The Homegirl Project interviewed Stephanie Kersten on how surviving the Pulse shooting shaped her as a woman, dancer, and teacher. For our full essay on Stephanie, click here.
By Malavika Kannan
How has being a Pulse survivor changed your life?
I’m forever changed. There’s not a day that goes by that I can’t think about Pulse in some way, shape, or form. I’m so thankful for every second I have. It’s changed my life in so many ways. I’m just so thankful to be alive. I’m still working on getting the fear out of me. That’s hard to do.
How do you advocate for others who were affected by Pulse?
I am in a Pulse survivor group, and they are constantly helping others. When I went to the annual event at Pulse, I met many of the families who lost someone, and it broke me down so much. But also gave me a connection to those who were lost. I want to be there for those families as much as possible. Although I’m not a part of the gay community, I still [feel like] I am. Because I love every single person on this earth and want everyone to love everyone, no matter what. When the Las Vegas shooting happened, I reached out and helped [survivors] as much as possible. I will forever advocate love, love, love, love: send love, open up, and love others, no matter who they are and what they have been through.
As a survivor, how do you hope to empower others?
I feel that surviving Pulse gave me a whole new vision and zest for life. I know I may never be able to change the world. But if I can change one student at a time, I hope my life’s purpose on earth is fulfilled. Going through something so tragic is not something I wish on anyone. At the same time I’m so thankful that God took me down that path. I’m more passionate about helping others. A quote that’s posted up in the back of my [class]room [says]: “Do it for those who can’t.” This is for those 49, for those killed in Vegas, for those killed in school shootings, for little boys and girls in other countries who aren’t allowed to dance. I try to find a way to use that energy to create positive outlooks for [myself] and others.
What inspires you in life?
God and family. My kids truly inspire me to love people, to have patience, and to love every second of every moment of my life. I am also inspired by my dad who passed away; he truly taught me how to work hard [and] play hard and I want to make him happy. [My] mother [also] taught me how to love everyone, no matter what.
What is one issue that you want to change about the world?
LOVE LOVE LOVE. But seriously, guns. Get rid of them. That pause [in the gunfire] is what saved my life. Imagine: if guns couldn’t shoot so fast, so many lives would [be] saved. I’m huge on this now and I don’t hold back my feelings on this issue-- I used to, because I didn’t want to cause controversy-- but I’ve realized that in order to achieve change in the world we need brave people to stick up and help educate people. People having the “rights” to own a gun shouldn’t be more important than people having the right to live.