The Afro-Latinx Student Organization (ALSO) held an event Monday night in memory of the victims of the Pulse nightclub shooting. In front of the Rotunda, exactly one year after the shooting, Charlottesville and University community members gathered for “U.Va. Remembers Pulse.”
On June 12, 2016, a mass shooting at the Orlando nightclub left 49 people dead. The theme was Latin night when Omar Mateen committed the deadliest mass shooting in American history.
ALSO is not yet a CIO, but Kevin Westfield, a rising fourth-year College student and ALSO’s leader, said he plans to apply for CIO status from Student Council in the fall. Westfield, who is from Orlando, came up with the idea of U.Va. Remembers Pulse and spearheaded planning it.
“I really found it important for someone to do something because the climate of Charlottesville is very scary and worrisome, [with] the KKK coming to town during Midsummers, and the events happening at Lee Park and this idea of liberal racism,” Westfield said. “I just think it’s easy for us to get intimidated by hate and forget what happens when there’s all this hate festering. And Pulse is a reminder that very scary things do happen.”
The event started with attendees chalking the sidewalk with messages of support for the victims of the shooting. Then, several attendees spoke, some sharing poems and artwork, others personal stories. Lastly, attendees read all 49 of the victims’ names in unison, holding a candle in one hand and the list of names in the other.
Charlottesville community members attended the event alongside students. Rising fourth-year Medical student Casey Morrison brought the Charlottesville support group he leads for LGBTQ youth to the event. The youth group, Side by Side, is run by an organization based out of Richmond, but it also has a chapter in Charlottesville.
“Today, we had a meeting that we were already planning on doing, with an itinerary and a plan that we were going to follow, but we presented to them the idea of coming to this memorial instead, and they were all for it,” Morrison said. “So we’re here just to show our support and come together.”
Rising third-year College student Triston Smith helped plan the event and said he enjoyed seeing the Charlottesville community have a presence at the event.
“I feel like a lot of times, during the school year, we get a lot of only U.Va. kid events, which is still good, and it shows that we’re here, and it’s necessary, and we all feel that this is a necessary and noble thing to do, that it’s important for us to be at,” Smith said. “But it was really nice to see more of the community come into it as well and also reify their place here in Charlottesville, especially with all the things that are happening recently.”
Paola Sánchez Valdez, rising fourth-year Curry student, also helped plan the event, and said that when they started planning, the first topic of discussion was uniting the Charlottesville and University communities.
“The LGBT community here in Charlottesville has a presence, and I think that sometimes U.Va. and the student bubble tends to forget,” Sánchez Valdez said. “We’re very, ‘advocate for students and their LGBT rights.’ The Charlottesville community in general also has a community of [LGBT] members.”
Sánchez Valdez said she was drawn in because of the effect on the Latinx community. A majority of the victims were of Latinx descent.
“What got me into wanting to help out was a lot of the people who lost their lives were of Latinx descent and the shooting did really affect the Latinx community in general,” Sánchez Valdez said. “I am Latinx, I’m Hispanic, so I know that a lot of the LGBTQ Hispanic community was really, really affected by this event.”
Westfield said he felt like there is a bubble surrounding the University in that no one believes anything bad can happen to them.
“Where I’m from, coming from South Florida, living in Orlando, … you understand how easy it is for someone to lose their life,” Westfield said. “One argument can lead to someone shooting a gun, someone being stabbed, and here everyone kind of forgets that death is possible, that your hate speech, that your opinion, that really just infringes on others, or degrades others, or marginalizes others, can lead to something so terrible and so horrific.”
Westfield said he wanted the event to be a place of solidarity, without fear, but also one in which attendees were aware that tragedy could strike anyone.
“We’re fragile beings, terrible things can happen to us,” Westfield said. “We need to all be there for one another.”