Guest Column: How we respond to tragedy says a lot about the Ithaca community

I was thinking this morning about community responses to tragedy after reading about a vigil for Orlando in Ithaca that did not meet some people’s expectations, and after working on the Simeon’s accident and other events over the years.

A vigil for the victims at Pulse in Orlando at the Bernie Milton Pavilion last night.

A vigil for the victims at Pulse in Orlando at the Bernie Milton Pavilion last night.

In the wake of tragedies, it is natural for people to want to do something; give blood, raise funds, host vigils, communicate in many ways from venting anger, talking about or writing to legislators about gun control, supporting the LGBTQ or Hispanic communities, or just not being alone, and seeing that others care too.

We identify with tragedy from a very personal place. Maybe we have been in the location where it occurred before, perhaps we identify with an affected group, we might be scared, and we might be looking for leaders to do something, anything at all. As an event planner and community volunteer this is often a difficult starting point as everyone needs something different to grapple with what has happened.

Here are a few questions that can help us when planning these types of events:

Are we doing the event for us or for the people who were harmed? Events can show support for victims and their families or be about creating a space for the community. If it’s for those who have been harmed, what do they need? Money? Blood? How will the people affected see it or receive it? How will funds get to the right people? This is a dangerous one with crowdsourcing websites and non-profits jumping in to help before these questions have been asked.

What do we hope to achieve with this event? e.g. A feeling of solidarity, a quiet place to cry together, or to get angry about inequality or gun laws. What will the format be? Music, speakers, silence? It is important to communicate how we are going to approach an event and its tone. What is appropriate for people to do, bring, say? Who is invited? Who is coming? As a planner, be sure that you have performers and speakers that represent people’s expectations.

Do you need to have professionals on site for counseling? We can all lend an ear, but there are great people who are trained in grief and its many forms. Can you put out information about local agencies that can help if needed? Do you need help with security? A simple call to your municipality, in this case the City, will make sure there is awareness, no interruption to your event, and help if needed.

As an event attendee, we should come with an open mind. Take a few deep breaths. These events cannot and will never meet everyone’s needs at the time because we all fear and grieve differently. We also identify with groups by our own designation or others. Try to attend without expectations and know that the organizers are usually coming from a good place.

In some ways, this is my way of handling it — helping people to work on creating venues for grief or support. Sometimes taking some time to reflect on our own feelings and where they are coming from before sharing with others is the first step.

May we all heal, learn to be resilient, fear less, and love more.

Vicki Taylor Brous is the owner of Brous Consulting, LLC, a business based in Downtown Ithaca that offers marketing, events planning, and public relations services. She has taught in the Strategic Communications department at Ithaca College’s Park School of Communications, and worked for eight years for the Downtown Ithaca Alliance.

This Guest Column is the opinion of its author and does not necessarily reflect the views of 14850 Magazine or its affiliates or advertisers.

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