad and eventually our board?
I just really like being part of the community – all my life, when I show up for something, I don’t wanna be just a participant, I wanna be involved. I did Taekwondo for 15 years and was a volunteer instructor both before and after I got my black belt, and I absolutely loved it until I couldn’t do it physically – that’s when Slow Roll came into my life. After I did my first ride, I joined squad.
When I get involved in something, I don’t tend to go in with just my toes – I jump into the whole pond.
What inspires you in general to show up and get involved in community causes?
For one, I grew up in rather difficult circumstances – my family didn’t have a lot of money. But also in growing up, I knew I had privileges that a lot of people didn’t. I got this huge privilege with the education and community I have – this past week is showing how extensive that community is – and it would be a waste of opportunity if I did not use it all to do something for the greater community. What I have should not be wasted – it should be shared, and so I use it any way I can.
A lot of what I do is associated with food equity and justice, that’s always been a passion. I remember times not having a lot of food in the house – not starving, just not a lot of options. And until people can get good food, they won’t be educated properly or have proper physical activity. Good nutritional food is where it all starts.
And that’s why I got so involved in Slow Roll’s partnership with the African Heritage Food Co-op through the Kiddie Kickstand program, with kids learning about nutrition, food insecurity, food justice, distribution and entrepreneurship at the same time.
This whole winter and spring there’s just so much food injustice – that’s why I got involved with Queen City Couriers and PUSH Buffalo’s Mutual Aid Hub, and after that shut down I signed up to work with Food Not Bombs, but yeah, that’s not gonna be happening with me now, oh well.
And tying it back into the census – without good and accurate census counts, we won’t have the community centers that would be helpful to people suffering from food injustice. And also, having an accurate census count might encourage small grocery stores or other food suppliers to bring nutritious food into neighborhoods. People need good options, fresh and nutritious produce options, and they’re not getting it.
We have so many great organizations, so many ways for people to get help, and for others people to help if they’re able – I’d like to see more people using these services or volunteering for them however they feel comfortable.
In your opinion, what is Buffalo’s greatest asset and its most urgent problem?
Our greatest asset is simply the people. For the most part, people are generally concerned about each other, at least in my community and what I’ve experienced. People want to make Buffalo a livable place. They greet each other, and don’t hesitate to ask personal questions – which is great, it lets you know they’re already thinking of you as a friend. That’s what Buffalo is – we are a City of Good Neighbors, people for the most part are really caring and wanna do right by each other.
As for problems, we have so many urgent problems; I think a lot of the urgency comes down to the effects of redlining, way back. Of course, so much of what we are experiencing existed before that, but in a lot of ways, redlining made it legal. Policies that resulted from redlining have led to people being disenfranchised and marginalized, and that’s why I think our biggest problem is the need to reverse those effects at every level.
What single message would you like to send to our community right now?
For anybody who knows me personally – or even marginally – I would like them to keep thinking about how to make Buffalo a better community. What can we do for others? How can we support people who are disenfranchised and marginalized? I ask everybody to use their hearts and do what’s comfortable for them to make Buffalo what we want it to be – we all wanna be the City of Good Neighbors, so be a good neighbor.