By Renee Henderson Earls
Chances are, most Odessans remember where they were and what they were doing on the afternoon of Saturday, August 31, 2019. It is a day that changed this community forever. Sadly, we joined the long list of locations where a gunman opened fire and wreaked havoc and despair that would stay with us forever. This madman spent more than an hour driving around Odessa wrecklessly aiming to end lives. He succeeded in taking seven individuals from us, and physically injuring 25 others. These people were fathers, mothers, daughters, sons, sisters, brothers, aunts, uncles, coworkers and friends to many.
That day changed Odessa. While it was such a negative and painful time, we also witnessed the best in people. Law enforcement, first responders, healthcare professionals and bystanders jumped in to help. Strangers and companies from across the world also reached out with prayers, well-wishes and even financial assistance for families to meet funeral and/or healthcare needs. Odessa Strong became a common motto as we all came together to do what we could to help, support and love our neighbors and each other. Evil turned into kindness.
As the four-year anniversary comes up this next week, our community has turned that dark day into an opportunity to serve and shine a light on good deeds. Take a drive by Memorial Park on 42nd street and see the beautiful display of yellow flags – one for each person lost and each person injured. On Thursday, August 31st, we will begin the morning with a sunrise service on the campus of UTPB. Everyone is encouraged to attend this event, which will take place underneath the decking at 7am. We will have music, prayers and speakers that will bring us together to remember that difficult day, but we will also provide opportunities to shine a light on random acts of kindness, helping others and turning a terrible act into a time of love and service. This year, we will host a blood drive at the UTPB campus that will allow donors to literally save lives!
The beautiful Memorial sculpture will also be on display. A special site on the campus of UTPB is being prepared for the long-term home of the Memorial that will provide everyone a time of reflection. Next year, the 5th Anniversary will be focused around the formal unveiling of that Memorial site at UTPB. Opportunities for funding of that Memorial site still remain and offer a wonderful way for all of us to turn a horrible situation into a place of hope, love and light.
This week, may we all take time to reflect on how our community continues to heal from an unspeakable act. Make it your goal to serve others in the name of those no longer with us.
Renee Henderson Earls is the President/CEO of the Odessa Chamber of Commerce.