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Buffalo's poet laureate is among those experiencing grief after Saturday's shooting

A MARTINEZ, HOST:

People in Buffalo are experiencing immense pain and grief. Jillian Hanesworth is one of them.

JILLIAN HANESWORTH: All the pain that we're feeling is valid. The tears are valid. The anger is valid. Yes, this happened. You're right. I know. It hurts. It's OK for you to cry. It's OK for you to not want to go to work today. It's OK for your kids to stay home from school today. They're afraid.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Hanesworth is Buffalo's poet laureate. She is 29 years old, born and raised on the city's East Side. She and so many others are trying to deal with the aftermath of the racist attack that left 10 people dead.

HANESWORTH: Black people in this country have lived through so much. So many people hate us just because we exist. And we experience that at different levels on a daily basis. So we - we're strong. We know that.

MARTINEZ: She's been asked to speak several times since Saturday's mass shooting, and she's struggled to get the right words because nothing could make sense of this senseless act of violence.

HANESWORTH: (Reading) You won't even walk around. It's like you're tethered to the ground. You know that something's wrong but can't put your finger on it. Holding on to all this pain, although you don't really want it. And no matter how hard you try, you just can't seem to explain it. So the frustration becomes a box, and the goal is to contain it. Place that box up...

MARTIN: Hanesworth says her job right now is to validate the feelings of people in her community - their anger, confusion or grief.

HANESWORTH: There's the #BuffaloStrong hashtag that I really have been pushing back against because we don't need right now to be told that we're strong. We need to be told that we're right.

MARTINEZ: She says poetry has power in this moment.

HANESWORTH: As a poet, I see my role as a way to bridge the gap between what we know and what we need. So we know that racism exists. We know white supremacists are real. We know that we have been targeted. Now, we need change.

MARTINEZ: And she adds, what her city needs right now is honest dialogue.

HANESWORTH: We need you to talk. We need you to stop sitting around the dinner table acting like everything's great because it's not. Just because you aren't experiencing it doesn't mean it's not happening. Your role in this is to help change the system.

MARTIN: To bring about more honest conversation, Hanesworth proposes a hashtag - #BuffaloHonest.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.