Ben Johansen, the founder of the Pulse Ribbon project in Orlando, is refocusing his efforts and promising to make a million rainbow ribbons before he decides his next moves.
Johansen, a costume maker and business owner, was inspired to start making rainbow ribbons the day of the shooting, June 12, 2016, when 49 people were massacred and more than 50 were injured.
Johansen said he did it partly to deal with his own grief and shock. He now estimates he and other volunteers have made 715,000 ribbons, and he’s sent them to over 60 countries.
But according to Johansen, the Ribbon Project hasn’t raised as much money as he’d hoped. For now, he’s scrapping an idea he launched in August 2018 to raise money for a scholarship.
“Our mission shrunk recently,” Johansen said. “We intended to create the scholarship program, but it didn’t seem to attract attention.”
He said he’s okay with the original mission of simply remembering the 49, and spreading a message of hope and love.
“The world is changing, things are expensive, I get it. I also think a lot of people are putting money toward politics again now,” he said.
A website for the Ribbon Project asks for donations of money or supplies so Johansen — ‘The Ribbon Maker’ — and other volunteers — ‘Ribbon Angels’ — can reach the goal of one million ribbons.
A GoFundMe page Johansen created in April 2017 says over 600 people have pledged $15,132 toward a goal of $25,000.
He has a core group of four people who help regularly, plus people around the country who send finished ribbons to him sometimes.
Johansen is proud that the rainbow ribbon has become a symbol of support for the gay community, and of love in general. He has many photos posted on social media accounts showing celebrities and politicians wearing rainbow ribbons.
Sending the ribbons to kids in regions of the world where being gay is still taboo, or even illegal, is one of the most moving things for Johansen, who is 45.
“I’ve sent them to Pakistan, and Russia, and sometimes I send them off and never hear from them, and I worry about what happened,” he said.
He’s sent ribbons to gay rights groups GLAAD, the Human Rights Campaign and to people like David Hogg, Parkland student and activist for gun control and against gun violence.
“When there is another mass shooting somewhere, unfortunately, I identify someone in that community and send them ribbons,” Johansen said. “People seem to appreciate having something tangible, that they can wear or put on their gym bag, something that can be seen.”
The ribbon comes with a card that says what it stands for, so that prompts messages of support sometimes.