Ricardo Negron-Almodovar was at Pulse Nightclub in Orlando Florida just one year ago, on June 12, hoping to start his voter registration efforts, part of his work with the Hispanic Federation. Instead, he escaped physical harm by exiting the nightclub as the shooting began. That night transformed his life, as it has transformed many others impacted by what has been deemed the largest mass shooting in U.S. history.
In the year since, Negron-Almodovar has taken the political stage as a face of a Human Rights Campaign political advertisement and has become a leader of the local LGBTQ Latinx community in Orlando as the director of Proyecto Somos Orlando, an initiative of the Hispanic Federation that provides culturally-competent mental health services and support to members of the community impacted by the tragedy. Negron-Almodovar moved to Orlando just two years ago from Puerto Rico, where he had previously practiced law.
Colorlines spoke to Negron-Almodovar about his work with the community in the year since the tragedy. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
What are the main issues facing the people directly affected by the Pulse tragedy?
The main thing is mental health. It has been the focus of many of the organizations because that’s something that is going to be needed long term. There can be events that can be triggered out of nowhere. [On May 31] a media outlet was showing footage from the police body cams when they went into the club that night, and that is going to be particularly triggering.
What about the Univision reenactment that aired in February, Baños de Sangre (Blood Bath)? Was that challenging for the community?
There had to be a crisis hotline set up for days before and during the airing of that show. Even though many organizations signed a letter asking the network not to air the show they continued. They said that it was crafted with "journalistic purposes."
What does your work at Proyecto Somos Orlando look like?
When someone comes in we do an initial needs assessment. If the person needs long-term mental health assistance, they get referred to a partner agency. If what they need is just initial crisis [support] then our case manager would take care of it. Initially we were only serving those who were directly affected—survivors or family members of survivors. Now we serve anyone that comes in through our doors.
When did you open up your services beyond those directly affected by the tragedy?
Somewhere around the time that the first disbursement of money from the OneOrlando fund [went out]. We saw that the people who were directly affected did not need to have that much [support] because food assistance, transportation [and other needs] were taken care of.
This is also when you started offering programming for the community?
[Yes]. We started doing programs for the general community, like two ESL classes, one for survivors and one for the general community. We [also] provide [community organizations] with in-kind space. We have an organization that does a lot of workshops on health and empowerment and workforce development. While adults are taking those workshops their kids are being tutored by another organization.
How many people have you served?
We’ve served 65 people who were directly affected [by the Pulse tragedy], and then since we’ve opened doors, we've served over 2,000 people.
How does being a survivor affect your work?
I never get to put it away because my work is centered on building a stronger community because of [Pulse]. I’m very fortunate to be able to do it. I have an infrastructure for the LGBTQ Latinx community to be able to come in meet and talk about the issues that affect us as a minority within a minority, and that doesn’t really happen in a club. It’s really important to have this space. This is pretty much new, as something that is catering specifically or mainly to the LGBT Latinx community here.
What do you think has been missing from the national media conversation about Pulse?
Many angles have been covered. But still, now a lot of the media are coming in and again they will leave. It just kind of stirs emotions and issues up and then leaves it there. So I think there should be more follow up on if people are actually getting all their needs met. Not just focusing on that night, but also focusing on the what after, what policies have been changed, how is this going to be prevented, not only here but everywhere else. What steps are being taken by other communities to prevent this from happening?
Any plans for the one-year mark?
We are going to have the place set up to be a drop-in center in case anyone needs services, on Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday. People can have the place to come and our staff members will be ready to assist them. We are [planning] a community gathering after June 12 about policy changes that can happen or should happen and how do we go on from here.
The nightclub has become a living memorial, with the sidewalk out front constantly visited by those who want to pay their respects. What are the plans for the building?
[There are] many meetings going on [that are] aimed at figuring out what [creating] a memorial [from the building] would look like. [They are] taking in the input from family members, survivors and those directly affected.
What do you wish people knew about the queer Latinx community in Orlando today?
We are very resilient. This was a definitely a major blow to our community as many of the victims were Latinx. [But] we’re still here, we’re trying to rebuild and make it better and any support that can be given to uplift our existence here, that is more than welcome. If anything [came] out of this tragedy, it has made the community even more visible and vocal.