On Wednesday past, I had the great good fortune to meet in Dublin the Boston architect Michael Murphy who designed the six-acre Lynching Memorial site in Montgomery, Alabama - a place that once heralded itself as the premier slave trading site in the Heart of Dixie.

His evocative and inspiring work takes your breath away - a suitable way to remember how the mob could snuff out Black lives with impunity right up until the second half of the 20th century. 

It was an appropriate if unsettling primer for my visit the following day to the great city of Buffalo, a nexus of Irish American activity and site of the famed 1866 Fenian invasion of Canada but also scene of a recent racist massacre which could hold its own with the worst atrocities of the age of slave pens and plantations. 

HURT: The author with Councilwoman Zeneta Everhart outside Tops Supermarket. Her son Zaire was shot and injured by the white supremacist who killed ten African-Americans in the May 2022 massacre.

HURT: The author with Councilwoman Zeneta Everhart outside Tops Supermarket. Her son Zaire was shot and injured by the white supremacist who killed ten African-Americans in the May 2022 massacre.

On 14 May 2022, an 18-year-old avowed segregationist and advocate of the Great Replacement Theory — the belief that black people are forcing white people from 'their' lands, most recently espoused in Newtownmountkennedy — drove 200 miles to a supermarket in overwhelmingly Black East Buffalo and went on a killing spree.

Three minutes of furious fire from an AR-15 semiautomatic rifle and 18-year-old Grayton Payton had taken 10 black lives. His victims ranged in age from 32-86 and included a church deacon who ferried shoppers without their own transport back and forth to the popular Tops Supermarket. 

After live-streaming the atrocity, the shooter, protected by body armour and a military-grade helmet, gave himself up. He is now in jail serving life without parole and awaiting to hear whether the US government will succeed in a bid to execute him.

Of the three wounded, two who survived were apparently spared because they were white.

The third was Tops staffer Zaire Everhart (20) who took a bullet to the neck as he helped a shopper load shopping bags into her car.  Somehow, miraculously, Zaire survived and the night of the massacre slept in his own bed.  

On Saturday afternoon, I got to meet Zaire's mum, Zenata outside Tops - the only supermarket, as she explains, "for miles around" in an area still struggling with endemic poverty. 

Since the shooting, Zaire has been elected to the Buffalo City Council where she and eight colleagues now make weighty decisions affecting the future of the Queen City. She is an imposing figure, standing over six feet tall, and in spirit and body, very much a tower of strength for her neighbours. It was a privilege to stand with her as shoppers stopped to chat, share news about family and trade information on housing or work issues even as we stood in the shadow of unspeakable sorrow. 

At her side was Buffalo State Senator Tim Kennedy who is standing in a Special Election today to return a new Congress Member for Buffalo. Judging by the frequent pledges of support from the mostly African-American shoppers and the "have a blessed day" farewells, you can take it that he's a shoo-in. 

SOARING: Thanking the Rev Dr Leslie Braxton post-service

SOARING: Thanking the Rev Dr Leslie Braxton post-service

As Zenata talked us through the attack and its aftermath, a lone man walked back and forth chanting and praying on the fringe of the Tops' carpark. For all the world, we could have been back a century-and-a-half, gathering in the wake of a lynching. "People come every day to pray for peace for the dead and healing for the survivors," explained Zenata. "This community is hurting." 

Plans for two memorials in honour of the ten victims are proceeding apace even as the second anniversary of the atrocity fast approaches. With no other supermarkets in the area, the community supported the reopening of the Tops' store. Indeed, the staff there are regarded as heroes; some risked their own lives to hide shoppers from the rampaging gunman. 

On my visit, two armed security staff, one male, one female, both wearing flak jackets, were on duty.  The female guard had a message on her armoured vest - 'My pronouns are "Try Me"'. The pair were friendly — but also deadly serious. And no wonder, the previous security guard, Aaron Salter jr., a retired police officer, loosed off several shots at Payton that May day but his bullets failed to penetrate the attacker's body armour and he was cut down in the return fire. 

Only a people with a resilient and hopeful spirit could carry the cross being borne by the community of East Buffalo —  as the people of West Belfast, scarred by their own massacres, know only too well. 

In fact, I had the great honour to witness the faith-based roots of that resilience and hope myself first-hand when I returned to East Buffalo the following day for Sunday service at First Shiloh Baptist Church. 

The unforgettable highlight of an enthralling blink-of-an-eye-three-hour service (this from an author who you couldn't get to go to mass at gunpoint) was a soaring sermon by the Rev. Leslie Braxton. Indeed, he raised the roof so high it still hasn't come down.

Starting, quiet as a church mouse, the good reverend, joked, cajoled and seduced the congregation with a learned and eloquent treatise based on Psalm 92: 12-15 - "the righteous shall flourish like a palm tree" — which is, he assured us, really about stamina and stature.

Thrown in was a powerful and animated rendition of Maya Angelou's 'And Still I Rise' as well a full-throated finale for the Blacks of Buffalo: "Though I walk through the Valley of the Shadow of Death, I fear no evil....Because God is still in me..."

Amen to that, say we — and to the power of Ten. 

The ten victims of the Buffalo massacre were Aaron Salter Jr., 55; Celestine Chaney, 65; Roberta A. Drury, 32; Andre Mackniel, 53; Katherine Massey, 72; Margus D. Morrison, 52; Heyward Patterson, 67; Geraldine Talley, 62; Ruth Whitfield, 86; and Pearl Young, 77.