Sharing Feelings about Orlando Tragedy

by Lacy Coan, Red Cross Los Angeles Region summer intern, and student, College of William and Mary

Vigil Orlando 2016As a teen, sometimes the world seems a scary place, and the recent Orlando tragedy did nothing to dispel that. It’s easy to feel afraid and disconnected especially when one does not understand the whole scope of the event or even why it occurred. Against this backdrop, the Los Angeles Red Cross organized a youth vigil to bring us together and talk about what happened.

I was in charge of checking people in and directing them to the table where they could write messages to the victims. These messages hung on the wall outside of the Los Angeles Region just below the name and age of each victim. With a prompt of “Dear Orlando,” well-wishers wrote messages such as “We stand with you”, “We are so sorry this happened to you,” and even “The American Red Cross is here for you.” I came to find that what I wanted to express was not something that I could put on one sheet, so I ended up filling out a few to get my thoughts out there. When I looked around, I discovered that I was not the only person who felt this and that others had also filled out more than one sheet of paper to get all of their thoughts across. Once everyone had hung their messages up, high school youth volunteers read the names of people who had been killed in the nightclub and we shared a moment of silence to pay our respects.

After the vigil portion of the night, everyone filed into a room to participate in an open discussion. I was especially interested in this because I had no idea what to expect from the presenters. Jarrett, the CEO of the Los Angeles Red Cross, gave a short introduction and turned it over to our first speaker, a representative from the Anti-Defamation League (ADL).

Before his presentation, he handed out materials with titles such as “Hate Crimes and Bias Incidents Definitions,” “Mass Violence and Extremism”, and “Homophobic and Transphobic Violence.” His presentation centered on teaching what bias is, showing facts about violence and extremism, and putting what happened into a historical perspective. I greatly enjoyed his presentation as it helped me better articulate my own opinions on hate crimes and bias.

After the ADL presenter, a representative from the Red Cross spoke and encouraged each of us to try to live by the seven Red Cross Principles: humanity, impartiality, neutrality, independence, voluntary service, unity, and universality. She cautioned that it is very difficult; sometimes more than others, but that by following these principles, the world could be a better place.

To end the night, there was an open discussion where we were encouraged to ask questions and express our thoughts. The best part was that not only were the adults in the room participating but also the high schoolers in attendance. Each person asked and answered intelligent questions as the conversation flowed. The night ended with each person hopefully feeling more informed and better prepared to make sense of this crisis and future tragedies that may occur.

Its weird to me that sometimes, a disaster needs to occur before you can show empathy to a large group of people. But I am proud to be part of an organization that responds to disasters and helps improve others’ lives. The Red Cross community came together to pay our respects and show that no matter what tragedy has occurred, we are there for those that are affected and always will be.

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