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Why my cousin who died in the Buffalo mass shooting would forgive the shooter

Know Your Value style contributor, Monica Barnett, shares the mark her cousin Pearl Young left on her family before becoming a victim in the Buffalo mass shooting at a Tops supermarket on Saturday.
Image: Pearl Young
Pearl Young was a long-time member of the Good Samaritan Church in Buffalo, N.Y.Monica Barnett

I want to talk about gun control. I want to talk about the epidemic of violence across the country. I want to talk about the alarming rise in mass shootings. I want to talk about racism and its ugly side. I want to talk about what it means to be compassionate. I want to talk about what it means to believe in something so much that it’s part of the very fiber of your being.

I want to scream, cry, yell at the top of my lungs. I want to kick something, smack someone. I want to do all of this in the name of my second cousin, Pearl Young – a vivacious, giving, soulful, compassionate lover of life and God.

She, along with nine others, where killed in the recent shooting spree at a Tops Friendly Markets grocery store in Buffalo, N.Y., on Saturday. Pearl was 77.

To know my cousin – to have her in your life – was a blessing.

She was funny, diligent in knowing her value and committed to living it. She had a servant’s heart, practiced humility by the boatload and if you needed help, she always left you in a better place than where you started.

I call her my “human lottery” – you struck gold when you got to know and meet Pearl!

Before Saturday, I have funny, family-filled memories of Tops because I grew up in Buffalo. Along with Wegmans, they were the two main stays in our household for grocery shopping. I had never been to the Tops supermarket on Jefferson Avenue because I lived in North Buffalo and there were about seven grocery stores you could hit before you managed to go from my house to that particular store, but it was a center of the community where Pearl lived.

Tops reminded me of last-minute runs on Thanksgiving because we forgot the cranberry sauce or quick pit stops because we needed extra hot dog buns on the way to a cookout.

Now, a different picture fills my mind. Earlier on Saturday, Pearl was at a church breakfast and was described as uncharacteristically happy and dancing all about – she was known for her lively dancing.

When it was time to leave, Gloria, her sister-in-law, dropped her off at Tops because it was the one she frequented to do some grocery shopping, and cousin Pearl told Gloria she’d walk home – she liked the exercise. As I understand it, she stopped in to grab some chicken, perhaps for dinner to make sure everyone who came over had enough to eat. She never made it home.

I left Buffalo years ago after graduating from Buffalo Seminary and going on to college and graduate school, but when I came home, I would worship at Good Samaritan on Sunday. And each time I went, there was Pearl.

She was married to my relative Oliver, who was one of 14 siblings in the Young family. Oliver and his siblings, and my mom, Vivian, and her siblings all grew up together.

Pearl and Oliver met at the wedding of Oliver’s brother, Glenwood. They got married a few years later and she became family. At every family reunion, get-together (good and bad), Sunday church service, repast, and whatever else, she was there.

In all my recollections of cousin Pearl, she always had a smile, always had a hearty laugh, always loved kids and could always quote a scripture for guidance. (As kids, everything we basically did was mischievous and necessitated a Bible passage).

Image: Pearl Young
Pearl Young was a substitute teacher in the Buffalo Public Schools, a Sunday school teacher and ran a local food pantry.Monica Barnett

She was a consummate churchgoer and woman of God. She epitomized the love of Christ and as a result, she displayed a generosity that provided a clear guide to being a good person.

If you needed help, Pearl would find a way. If you needed clothing, she would go around and gather stuff from her family to give to you. If you needed direction or prayer, she was quick to close her eyes, place ‘hands’ on you and start praying.

As a giver, it’s no surprise that she was a longtime educator and even after retirement, became a permanent substitute teacher in the Buffalo Public Schools.

My cousin always, always opened her house to those in need via foster care and respite. In fact, for almost 25 years she ran a pantry that fed the homeless every Saturday. I remember many times going there as a kid to “help” but really just getting in the way. She never minded.

Her innate ability to step outside of her own circumstances to serve others is a gift we all lost on Saturday. I will remember her wisdom. Even when you weren’t sure what you needed, she always had the right words – the exact advice you were looking for.

Image: Pearl Young
Pearl Young (back row, right) poses with [back row] Denise Morse, Bishop Glenwood Young and [front row, L to R] Sharon Stringfield, Doris Young, Mildred Young and Constance Young.Monica Barnett

There is a silver lining here – in true Pearl fashion.

My cousin died after going to a church event and going into a store to buy groceries for someone else.

She exemplified giving and charity, and living that moved outside of the human condition. Indeed, one of her favorite Bible passages was Psalms 30:5: “Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning.”

She would have been one of the first people to forgive the perpetrator and pray with him. I don’t know the words she would have shared but I imagine they would have been exactly what he needed to hear.

Pearl’s family was blessed. Her friends were blessed. The children she taught were blessed. Her life was blessed – and anyone who came into contact with her was blessed – and so, as you read this, you are blessed too and that is the beauty in her home-going.

Her passing now provides a way for even more people to know, appreciate, remember and be blessed by her life.