If you watched any of the news following the shooting, you most likely have seen Angel Colón. Colón had been shot five times. In the days after, from his hospital bed, he shared openly with the world his extreme pain and loss from that night. Through his words and raw emotions, the world was right there with him, and he brought Orlando to the world.
Angel and Angel showed up in Los Angeles last Friday to speak at The Wall Las Memorias Project, a non-profit that my partner Richard Zaldivar founded twenty-three years ago. Richard currently serves as its Executive Director. The Wall is known for creating the country’s first publicly funded AIDS Monument, located here in Los Angeles. Today The Wall continues to serve the health and wellness needs of Latino LGBTQ populations in Los Angeles.
The gathering with these two survivors last week aimed to expand the conversation of violence as a community health issue. What ended up being created was a night of healing for all of us, where both Angels inspired us to focus on light in the midst of darkness.
In the immediate aftermath of the shooting, resources poured in to assist in whatever way that helped, including offers of free therapy and the covering of any and all medical costs. They noted that today, the rainbow flag is prominently displayed all throughout the city, a symbol that is helping to create a feeling of safety and security for the LGBTQ community.
We shared with the Angels how the people of Los Angeles showed up in the days after the shooting. We talked about the community vigils we held and the gatherings we organized that intentionally included a wide diversity of community, faith and civic leaders.
We helped to show them how Los Angeles came together in support of Orlando and grieved alongside with them. They helped to show us what community support actually looked like in Orlando in the aftermath of the shooting. Our sharing with each other opened all of our eyes to different ways we could build community and encourage each other.
During the question and answer period, one person in the audience shared how vulnerable and scared he still is. As a gay young man in his 20s, he explained that he has a desire to go to the clubs, to dance and to enjoy his youth. But he admitted that he is very hesitant these days, and his reluctance is robbing him of enjoying life.
Torres pointed out that whenever he enters a building, he actively notes where the exits are. When the crowds get overwhelming, he makes a decision to leave. Enjoy your life, and make sure you’re aware, he told us.
Another person asked poignantly about whether the two of them felt any sense of forgiveness. In the days and weeks following the shooting, Angel Colón confessed how angry and hurt he was.
But he eventually came to this realization. With so many problems in the world, we have the power to focus on the things in life that uplift us. Colón especially encouraged us to always tell our loved ones that we love them. We never know what may happen in life. No matter what happens, Colón emphasized how important it is to stay positive.
As the evening began to close, Angel Torres revealed that he is now pursuing a career as a life coach and motivational speaker. He is taking this tragedy and transforming it as a way to inspire people to live life fully.
“Be your authentic selves,” Torres said. “And don’t forget to have fun.”
One way that Torres reminds himself and others to do that is by using the hashtag #OrlandoKeepDancing in all his social media posts.
What a wonderful reminder and set of life lessons embodied in this one hashtag.
Be your authentic self. Stay positive. Tell others you love them. Have fun. Be aware. And keep dancing.