Say Yes’s Jamil Crews talks about community organizing and Buffalo’s future

By  – Reporter, Buffalo Business First

Editor’s note: This story was reported last week before protests began nationwide over the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis and racial injustice.

Jamil Crews didn’t plan on staying in Buffalo when he came back in 2008. But this city has a way of establishing permanence in young adults.

In the intervening 12 years, Crews has become a major force of change and collaboration in the city.

Crews, who worked at City Hall under Mayor Byron Brown between 2013 and 2019, is now the digital communications manager at Say Yes Buffalo.

His long checklist of community accolades includes being a founding member of the Buffalo Urban League Young Professionals chapter, current eastern region vice president for the National Urban League Young Professional Group and a board member of the William-Emslie Family YMCA.

He also is founder and executive producer for the annual Changemakers 30 Under 30 Awards in Buffalo.

Crews recently learned that he was accepted into the For(bes) the Culture network after a rigorous application process. The program, which is an official partner of the Forbes company, recognizes individuals for work to break down barriers and make progress in their communities.

He spoke about the state of the community and its future.

How did you end up living in Buffalo? I was born in Buffalo and raised in Washington, D.C., before coming back to Buffalo in the early 1990s. I wouldn’t say it was a normal childhood – I grew up in some unfortunate circumstances and impoverished neighborhoods – but I always had a vision for my life that was far beyond my current situation. I knew for me the pathway out was through education. I went to Bennett High School and then graduated from the University at Buffalo with a degree in African-American studies in 2005. I was the first person from my family to finish college.

I had a few jobs in Buffalo after college, but it was always supposed to be a temporary thing for me. I moved to New York City to take a job at a talent agency, but when that didn’t pan out I moved back to Buffalo with the intention of being back in New York at some point. I ended up getting a job as the human resources director at P&B Capital Group. I met my wife (Salley) here. I started getting involved in politics and the community.

What are you seeing in the community? The biggest thing that Buffalo needs is equal opportunity to access all the great things that are happening here. There is a renaissance of incredible measure that’s happening in the city, but there are pockets of our community that don’t feel part of the progress happening here.

We need to make it more inclusive so that everyone feels they are part of the renaissance.

I know that we have great leadership in place, and they’re working around the clock to make sure that happens, but more can be done. There needs to be more public and private partnerships and a true collaborative and collective effort to make that happen.

How does this all relate to For(bes) the Culture? With me being a community organizer here in Buffalo, I can connect the For(bes) platform to shine a bigger spotlight on Buffalo. We want to drive attention to the great things happening in Buffalo, while at the same time getting resources to continue to create the change that we need here. I’m really big on community organizing and mobilizing groups to make systemic changes, whether that’s through formal education or through financial, business, entrepreneurial standpoints. I want to make sure that underserved communities have an equal shot at success.

Obligatory coronavirus question here. How do you think the pandemic is affecting the long-term trajectory of the community? I always try to look at the glass as half full instead of half empty. I think there are going to be some incredible things coming out of this crisis, new innovative ways of doing things that make businesses more lean and efficient. We are a very resilient community when our back is up against the wall.

That’s when you get the best out of the people in Buffalo. So I feel like this crisis is going to serve as a way for people to be more innovative and creative in their approach to life to address the changes that we need.

Contact Us

Questions? We want to hear from you! Visit, call or email us.