A year after a mass shooting at a Tops supermarket devastated a black community in Buffalo, New York, a victim is commemorated through the gift of education.
In honor of Aaron Salter, the security guard who worked at Tops and was one of the 10 people killed, friends and former colleagues set up a scholarship fund for local high school students to help pay for tuition. Named Lt. Aaron Salter Memorial ScholarshipThe fund awards $5,000 in scholarships to 10 high school seniors from schools across Buffalo.
Earl Perrin Jr., Salter’s longtime friend and ten-year colleague at the Buffalo Police Department, organized the grant after Salter’s death. Perrin said Salter, who died after running into tops to warn others about the shooter, “gave his life to save others.”
“Because of his heroism and because we knew what kind of person he was, we thought it was just a matter of finding a way to memorialize him — finding a way to keep his legacy alive,” Perrin said.
Perrin runs the scholarship fund along with Brad Pitts and Nate Goldsmith, all of whom sit on the board and have close ties to Salter. Pitts said he grew up with Salter, going to basketball and football games and hanging out at their homes.
“He was one of us,” Perrin said. “Not just a cop. Not just a black person. Not just a man. But he was one of Buffalo’s own people.”
Pitts said he explained to Salter how to become a police officer when he first expressed interest in the job. Pitts said he was surprised that Salter, who was interested in technology, showed an interest in policing, but Pitts saw community engagement “pulled him in,” he said.
“Giving back and finding a way to interact with the community has always been important to Aaron,” Pitts said.
The scholarship committee originally tried to raise $1,000 for the scholarship, Perrin said, but an influx of donations has increased the scholarship to $5,000 for each student. Several local businesses have donated to the fund, including Paddock Chevrolet, a car dealership that has agreed to donate $25,000 a year for the next four years. Former Buffalo Bills players Steve Pasker, Thurman Thomas and Bruce Smith have also volunteered to do commercials and other promotional activities for the fund.
Students selected for the scholarship must demonstrate the qualities of Salter, who was tech-savvy and committed to community involvement. Salter also developed a hydrogen-powered engine, Perrin said, “to save the average person money,” and even pitched his idea to him shark tank.
Cashell Durham, Salter’s sister, said he inherited his inventive skills from her father, who rebuilt engines. Durham, who lives in Buffalo, said the scholarship was “a great way to remember my brother.”
Salter had a bright personality that lit up the room, Durham added, and that she misses their close relationship.
“Me and he were really close,” Durham said. “He texted me almost every day wishing me a nice day at work.”
Cashell, who lives just a few blocks from Tops, said she hasn’t returned to the store since her brother’s death because she left “just because he was there.” She also wants people to remember her brother as a good person.
“He wouldn’t harm anyone,” she said. “He was just a good guy. And just think of the smile on his face. He didn’t let much get him down.”
The foundation also hopes to use the grant to provide mentoring opportunities for local youth, as well as provide mental health and financial literacy services. Another goal is to increase the number of scholarships for high school students.
While Salter’s friends and family said his death took a toll on the community, the grant sheds a hopeful light.
“It was tough,” Pitts said, “but it’s lighter than darker.”