Interview: An #OrlandoStrong Activist in Her Own Words

Updated: Jul 13, 2018

The Homegirl Project interviewed Kimberly Vielma on her journey healing after losing a brother in the Pulse nightclub shooting. For our full essay on Kimberly, click here.

By Zyva Sheikh

What motivates you to change the world?

I love helping people and whenever a person is in need, I'm simply there for them with a helping hand or words of encouragement and advisement. That is my passion. Part of the reason why I'm going into the healthcare field for my career is the fact that I will get to interact, help, and heal people from all over the world. My motivation to wake up every morning with a positive outlook are my family and friends. Making them proud of me is what I aim for each day.

Today is the two year anniversary of the Pulse shooting. How have you evolved since then?

It has been two heart-wrenching years of emptiness. Living with constant grief is never easy. The way I carry myself is through the grace of God and strength. Strength that I have developed from following Luis' footsteps. He would've wanted us to all be united, changed, and better for this world. With God, I know that I am able to pick myself back up from a very familiar sunken place. The way I have changed for the better is by removing myself from toxicity and bad [vibes]. I also make sure to remind my friends and family that I am so thankful for them as much as I can. I try not to take things for granted anymore, but I also try to cherish memorable moments. I have a stronger mentality and know that I am able to overcome any situation through positivity and love.

What do you wish that others understood about your experience?

I will never bring myself to understand why Luis was taken away from us like this, but I do know that he was too good for this world. He was an angel amongst this cruel society that failed to keep him and 48 angels safe. Continuing life without Luis is extremely difficult. A brother is not only [a brother], but also a father figure and best friend. I don't have that anymore.

What gives you purpose in the wake of tragedy?

What has kept me most sane is my education. It is something that keeps me looking towards the future and motivates me to work harder to provide a better life for my family. Giving my parents the life they have always wanted ever since they came to America. Making my brother Brian proud. Also, with Luis's everlasting encouragement even in heaven.

Who inspires you?

The person who inspires me most is my best friend Sierah. She was Luis's friend [who] I met after the tragedy. She inspires me because she has been through overwhelming experiences that brought her to a tough place. But, keeping each other within the scope of light is what we always encourage each other to do. To just keep swimming!

How has being a first-generation Mexican-American woman shaped your life?

Being a Mexican American girl is definitely the most beautiful thing ever. I am so proud of my roots and where I come from. Unfortunately, society today makes us, [as] women of color, doubt, hide, and veer away from our true identity in fear that we will face racism. Being able to explore [two] very different, yet similar, backgrounds is awesome. My mother grew up very poor. Without shame and doubt, my mother worked two jobs and gave up college in order to keep her family well-maintained. My parents came to America to live a better life, not only for themselves, but also for Luis, Brian and I. The way I live my life is inspiring as I get to teach others who I am through my culture. Our history, food, music, and language is simply admirable.

How do you tackle the aforementioned racism?

I never let words define who I am, but I have been through many experiences of discrimination, especially today, beginning with people saying, "Go back to your country." Whenever I hear that phrase, it infuriates me. I myself am an American citizen, but it still pains me because I know how hard my family has worked to get here. I know how hard it was growing up in a household that works twice as hard to keep me under a roof. Families all over the world face day-to-day deportation and discrimination. No family deserves to be torn apart because of where [they] came from. No daughter or son deserves to be pulled apart from their mother or father.

The key theme of The Homegirl Project is "female empowerment." How does this impact your own life?

Female empowerment is so important. As we grow in a world that is drowning in hate, all women should stick together. Lifting each other up because we understand one another. Females go through so much because we are compared [to] perfect images [of what] society wants us to be. Female empowerment should always be in place, not [just] a trend. [Lifting] each other back up [and] having each other's backs even after being permanently marked with labels just shows how [united] we would be if we all accepted and loved one another. That's how it should be. That is what I hope it will always be. The Homegirl Project is a great foundation for all girls to follow after.

What is one issue that you want to change about the world?

One issue that I would want to change in this world is the hate that killed my brother. I believe that we can all start loving each other a lot more because we are all we have in this world. I have learned from the One Pulse Foundation, as it abides by the words "We will not let hate win." To achieve this, we need to start appreciating what we have in front of us. [We can become] better people by help[ing] people in their time of need. That is only the beginning to a prosperous and loving community. [In] the words of Marvin Gaye, "For only love can conquer hate."