One year after a mass shooting at a Tops supermarket devastated a black community in Buffalo, New York, a victim is being memorialized through the gift of education.
Friends and former colleagues spearheaded a scholarship fund for local high school students to help pay college expenses in honor of Aaron Salter, the security guard who worked at Tops and was one of 10 people killed. named the Lt. Aaron Salter Memorial Scholarshipthe fund provides $5,000 scholarships to 10 graduating high school students from schools throughout Buffalo.
Earl Perrin Jr., an old friend of Salter’s and a colleague of 10 years with the Buffalo Police Department, organized the scholarship after Salter’s death. Perrin said Salter, who died after running into Tops to warn others about the gunman, “gave his life trying to save others.
“Because of his heroism, and because we knew what kind of person he was, we felt it would just be to find a way to commemorate him, figure out some way to uphold his legacy,” Perrin said.
Perrin manages the scholarship fund along with Brad Pitts and Nate Goldsmith, who sit on the executive board and share a close connection to Salter. Pitts said he grew up with Salter, going to basketball and football games, and hanging out at each other’s houses.
“He was one of us,” Perrin said. “Not just a police officer. Not just a black person. Not just a man. But he was one of the Buffalo ones.
Pitts said he explained how to become a police officer to Salter when he first expressed interest in the job. Pitts said he was surprised that Salter, who had an interest in technology, would show interest in surveillance, but Pitts saw that community involvement «appealed to him,» he said.
“Aaron was always concerned with giving back and finding a way that he could engage with the community,” Pitts said.
The scholarship committee originally sought to raise $1,000 for the scholarship, Perrin said, but an influx of donations 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 contribute $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 sponsorships for the fund.
Students selected for the scholarship must demonstrate the qualities of Salter, who was technologically savvy and involved in the community. Salter also created a hydrogen-powered engine, Perrin said, «to save the common person money,» and even pitched his idea to shark tank.
Cashell Durham, Salter’s sister, said she got her inventive qualities from her father, who rebuilt engines. Durham, who lives in Buffalo, said the scholarship is «a great way to remember my brother.»
Salter had a bright personality that lit up the room, Durham added, and she misses their tight-knit relationship.
«He and I were very close,» Durham said. «He texted me almost every day wishing me a good day at work.»
Cashell, who lives a few blocks from Tops, said she hasn’t been back to the store since her brother’s death because she went «just because he was there.» He also wants people to remember his brother as a good person.
«He wouldn’t hurt anybody,» she said. “He was just a nice guy. And he only remembers the smile on his face. He didn’t let anything get him down.»
Through the scholarship, the foundation also aims to provide mentoring opportunities for local youth, along with financial education and mental health services. They also aim to increase the number of scholarships distributed to high school students.
While Salter’s friends and family said his death affected the community, the scholarship brings a hopeful light.
«Things have been rough,» Pitts said, «but it’s brighter than dim.»