Back in my hometown of Wiggins, Mississippi—during my Head Start years—my mom used to drop me off every morning at great-grandma Shug and grandma Tootie’s house.
I vividly remember one time when great-grandma Shug made me watch ‘The Oprah Winfrey Show.’ She would say, “You need to watch Oprah because she is somebody, and I want you to get your lesson so you can be somebody too.”
That was actually a transformational moment in my life. Her making me watch Oprah mattered. She did not have material wealth but she saw greatness in me and made sure to provide me with a resource that would help me thrive in life. And that resource was Oprah.
After reflecting over the past few days since the Orlando tragedy, that transformational moment in my life matters even more. What great-grandma Shug actually did for me that day was encourage, support and allow me to stand in my complete authentic and unique humanity — something that we all as human beings have in common. Through watching Oprah, I learned that we all, regardless of who we are, want to know the answers to three questions: Do you see me? Do you hear me? Does what I say and who I am matter to you?
I can’t stress it enough, that moment mattered.
Omar Mateen murdered 49 innocent souls. It is alleged that during the 911 call, he stated he wanted, “Americans to stop bombing my country.”
The 49 innocent souls who were killed went out for a night of fun, dancing and singing at a place where they knew they would be affirmed, validated, cared for and loved.
The person who committed the violence and the victims of the violence stepped out of their house that night all wanting the same thing – to be heard, understood, affirmed, loved, and validated.
Could you imagine that maybe both Omar and those innocent souls, at some point — most likely in their childhood or teenage years — may have screamed on the inside to adults in their life, “You are not hearing me, and what I am saying to you or who I am uniquely created to be must not mean anything to you.”
Could you imagine that if maybe Omar suffered from a mental illness, someone cared enough for him to get him the help he needed?
Could you imagine if there had been more parents like Brenda Lee Marquez McCool? Brenda joined her son Isaiah at Pulse Nightclub in Orlando for a night of fun and dancing. Not only did she join him that night validating his humanity, she protected him that night from death by giving her own life. I know my mother would have done the same.
Isaiah may have asked his mom, in one way or another: “Do you see me? Do you hear me? Does what I say and who I am matter to you?” By her presence that night, Brenda said, “Yes.”
But there are some people’s loved ones who found out they were dead and gay at the same time. Many people, including Omar Mateen, died that night without ever being fully heard, affirmed, loved and supported.
Beyond gun control, what I know for sure is that there is another thing that could have prevented this horrific tragedy — loving and supporting all of our young people, regardless of their race, religion, sexual orientation or gender. Letting them know that we see them; we hear them and what they say and who they are matter to us.
Today is a new day, and we have the capacity to make sure that no young person ever breathes another breath without knowing that we are in their corner.
Deon Jones is a digital content creator and film producer based in Los Angeles, California. He has also held positions with the White House, Teach for America, and both houses of Congress.