It has been the best of times and the worst of times for Proyecto Somos Orlando, launched in the aftermath of the Pulse nightclub shooting to provide mental health services to LatinX LGBTQ survivors and families.
Despite community demand and successful fundraising efforts – Somos Orlando has raised over $230,000 – its original founders no longer manage the non profit. There is no advisory board, although that soon may change with new leadership at the Hispanic Federation, Somos Orlando’s primary backer. What happened to Somos Orlando is a cautionary tale of how a brilliant idea hit a snag in part because of leadership issues and a cliquishness that didn’t serve the LatinX LGBTQ community well.
“We gave birth to this program and put a whole bunch of hours into it,” says Nancy Rosado, one of four Somos Orlando co-founders and a retired mental health counselor with the New York Police Department.
Families Needed Help
The day of the Pulse shooting, Rosado and other activists stepped up to provide translation services and support for Pulse victims’ families who didn’t speak English – more than half of the victims were Hispanic, mostly Puerto Rican. The organizers included Samí Haiman Marrero, a marketing consultant specializing in diversity and cultural competency; Christina Hernández, a community organizer with media experience; and Zoe Colón, the Florida director for the Hispanic Federation who had fundraising and program development skills. See original story “Latinas Translate for Victims’ Families” here.
“To all community leaders in Orlando: I don’t want to get in the way of life-saving work, but if interpreters/translators are needed tell me where I need to go if I can help,” wrote Haiman Marrero on Facebook. “As I understand it from friends, colleagues…many families affected are Latino and we need to assist with the communication gap.”
Stars Came Out
Up to 30 organizations helped make Somos Orlando a reality by lending services or personnel. Somos Orlando initially raised about $30,000 in increments of about $10,000 each from the Episcopal Diocese of Central Florida, the Carevel Foundation of New Jersey and the Hispanic Federation, a New York-based non profit that provides support to other Latino non profits.
In July, performers Jennifer López and Lin-Manuel Marín recorded “Love Make the World Go Round,” a song written by López as a fundraising tribute to Pulse victims and survivors, with initial proceeds destined for Somos Orlando, boosting the organization’s national stature.
Those were heady times as the team visited New York for the music video taping and a live Today show performance by López and Miranda, who is related to a federation official. “I’m exploding with excitement!!! We’re going to be able to help so many people,” said Christina Hernández, who handled Somos Orlando’s publicity.
With money coming in, Somos Orlando leased a 6,000 square-foot office on South Orange Blossom Trail. By late September, it incorporated as a non profit and was coordinating an advisory council.
(Full disclosure: I initially was named to the advisory council, a position from which I resigned in December after only one meeting to introduce board members.)
Moving Chess Pieces
The big blow came when co-founder Zoe Colón resigned unexpectedly from Hispanic Federation in December, prompting other council members to resign, including Rosado, Haiman Marrero, Colón and me, causing the board to collapse. (A year later, I question the wisdom and maturity of this decision and its overemphasis on cult of personality.)
The Hispanic Federation remains Somos Orlando’s main line of support, having donated $200,000 to the effort, giving it the right to call the shots. But the federation is in the midst of yet another management shuffle – naming a new Florida director, the second in less than a year. As Rafael Palacio, former editor of El Sentinel, takes the federation’s reins, it opens up the potential for a new board and perhaps re-engagement with some co-founders.
Rosado is still in frequent contact with Somos Orlando and the Hispanic Federation, as is Haiman Marrero, collaborating on different projects.
For Pulse’s one-year mark, Somos Orlando sponsored a panel discussion with LGBTQ leaders about the future of projects such as Somos Orlando, whose services are still sorely needed. It set up counselors at the Lake Eola vigil and its office, an initiative for which the original founders deserve much credit, for they were the first to speak out about the lack of mental health and culturally competent services to this sector, forcing the mainstream community to take notice.
“We did the right thing for our LatinX community. There isn’t a soul that stepped up for those that were almost erased through the initial silence like we did. No one can ever take that from us or stop us from continuing what we do best. God knows what was in our hearts y Él no se queda con nada de nadie,” wrote Rosado this week on Facebook.
This week Rosado, Haiman Marrero and Hernández are wistful for the days when Somos Orlando was clearing a new path and its promise seemed limitless.
“Thinking of all of you as well, and my heart breaks for the families,” said Haiman Marrero.
But Hernández said it best: “To my fellow founding Somos sisters: We may not control the winds, but it is us who set the sails.”
˜˜Maria Padilla, Editor