The B.U.I.L.D. Academy: A Historical Study of Community Action and Education in Buffalo, New York

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The B.U.I.L.D. Academy: A Historical Study of Community Action and Education in Buffalo, New York

The B.U.I.L.D. (Build, Unity, Independence, Liberty, Dignity) organization was an east side community group first organized by Saul Alinsky's Industrial Areas Foundation in the early 1960s. This organization was responsible for significant changes to the political and social structure of Buffalo's Black community in the 1960s and 1970s. One of B.U.I.L.D.'s crowning achievements was the B.U.I.L.D. Academy, a school that while publicly funded and the legal responsibility of the City of Buffalo School Board, had a separate community-based policy board which oversaw the school's operation. In this paper, I will attempt to show how the B.U.I.L.D. organization positively influenced local political powers and successfully forged a relationship with the City of Buffalo Board of Education and the State University College at Buffalo (Buffalo State College) to initiate a socially progressive model school in the manner of John Dewey and, at the same time, return to a model of locally-controlled schools which predates the progressive era. A clearer understanding of the B.U.I.L.D. Academy can be gained by looking at the formation of the school and the B.U.I.L.D. organization.


The 1960s has been recognized as a time of great social unrest as people in the United States were carefully examining some of the country's basic assumptions. In many cities there were attempts to organize parts of the population that were historically ignored, alienated, and disenfranchised. Buffalo was no exception. In 1965, a group which included Robert Coles, a local, African-American architect, and several, prominent, Black ministers contacted Saul Alinsky, a well-known community organizer, with the purpose of forming an organization for the east side of Buffalo (Howland, 1969).

Saul Alinsky was a community organizer who had founded the Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF). Alinsky was a controversial figure due to the type of communities he organized, the strategies he used, and the people with whom he associated. A self-professed agitator, Alinsky believed in using the press as "an advertising gimmick" (Howland, 1969, p. 7) and during organizational activities, would consciously orchestrate public disturbances. It was his belief that the disenfranchised gain power, not through conventional processes at first, but through what he called "guerrilla warfare...[with] emphasis on such dramatic actions as parades and rent strikes whose main objective is to create a sense of solidarity and of community" (Silberman, 1964, p. 335). Alinsky and the IAF had successfully organized other communities across the country including Rochester, New York and Chicago, Illinois.

Alinsky's established formula for starting a community organization was used in Buffalo. He always required that he be invited to the area by a coalition of community groups. He further insisted, that before he came to an area, money for three years of operating expenses be raised. In the case of Buffalo, it was determined that $150,000.00 was needed. A coalition was formed and the money was raised(2) after which, IAF's standard, four-step procedure was implemented; (1) Find out specific grievances of the members of the community, (2) Find the indigenous leaders, (3). Put these leaders together to discuss community problems, and (4). Put on a demonstration or series of demonstrations which lead to visible results (Silberman, 1964).

Alinsky also tried to mobilize the local power structure and saw his organization as a way to jump start a community into action. He said, "We're not trying to lead anything...We're just technicians trying to organize people" (as cited in Howland, 1969, p. 6). The goal was to bring more people to the political table, empowering those in an area who traditionally don't have a voice in local affairs. The goal was to have the community control its own destiny. …