Meet the Homegirl: Student Activist Against Gun Violence
By Zyva Sheikh
One phone call — that was all it took for Kimberly Vielma's life to fall apart.
On June 12, 2016, after waiting for what felt like a lifetime, Kimberly’s mother received a heart-stopping phone call from an Orlando sheriff. The two of them huddled around the phone, not daring to breathe, praying to hear the words, “Your son will be okay.” But of course, life never goes the way you plan. Instead, what they heard was this: “Unfortunately, your son was one of the victims of the Pulse Nightclub shooting.”
The silence that followed was so loud, it felt palpable. As Kimberly clung to her brother Luis’ picture, the room began to spin. The pain she felt was incomprehensible. Shattered is how she describes it — she felt broken into a million pieces.
In one catastrophic night two years ago, Luis Vielma and 48 others lost their lives in a horrific act of hatred that would rock the Orlando community for years to come. It seemed unfathomable that her brother, whom she regarded as a mix of a father figure and best friend, was one of the victims. This day marked an eternal divide in Kimberly’s life — before Luis’ death and after.
Kimberly was with her mother in Mexico on the day of the shooting. They were preparing for Kimberly’s quinceañera, which was going to be later that month. Luis was supposed to be her escort for the grand occasion, but the quinceañera was cancelled. A day that was supposed to be filled with happiness was now overshadowed by a lifetime of grief.
The attack at Pulse affected more than just the LGBTQ+ community. Nearly all of the 49 victims were Latino, so for Kimberly, it was an attack on her very identity. As a proud Mexican-American, Kimberly has experienced her fair share of racism. She has not allowed ignorant remarks, like “go back to your country,” stop her from embracing her culture. She relates to the struggles of growing up in a less privileged household with an immigrant family, and has witnessed the amount of hard work her parents have done to make sure a roof is over their heads.
Kimberly has continued showing her support for Pulse and Luis since the tragedy. In 2016, she went to Universal, which is where Luis worked, with a group of supporters and wore #ForbiddenStrong shirts they created to represent Luis. Also, last year, she was approached by Barbara Poma, the owner of Pulse, and was asked to participate in the Pride parade in Orlando for Luis. Just a few days ago, Kimberly ran in marathon hosted by the onePULSE Foundation, called the CommUNITY Rainbow 4.9k Run.
But this tragedy does not define her — she’s made sure of it. In spite of everything, Kimberly continues to grow as a person and change for the better by removing herself from toxicity and seeking positivity. She has learned to never take things for granted and to cherish memorable moments. She knows that Luis would want everyone to forsake their anger and negativity in the name of unity and betterment.
In the ultimate act of defiance against hatred, Kimberly continues to follow her dreams. She aspires to become a physician assistant in hopes of healing those who she encounters. She wishes to provide others with the chance her brother never had. While one hateful man with a gun can kill 49 people, Kimberly knows that one determined woman with a medical degree can save countless more.
Kimberly is living proof that happiness can be found even in the darkest of times. She has not allowed these hardships to ruin her, rather she has used them to her advantage. She has found peace and strength from this tragedy.
In unity, there is strength. And in strength, there is love. She believes this for not only her brother, but also for herself.