Seeing the coverage on TV versus being on the ground in Orlando is candidly a surreal experience. I still remain somewhat shocked when I see images from across the globe showing support for Orlando — the vigils, the monuments lit in rainbow colors, or when I read condolences or tweets from celebrities, prominent figures, citizens, and international communities all saying #PrayersforOrlando.
Is the Eiffel Tower really lit in a rainbow to honor us? Did 20,000 people gather in London chanting “Orlando, we have your back”? When I see it on TV or read about it in the national news, my brain tells me I must be confused; it must be somewhere else.
I feel stunned when I hear my city, my Orlando, being tied to the largest mass shooting in the U.S., ever. Wait, what? The deadliest shooting on American soil happened in my backyard.
Is this really happening? Is President Obama addressing the nation about my city? My community? I think there’s no way they’re talking about the Pulse I know — the Pulse I have been to many times dancing and laughing until I could dance and laugh no more. I think they must be confused; Pulse is only a few blocks from the backyard where I got married. Is that really possible?
I think to myself we love, respect and promote our LGBT and Hispanic communities, we pride ourselves on celebrating diversity and tolerance; there’s no way they could be subject to such a vicious attack.
Living through this is completely different. Everything happening here on the ground is my Orlando.
While we are deeply and profoundly hurt and heartbroken; while our eyes are swollen from the constant emotion and grief; while we literally feel the pain of the victims in our bones; while there may be small part of us that died inside when we lost those 49 beautiful souls and are haunted by the pain of those that we trapped inside or the families that lost so much — my Orlando remains unified, hopeful and focused on healing our community.
We have sprung into action doing anything and everything we can to help. We focus on the future. We give hugs to strangers, we bring supplies to people waiting in line to give blood, we huddle around our LGBT and Hispanic friends to help lift them up. And we thank our first responders, emergency caregivers and our leadership for their heroic actions.
Businesses and citizens are actively raising funds to help victim’s families, Pulse employees and others impacted. We are gathering, we are connecting, we are standing tall telling the world this tragedy will not define us. We will remain tolerant, diverse and joyful. This will be our finest hour. I could not be prouder. No one I know has let their grief inhibit them; instead, it has motivated them to action.
This is my Orlando. A place where we love. A place where we still believe in Magic. A place where we unite. A place where we refuse to let darkness take over and only can see light. I love my home and the people in it — and I know together we will shine.
Kelly Cohen is managing partner of the Orlando office of Southern Strategy Group.