As the one year anniversary of the Pulse nightclub shooting nears, Orlando community leaders and a Pulse survivor will convene in Atlanta on Thursday for Forever Strong: Orlando’s Journey in Their Own Words.
Presented by Atlanta’s Voices of Note—the umbrella organization over the Atlanta Gay Men’s Chorus and Atlanta Women’s Chorus–Forever Strong is a panel discussion about the journey the community leaders faced in the aftermath of the deadliest shooting in U.S. history, accompanied by musical performances from choruses and a multimedia tribute to the 49 people killed during the June 12, 2016 attack. The discussion aims to not only serve as a commemoration, but also as opportunity to learn about strong community-building.
“It’s important to remember the lives of those lost, and it’s important to learn from this experience,” Voices of Note interim executive director Eve Campbell says. “If the Atlanta community can learn just a little about building the kinds of bonds and ongoing communication that has occurred in Orlando post-Pulse, then we too can build stronger community.”
After the shooting last summer, the AGMC held a benefit concert to aid Pulse survivors and victims’ families, raising over $15,000. Voices of Note’s relationship to Orlando deepened further when a board member, Ryan Logan, spent two months last year with the Red Cross in Orlando, experiencing firsthand both the devastation and hope that were so strongly felt in the city.
“My experience leading the Red Cross response to the Pulse shooting was nothing short of life changing,” Logan says. “For many, the 49 individuals killed were names or pictures on a television screen, but for me it was very real. I hugged their families, I comforted their friends, and I heard stories of how the 49 lived their lives.
“I have worked through many disasters in my career,” Logan continued, “But I have never seen a community unite in love and acceptance like Orlando.”
The connections Logan made while in Orlando were key in forming the Forever Strong panel, which features Terry DeCarlo, executive director of the Orlando LGBT Center executive director; Rasha Mubarak, of the Council on American-Islamic Relations Orlando; Roxy Santiago, a Latin and LGBT community leader; JD Castro, of the Orlando Gay Chorus; Felipe Sousa Matos-Rodriguez, of the Orlando Mayor’s Office; Angel Santiago, a Pulse survivor; and Sgt. Grace Peek, the Orlando Police Department’s LGBT liaison.
“We hope to create ongoing conversations in our community, without needing the impetus of a tragedy to bring us together,” Campbell says. “We can learn from the Orlando groups the value of collaboration and how we [as community organizations] can help each other achieve our respective missions.”
Forever Strong will take place on June 8 at 8 p.m. at the Rich Theatre at the Woodruff Arts Center. The event is free and open to the public, but it is recommended that guests reserve seating online at voicesofnote.org.