There are numerous other issues, from lack of racial and socioeconomic diversity on the Board of Trustees to problematic leadership decisions.
Other Problematic Leadership Decisions
We trusted Ms. Poma to lead the development of a dignified, respectful memorial. Instead, what we have is a mall kiosk, an interim memorial that looks more like a marketing campaign for the City of Orlando, a divided community, and the promise of a spectacle.
The interim memorial has been widely criticized in our communities, with one of the reasons being because it has failed to place an appropriate focus on the lives taken. As David Ballard eloquently said, "Looking at it, I felt like I was witnessing a theft." If this is how the OnePULSE Foundation has made us feel about a minor change to the grassroots memorial that we created on-site as a community, how can we trust Barbara Poma and the OnePULSE Foundation to lead a massive museum project?
We believe that the OnePULSE Foundation lacks sufficient democratic organization and public representation. It may very well be that we are in this situation because, in part, Ms. Poma has put together a Board of Trustees that does not adequately represent the community that the organization is supposed to serve. We believe that if they were aware of the issues that our community faces and had a comprehensive understanding of our community's diverse and critical perspectives, they would have been able to protect Ms. Poma from making negligent decisions that hurt our communities and do not serve our best interests. We do not believe the OnePULSE Foundation's Board of Trustees represents the will of Orlandoans.
We also want to reiterate that Ms. Poma's ownership of a gay nightclub does not automatically give her non-profit leadership experience, museum-making knowledge, or membership to our community. Many of us who went to the Pulse Nightclub regularly never met or even saw Ms. Poma. To us, she has always been an entrepreneur with a mutually-beneficial relationship with the gay community. We have never given her permission to represent us, our needs, or our vision of the future. Her self-appointed role as CEO of the OnePULSE Foundation does not reflect the will of the LGBTQ+ community or the good citizens of Orlando. Our loved ones were never our customers or our minimum wage workers.
As of 08/07/2019, and according to the OnePULSE Foundation's own website, the Board of Trustees consists of zero survivors, family members, or community activists. Instead, the Board is made up of corporate executives, an entertainer, a former ambassador to Luxembourg (not sure of the connection here), financial advisors, and the like. The fact that the Board of Trustees does not appropriately represent racial and socioeconomic diversity is shocking when the OnePULSE Foundation seeks to create a curriculum on diversity and inclusion as part of its educational projects.
Earl Crittenden (Board Chairman, onePULSE Foundation), Sharon Hagle (Founder & President, SpaceKids Global), Dale Hipsh (Senior Vice President of Hotels, Hard Rock International), Barbara Poma (CEO & Executive Director, onePULSE Foundation and founder of PULSE nightclub), Kelly Lafferman (Board Secretary, onePULSE Foundation and Principal & CMO, Findsome & Winmore), Cathy Brown-Butler (Senior Vice President, Bank of America) and George Kalogridis (Board Vice Chairman, onePULSE Foundation and President, Walt Disney World) (photo by Brandon Glover)
We do not believe that any educational programs associated with the shooting should be developed in conjunction with corporations or corporate trainers. Instead, they should be developed with experts, activists, and experienced public educators who specialize in LGBTQ+ issues, gun violence research, Latinx experiences, and more. Specifically, we refer to the proposed curriculum and "Pulse Academy" to be housed in the museum and created in conjunction with the Disney Institute. Also, the focus of any curriculum around the event should focus on ending gun violence. Diversity and inclusion are also important, but the only thing we know for certain about the event in Orlando is that it was a mass shooting that severely affected local LGBTQ+ and Latinx communities, in particular. The nation can not afford a museum or organization that continues to spread imagined narratives that do nothing to end gun violence in this country. Are the corporations who back the OnePULSE Foundation willing to take a political stance against guns? In Florida? Have they publicly committed to doing so as OnePULSE Foundation leaders?
Additionally, on the Chairmen's Ambassador's Council, only two out of the five council members are locals. The Task Force has a little more representation, meaning it's not 0%. However, only 4 out of 26 are listed as survivors. That's 15% of the Task Force and 1% of survivors (using numbers provided by the OneOrlando Fund. We have more survivors and family members who have publicly joined our growing coalition and who privately support us.
We can get into more details, but again, our goal here is not to shame people who may be sincere in their intentions to do something good for the community. We applaud their dedication to the community. We only believe that those efforts have been misguided by a narrow focus and an inexperienced leader and we simply wish to point out is that the OnePULSE Foundation has not been led by those directly affected by the event.
