Juanita James op-ed: Honoring those lost in Orlando tragedy

Jun 21, 2016

Originally appeared on stamford advocate

In the wake of the Orlando tragedy, how do we move forward?

As our communities struggle to come to grips with the understanding that the unthinkable can happen anywhere, two paths lie in front of us — fear and divisiveness, or coming together to respond and heal.

We can remain silent, or we can join together to create a world of opportunity, understanding, respect, inclusiveness and kindness. As an organization, Fairfield County’s Community Foundation believes we need to open the conversation to bring about change.

This attack on the LGBTQ and Latino communities must serve as an important wake-up call that intolerance exists and quite simply is not acceptable. As members of the world of philanthropy striving for inclusion, equity and diversity in terms of policy and practice this tragedy must not place our positive efforts at risk. It must serve to heighten our dedication for change. Hate must never win. As we have heard over the past few days but can never hear too often, love is love is love is love. Embrace, honor, love and respect our diversity.

When I first heard about Orlando, my mind jumped to our our own community’s senseless tragedy that took place at Sandy Hook Elementary School, a day when 20 children and six staff members lost their lives. We have all felt renewed horror and despair every time another community has been rocked by a similar tragedy. Yet, we can’t let this silence us. We must use it to bind us together and to create a shared conviction to create change.

How to take action

Community foundations are not just investment vehicles. Thanks to your willingness to care enough about your community, to share your voice, time, talent and resources, organizations such as Fairfield County’s Community Foundation are also working to create lasting change. Coming together to create positive transformation from horrific events is the first step.

Shortly after the tragedy in Sandy Hook, we reflected on how we could effectively make a difference. Looking toward the future, we worked collaboratively with community leaders and philanthropic partners, to speak to the challenge of effectively addressing to mental health issues that would remain long after the initial shock receded. There was a ripple effect from this tragedy, in the same way that the Orlando tragedy will impact the nation. Unfortunately, years later, our community and others continue to seek answers concerning the broad issue of mental health.

So, Fairfield County’s Community Foundation committed to a long-term, proactive response. Promoting conversation that reduces stigma, letting people know where they can get help and identifying how we can improve our current system of mental health care is essential. Empowering our own community to create lasting change is top of mind.

And through the collaboration of local philanthropists, community partners and Fairfield County nonprofits, we have begun to see real change from our research report, Healthy Minds, Healthy Communities.

Moving forward together

Juanita James, president and CEO of the Fairfield County Community Foundation.

Today, the eyes of the world are on Orlando. As time passes, the healing, the questioning and the planning will begin. How can you be a part of it?

After the Sandy Hook tragedy, several families reached out to Fairfield County’s Community Foundation to start charitable funds that support mental health advocacy and services. We hope and pray that Orlando will receive similar kindness and support.

We are now reaching out to our sister organization, the Central Florida Foundation (CFF), to offer any assistance we may be able to provide in the wake of the Orlando massacre. We urge you to also support our Orlando neighbors by contributing to the OneOrlando Fund at CFF, dedicated to responding to the needs of the Orlando community. For more information, please visit OneOrlando.org.

We also invite you to join us in a united, long-term approach to address the issues underlying the Pulse tragedy. We know the conversation needs to continue, not just in Orlando, but here at home. And with recent downsizing of budgets in the areas of health and human services, we need action to bridge the shortfall.

The tragedy in Orlando is an opportunity for philanthropy to step in and make a difference — and you are the philanthropists who will shape the future. Today, we urge you to give where you live and beyond.

Our thoughts and prayers are with the Orlando community and the families and friends who lost their loved ones so tragically this past Sunday.

Please join our conversation.

Together we thrive.

Stamford resident Juanita James is CEO and president of Fairfield County’s Community Foundation.