A Summer Setback Like Never Before

Summer should be a time for fun and relaxation.  In Buffalo, where I enjoyed this summer spending time with family, morning walks around Delaware Park became my safe haven.  This beautiful, bright gem that brightens up the city is always full of life, with its vast array of deciduous trees that canopy the asphalt providing both sunshine and shade, sadly also gave way to death for the first time in my lifetime.

Gunned down on the basketball court, a young father, friend, and Buffalo native, Joel Northrup, 26, was pronounced deceased at 7:10 p.m. on the last day of August.

A dark cloud of pessimism now hangs over what once looked and felt like paradise on Parkside Avenue.  Beautiful, bright-blue skies now feel dreary and gray.  As I walk past the desolate basketball court and view the makeshift memorial of glass candles neatly arranged in the outline of his body, I mourn. 

I didn’t know Joel but I am a parent.  I can not imagine the void that is now left in his children’s life.  According to the U.S. Census Bureau, approximately 24.7 million children live in homes without fathers.  If this were classified as a disease, fatherlessness would be an epidemic worthy of a national emergency.

After Labor Day, Joel’s children will be returning to school having experienced the most horrific tragedy one could ever experience.  They will need the guidance and support of their community, peers, teachers, and school leaders to guide them through this painful time.   School officials would do well to have social workers available to assist students and families with coping with grief and managing their emotions.  Social Emotional Learning (SEL) should also be embedded into the curriculum and taught explicitly in the classroom as many children will be returning to school during this pandemic having survived tragedy on a scale that adults have not known.  As emotions heighten and people feel anxious because they are forced to relinquish decision-making to government officials in matters that were once within their locust of control, conflicts may easily arise.  This will call for the need for schools to implement some form of proactive restorative practices to help children and families learn how to use language that will de-escalate situations and promote peace.

With these measures in place, the sting of the summer setback may not prove to be as devastating for the community.

Buffalo police ask anyone with information about the murder of Joel Northrup to call or text the department’s confidential tip line at 716-847-2255.

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