buddy gray made a huge impact on us all

February 19, 1950 – November 15, 1996

By Bonnie Neumeier

buddy gray made a commitment at a very young age to dedicate his life energies to the cause of freedom, justice and peace for all humanity.  He never wavered on that commitment.  To buddy, every person had a face, a name.  He was a man with great passion and soul.  A man who was motivated by his inclusive love and just anger so that we all could live free with basic human rights. 

buddy used all that he was in the service of his vision.  He gave endless hours of dedication/determination because he believed we must be about building a healthier neighborhood and world community for all of us.  Buddy’s life as a revolutionary, a public servant, a poet, a carpenter, a friend, an organizer, an advocate, a prophet, a brother, a keen strategist, a preserver of life, a justice-seeker, a consistent challenger, a planter of trees and flowers, a lover of people, and an enthusiast for the simple joys of life challenged many to take an active part in something so much greater – to be a part of the historic movement for FREEDOM.  He knew that this serious task was not without its difficulty and pain, but the helped many felt the joy in being part of the freedom train.

The strong, life-giving spirit that buddy possessed was felt and impacted many people and places, but his soul lived especially deep in the people and soil of the Over-the-Rhine neighborhood of Cincinnati, Ohio.  He walked side by side with us, his neighbors, with little or no resources.  We used all we had in us to claim the right to stay in this land because IT IS OUR HOME that deserves and needs to be respected by the powerful forces who grab our land for their interest in profits.  He had a deep care and compassion for people who are homeless and those with little or no income.  He believed in people’s innate ability to overcome additions and hopelessness. 

He was an advocate of the people to whom he gave hope by what he said and what he did.  He never brushed people off.  buddy worked hard at developing and sharing leadership for he believed in the power of the people.  What he thought was just and right, he took action with others to carry it out.  He knew seeds had to be planted well, planted deep, for our hope lies in the coming together of all of us creating a new world with compassion for all earth’s creatures.

Some of the ways in which he carried out his commitment:

  • He refused to participate in the Vietnam War and actively organized against U.S. participation in the war.
  • He consistently did individual service work: tutoring children, organizing recreation trips for children to area parks; individual advocacy against Welfare Bureaucracy and absentee landlords; assisted with many moving jobs when folks suffered evictions; offered help in fixing space heaters, apartment repair; advocated for people getting Public Assistance; advocated in court for treatment rather than prison.
  • Supported the founding of the Drop Inn Center Shelterhouse for the Homeless and led the effort to stop those who attempted to close it down.   Organized the ShelterHouse Volunteer Group to own and operate the shelter as peoples’ program. 
  • He was active in tenant organizing: advocating for individual tenants’ rights; and organizing tenant strikes.  He assisted in creating Tenant/Landlord legislation both in the State of Ohio and the City of Cincinnati.
  • Was one of three original tenants that founded ReSTOC (Race Street Tenant Organization Cooperative), formed as a non-profit, racially integrated, low-income housing cooperative in order to fix up old buildings long neglected by absentee landlords so that housing for low income people could be preserved and maintained.
  • Helped found the Over-the-Rhine Housing Network, a coalition of non-profit low income housing development corporations in the Over-the-Rhine, united to save housing under community control. 
  • Helped develop and pass the Housing Retention Ordinance in Over-the-Rhine, model legislation that requires public hearings before an apartment building can be demolished. 
  • Worked as on of 13 members to develop Over-the-Rhine Comprehensive Plan which fought to establish a minimum base of 5,520 low income housing units in Over-the-Rhine. 
  • Participated as a trustee since 1978 of the Over-the-Rhine Community Council; chair of its Housing Task Force. 
  • Founded and recent Board member of the National Coalition for the Homeless and organized the founding convention in Chicago in 1983.
  • Founded in Columbus in March 1984 the Coalition for Housing and Homelessness in Ohio, and remained as a Board member.
  • Founded the Greater Cincinnati Coalition for the Homeless, May 1984.  He was active in political action for the rights of homeless people.                

On January 20, 1997, buddy received the Martin Luther King Lifetime Achievement Award in Cincinnati.  buddy had many accomplishments to his credit, just as Martin Luther King did.  But neither man is remembered most for the things he accomplished, but rather the vision, hope and DREAM they shared with others.  Both dreamed of a world where all women and men could live and respect each other as equals.  Our greatest tribute to buddy gray and Martin Luther King is to continue the vision they worked so hard to carry out. 

Editor’s Note: On November 16, 1996, buddy gray was shot in his office at the Drop Inn Center by a formerly homeless man with mental problems whom buddy helped off the street.  A memorial fund has been setup to carry on his work.  For more information on buddy gray, Over-the-Rhine, or homelessness in Cincinnati, contact the Greater Cincinnati Coalition for the Homeless.