(NEW YORK) — Zeneta Everhart is working to educate her community on racism, one month after her son was injured in a mass shooting carried out by an alleged white supremacist at a grocery store in Buffalo, New York.
Zaire Goodman, 21, was working at the Tops Friendly Markets store on May 14 and was helping take 86-year-old Ruth Whitfield’s groceries to her car when he was struck by the gunman’s bullets. Whitfield was killed in the attack, which left an additional nine people dead and several others, including Goodman, injured.
The Justice Department is investigating the shooting as a “hate crime and an act of racially-motivated violent extremism,” after it was discovered that the suspected gunman had allegedly expressed support for a number of white supremacist conspiracy theories.
As she tends to her son’s injuries — the bullets that struck Goodman miraculously missed his major organs, but tore a hole in the side of his neck and back, according to his mother — Everhart, who testified at a congressional hearing on gun reform Wednesday, said she is determined to educate the country about racism and its roots in the United States, in order to prevent future tragedies.
“A lot of times when these mass shootings happen, we just move on with our lives,” Everhart told ABC News this week. “We set up memorials, and we have a few community meetings, and Congress does some committee work, and they sit down, and they try to pass some laws and resolutions, and nothing goes anywhere, and then we’re on to the next mass shooting.”
“But this time, I’m involved,” she added. “My heart is involved. Buffalo is involved. I’m heartbroken for my community.”
Everhart said she believes the answer lies in educating the public about Black history — and the way she’s working to do that is by hosting a book drive to ensure inclusive materials are being distributed to communities in her state, for use at home and in school.
“These discussions have to start at home, have to continue to be talked about with children, not just when tragedy happens but all throughout the year,” she told Buffalo ABC affiliate WKBW-TV in May. “If you really want to raise your children to be anti-racist these conversations have to happen over and over.”
“This country is so afraid to talk about the true history of African Americans,” she added. “We are not teaching it in our schools.”
Since launching the book drive with her son back in May, Everhart said the response has been overwhelming.
Hundreds of boxes of books from across the country have poured in over the past several weeks. The books were all purchased off an Amazon wish list Everhart shared with her community previously, and are focused on raising awareness about race, racism and Black history.
She and her son are now working to distribute the books to schools, community centers and local organizations across western New York.
Everhart told ABC News she knows the book drive and her testimony before Congress, however, are just the first steps of the change she hopes to see.
“We go back. We keep talking about this. We don’t let it go,” she said, discussing her plans to continue advocating for change.
In her testimony Wednesday before the House Oversight Committee, Everhart pushed members to address gun violence as well as to acknowledge the nation’s history of racism and violence against the Black community, which she said was crucial to any permanent change.
“My ancestors brought to America through the slave trade were the first currency of America,” she said. “… I continuously hear after every mass shooting that this is not who we are as Americans and as a nation. Hear me clearly: This is exactly who we are.”
“We cannot continue to whitewash education and create generations of children to believe that one race of people are better than the other,” she added. “Our differences should make us curious, not angry.”
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