12 Jul MIAMI YOUTH COLLECT THOUSANDS OF HANDWRITTEN NOTES FOR ORLANDO VICTIMS AND LOVED ONES
The country was rocked the morning of Sunday, June 12, when 49 lives were lost at the hands of Omar Mateen. The mass shooting that occurred at Pulse nightclub in Orlando is considered one of the deadliest in U.S. history. As the day unfolded, a host of organizations began mobilizing support for victims and their families. Fundraising campaigns were established. Calls for blood donations were made. Candlelight vigils were held.
When 17-year-old Brianna heard of the tragedy, she didn’t hesitate to step up and help.
“When I woke up the morning after the shooting, I immediately had to do something. I went to the blood banks but I wanted to do something bigger; I wanted to do something long-lasting.”
Brianna is vice president of National Voices for Equality, Education and Enlightenment’s (NVEEE)Youth Advisory Council, a group led by 14 to 18-year-olds across the country. Inspired by the handwritten notes students write to each other during NVEEE’s annual Peace Ambassadors Leadership Summit (PALS), she came up with the idea to do the same for the victims and their families. Within hours, Brianna got on a Skype call with fellow council members and shared her idea. Not able to put on their own vigil or donate money, the group decided that the handwritten notes would be the most heartfelt and impactful choice. When asked why letter-writing, Brianna described it as the best way they could use their powerful voices given their limited resources.
“It sounds so simple but everyone loves it. They’re so much more intimate than texts or emails, which is why I wanted the letters to Orlando to be handwritten. When you write out letters, you can’t backspace or delete, which forces you to make every sentence count. Handwritten letters are something that you can fold up and put in your wallet or read time and time again; I wanted those affected by the tragedy to be able to read the letters whenever they needed to.”
The #LettersToOrlando movement spread virally on social media. By Monday evening, NVEEE’s inbox was flooded with emails from youth in Africa, the United Kingdom and South America, wanting to also send letters. Then they started coming in from other nonprofits and corporations as well. In just three weeks, the Miami/Fort Lauderdale-based bullying and suicide prevention nonprofit has received more than 1,800 handwritten letters from around the world.
NVEEE Executive Director Jowharah Sanders has been overwhelmed by the response to the campaign. Brianna and the council have also been taken aback by the outpouring of support.
“The Youth Advisory Council is a team but we are more than that. We are a family made up of LGBTQ members and allies. We are all so young and seeing how great this project has grown has been inspiring. We are the future and we are proud.”
This display of courage and leadership, even in the face of grief, is exactly what NVEEE aims to prepare youth to do through services such as their Peace Ambassador Program. With support from The Miami Foundation’s Community Grants program, students help co-lead community-wide bullying prevention workshops at K-12 classrooms throughout Miami-Dade County.
Brianna was so moved by what occurred at Pulse that she was recently compelled to come out to family and friends.
“Being a young person in the LGBTQ community and hearing about this makes you feel very scared and hesitant of every action, but I think that people like the shooter want us to feel like that. They want us to hide who we are so they can push us back into the closet and pretend we don’t exist, but that can’t happen. The main reason I started #LetterstoOrlando is so that people can stand in solidarity and show support to thousands of people who need it.”
We appreciate Brianna and fellow Youth Advisory Council members, for setting an example inspiring all of us with their tremendous courage and leadership.
The due date for letters has been extended to Friday, July 15. Learn more about the #LettersToOrlando campaign at nveee.org/letters-to-orlando.
Ana Mantica is Editorial Officer for The Miami Foundation