Lifestyle - September 28, 2017

Pulse nightclub owner Barb Poma wants healing, permanent memorial

[dropcap]F[/dropcap]or many months after the Pulse nightclub massacre, Google maps showed the location just south of downtown Orlando as a closed nightclub.

Now the club shows up on Google as the “Pulse Nightclub Memorial,” and plans are being laid to make it that way for the next 100 years at least.

For Barbara Poma, owner and founder of the club, the memorial is about the people who were touched by the tragedy around the world.

“I want them to know, I’m trying to create the best team I can, to give them exactly what they want and what they need to heal, to give them hope and comfort as we go through this process,”

said Poma, executive director of the not-for-profit onePULSE Foundation, which has launched a survey online and is planning for the first town-hall meeting about the memorial on Oct. 9.

There does seem to be clarity on one aspect of the memorial: the towering Pulse sign with its P logo.

“I do feel the sign is iconic,” Poma said. “There hasn’t been anybody [to] tell me otherwise. People tell me how it’s important that it’s turned on at night.

That’s it’s important during the hurricane that we preserve it.”

Poma and her her husband, Rosario, are also scouting for a new nightclub location. Many of her former employees who survived the attack are eager to return to a Pulse nightclub to work.

“They keep asking me, ‘Did you find somewhere? How much longer?’” Poma said.

“Tomorrow would be nice… So, yeah, I’ll be involved in it. My husband and I will work on it together.”

She is interested in the Milk District, east of downtown, because she thinks it could support several businesses that cater to the gay community — like Wilton Manors in the Fort Lauderdale area or Boys Town in Chicago.

At first, Poma wanted to open a new club in the same neighborhood as the old one. But she knows many people who can’t or won’t go near the former location anymore, she said.

As work starts on planning the memorial, the big questions are about the scope: Will it reference the LGBT or Latin communities directly?

How much of it will be about the survivors or the many people injured?

Should first responders to the scene be recognized?

Another big question: Should the bullet-riddled nightclub be demolished partly or totally?

Tearing down the building would be bittersweet and difficult, said Poma, who opened the club in 2004 to remember her brother, John Papaleo, who died in 1991 of AIDS-related complications.

She said conversations with families of the deceased showed they have strong feelings about the building.

“Nine families had a chance to preview it. Each one had written something about the building,” Poma said.

“So that’s when we decided to add that question because it’s obviously really important.”

Poma has enlisted help from two of the best-known memorials to terror attacks — The Oklahoma City National Memorial and the National September 11 Memorial & Museum in New York City.

Representatives from those memorials will be at the first town-hall meeting in Orlando.

“The process itself will be challenging,” said Jan Ramirez, curator at the New York memorial, “because it asks you to go so deep, in terms of your fundamental identity and values.

If it were easy to do, it wouldn’t be such a consequential thing.”

She said people involved in the memorial will realize that learning to listen is critical.

“You must be able to pull back from the original idea you may have had, and understand what others may be feeling,” Ramirez said.

How to address the terrorist in such a context is a predictable flashpoint, Ramirez said:

“It was not a tsunami or a hurricane, it was a human-engineered event and you need to hold humans accountable.

But it [the Sept. 11 museum] reflects more of the commonalities we share rather than the anomaly of the terrorist.”

Poma also visited the memorials to the 40 people who died Sept. 11 in Shanksville, Pa., and 125 people who died in the Pentagon in Washington, D.C.

Each memorial is unique. There were no survivors in Shanksville, for example.

“Our story did have survivors. Our story did have people that saved lives,” Poma said.

Political and social issues are often left to the museums that accompany memorials to major tragedies.

A museum is planned in Orlando, although a budget and exact location haven’t been decided. The foundation is expecting the effort will seek to raise millions.

The town hall about the memorial will begin at 6 p.m. and will be held at the Orlando Repertory Theater, 1001 E. Princeton Street in Orlando.

Admission is free, but tickets are required and available through Eventbrite.

“It’s a long process. We want to make sure every I is dotted and T is crossed, that we have the right people in the right places.

It’s not something we want to rush through. We want to take our time,” Poma said.

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