Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
Even the threat of an impending thunderstorm couldn’t dampen the light and love on display at the Gulfport Remembers Day of Love, Unity & Community held on Monday, June 12 at the Gulfport Public Library. The event commemorated the one-year anniversary of the shooting massacre at Pulse, a popular LGBTQ nightclub in Orlando, on Latin Night during Pride Month, which killed 49 people and wounded 53 more.
Councilmember Yolanda Roman began the evening with a brief introduction and read a poem by Maya Angelou. A list of the names of the 49 men and women who died was read by various members of the Gulfport community, and the crowd sang along to John Lennon’s “Imagine,” played on guitar by Gail Biron. Attendees signed a painting made for the occasion by Gulfport artist Jo Silverleaf that will be on display at the Gulfport City Hall. The evening ended with a candlelight vigil to commemorate the victims of the massacre.
“We still have a long fight ahead of us until every person has equality under the constitution,” said Roman. “The value of living in Gulfport has made me a stronger, better person. Action is what will get us through to a better humanity.”
After the memorial, as everyone filed into the library ahead of the approaching storm, Nadine Smith, director and co-founder of Equality Florida, was finishing up a video interview with a Canadian radio station. Smith was the scheduled speaker for the evening as part of the Gulfport Public Library’s LGBTQ Resource Center Pride events. She chatted with the audience, then made her way to the front of the room after an introduction by resident Greg Stemm.
“Nadine only lives one mile from the Gulfport city limits in St. Petersburg with her wife and son, but we claim her as our own,” said Stemm.
“The question everyone has been asking me today is ‘How are you holding up?’” began Smith. “In the immediate aftermath we had a lot of work to do. We all made a conscious effort to be kind in simple ways to each other. Today has been tough but there’s been a lot more time for personal reflection.”
According to Smith, the Equality Florida GoFundMe account, started in the wake of the Pulse shooting, raised over $9 million from over 120,000 donors in 120 countries.
“Equality Florida made two promises in the aftermath of Pulse. The first was to do everything we could to take care of the families left behind and the survivors of this act of hate,” said Smith. “Now our attention must focus on fulfilling the second promise: to honor our dead with action.”
In commemoration of the Pulse massacre, Equality Florida, now in its 20th year, has started a campaign titled #HonorThemWithAction for organizations and individuals to renew their commitment to lasting change.
“It’s how we move forward, how we heal, how we sustain ourselves,” said Smith.
To find out more about #HonorThemWithAction, go to honorthemwithaction.org.