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Pulse nightclub owner speaks about onePULSE Foundation
by Frank Pizzoli
2018-04-11

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"Within a few weeks I knew I'd be doing something," Barbara Poma said over the telephone.

That something is onePULSE Foundation.

Poma was the owner of Pulse, the Orlando, Florida, gay nightclub when on June 12, 2016, when Omar Mateen, a 29-year-old security guard, killed 49 people and wounded 58 others in a terrorist attack and hate crime inside the club.

The shooter was himself shot and killed by Orlando Police Department ( OPD ) officers after a three-hour standoff. Pulse was hosting a "Latin Night" and thus most of the victims were Latinx. It is the deadliest incident of violence against LGBT people in U.S. history, and the deadliest terrorist attack in the U.S. since the September 11 attacks in 2001.

At the time, it was the deadliest mass shooting by a single shooter in the U.S., being surpassed the following year by the Las Vegas shooting. It remains the deadliest U.S. mass shooting in which the perpetrator did not commit suicide.

"Events like the Pulse massacre you cannot prepare for,'' Poma said.

"It's been 20 months, a long time, from Los Angeles to New York City, other locations. Our original idea has evolved as we have travelled around the country," she explained. "I've had a very positive reception everywhere. We've been doing fundraising, community events, educational programs, researching our ideas for the foundation."

The foundation is in the process of establishing a memorial at the nightclub site. A museum is also underway, hopefully adjacent or nearby the site of the massacre.

"We also have a scholarship program we're establishing that has a unique feature. In return for receiving the funds, recipients must have a plan to give back through community work," Poma said. If successful, victims will have a scholarship named after each of them.

Scholarships will be further "personalized" to represent dashed aspirations and careers.

"If a victim was or always wanted to be a fire fighter, we will have a fire fighter scholarship. Their lives were cut short so the scholarship will honor them by aspiration and name," Poma explained. "There are hair salons and cosmetology schools coming on board soon, too," Poma said. "We never want these people forgotten. They were children in families. They were loved by others."

The foundation is also engaged in community town halls, "although we re-arranged one when Parkland happened. We didn't want to interfere, we wanted those students and families to have their space. We deferred," Poma said.

Grieving

"Grieving after the massacre was a human ebb and flow among the 49 sets of families, friends, lovers," Poma said softly about her immediate contact as club owner after the tragic episode.

"All grieving is personal and unique and so is my involvement with survivors, some more than others, some not at all. I respect everyone as they cope," she said.

"Contrary to what many people think, the foundation does not have a 'list' of contacts who are survivors or family and friends, no lists," Poma said. "Our contact has been 'organic' not formal or programmatic," she said.

Encouraging people to finish the work the foundation has started is paramount.

"We've started the foundation and we're working on a memorial and museum. They need to be completed," Poma said. "We need to preserve for after we are gone all the lessons learned from so many gun tragedies." Her voice strong and direct, "These shootings shouldn't happen anywhere. Not in schools, churches, concerts, or casinos. That's enough," Poma said.


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