We openly invite all those who have volunteered for the OnePULSE Foundation to join us instead in our efforts to raise funds for survivors, stop the building of a museum, and build a public memorial park, together. We will welcome you with open arms and without judgment. If you feel that you have been duped and over-sold on a project with questionable intentions, we feel the same way. Join us!
It may seem trite to criticize the OnePULSE Foundation's website design, however, difficulty navigating the foundation's website due to unnecessary music and animations impedes access to the little information that is provided. In other words, the website's clunkiness interferes with the organization's transparency. We have noticed that in light of our criticism, the OnePULSE Foundation began revamping their site and changing its content in August 2019. We have screenshots of everything that existed previously. So we're good.
In addition, each year, the OnePULSE Foundation has changed its mission and/or goals. As shown in 990s, the purported purpose of the organization has slowly shifted to leave out survivors and family members. In the 990s released in August 2019, this is shown by the gross discrepancy of money spent on survivors and the amount of money spent on salaries. See the 990 documents below from 2016, 2017, and 2018 (you can also access the full financial report, here):
We also wonder why a lawyer who specializes in eminent domain is the Board Chairman of the OnePULSE Foundation, whose mission is supposed to be education? The OnePULSE Foundation has chosen to follow the protocol of Oklahoma City and New York as far as trying to create a memorial and museum combination. Their active avoidance of other options, like the 9/11memorial in Pennsylvania (which is run by the National Park Service) is perfectly aligned with having someone on their team whose specialty is to block such public memorials from happening. The possibility of eminent domain is being ignored on purpose. We think his involvement reflects an additional effort to thwart a public memorial park option.
We are also aware of another "grassroots" non-profit that Barbara Poma said was the "official non-profit of the Pulse Nightclub" in the aftermath of the shooting, called Pulse of Orlando. The Founder and Board President, however, is listed as Aly Benitez, who is in the same law firm as Poma's lawyer Gus Benitez. Aly Benitez is currently on the board of the OnePULSE Foundation. We are currently researching this organization, which dissolved after "giving over $325,000 and helping over 200 families after the tragedy." We'll report back with our findings at a later time.
As of August 17, 2019, the OnePULSE Foundation has not received written consent to use the personal information, stories, or photographs of all 49 victims as part of their memorial and museum project. As a private organization that is monetizing the stories of people's lives and last moments, we find this to be an ethical concern that may infringe on issues of consent, victims rights, family privacy, and inheritance. On August 10, 2019, Christine Leinonen requested that the OnePULSE Foundation remove her only child's name, photos, stories, and information from all of their marketing materials, the interim memorial, and any future projects.
If other victims' family members would like to follow suit, they can use the letter provided below in both Spanish and English (click the button below).
Ms. Leinonen also requested the OUAC notify family members that they have the option to request to opt-out of the OnePULSE Foundation's projects. On August 19, 2019, the OUAC replied and denied Christine's request to notify families of this option and the existence of the coalition (see response letter). The OUAC is the only organization that we know of that has access to all the contact information of survivors and family members and the permission to contact them directly. According to a source within the OnePULSE Foundation, Barbara Poma is not allowed to directly contact survivors and victims' families and must use a third-party. The OUAC has provided the OnePULSE Foundation with access to contact survivors and family members. We think their actions reflect the willingness to promote the OnePULSE Foundation and silence our voices. Here is Christine's letter to the OUAC.
We have also notified all our local elected officials of these concern and have provided our letters to both the OnePULSE Foundation and the OUAC via snail mail. We hope that it is addressed immediately and the interim memorial and website are adjusted accordingly.
The OnePULSE Foundation in mid-August has been updating its website in response to our criticism. That's okay because we have screenshots and an archive of everything, including the organization's changing mission. We have been told that survivors who have reached out to the organization for help have been consistently turned away and told to go receive the increasingly limited services provided by the OUAC. Since we made this issue public, the organization has changed its website. Here is what they said in February 2019:
By August 2019, they pivoted on their mission and goals. There is no mention of community grants to care for the survivors and victim's families.
The organization has been soliciting donations that would go to community grants since 2016. We want to know how many community grants were provided since 2016 to help survivors and victim's families? We did not see these reflected in the recent 990s. Nor, did we see these reflected in the foundation's annual report. There is only a mention of $1,051 "grants to others" in the audit. We do not know whom this went to or what it went towards. It is also an amount that is 1/3 of what was spent for the Town Halls. Here is what the foundation's site said back in July 2016: