In the aftermath of Saturday’s drive-by shooting in the Parramore district, which killed beloved community leader and new city employee Gino Nicolas, 24, those whose lives Nicolas touched have resolved to move forward and continue his vision of community betterment.
According to Orlando Families, Parks & Recreation director Lisa Early, he was in the area on Saturday trying to do the work he loved: helping children and young people get to better places in life and make better decisions.
Early watched Nicolas grow up in the city’s Parramore Kidz Zone program, which aims to work with all children “from cradle to career.” Nicolas was in middle school when the program began.
The Pathways to Parramore initiative aims to revitalize the city’s Parramore district through a multitude of initiatives, from more housing options to reducing crime and enhancing after school programs for children.
The program helped Nicolas get into FSU, from which he graduated in 2015. He was one of the first seven kids from the program who got to go to college in 2009, Early said.
After Nicolas graduated, the city gave him a job with the city’s local chapter of the My Brother’s Keeper program, where he worked to engage with younger children and teens. A big part of his job was talking to young people from the Parramore area on the ground and finding ways to get them to have fun and participate in events good for them.
The work had meaning because, according to Early, many kids in the Parramore neighborhood and others like it grow up “hanging around with not a lot to do.”
“Kids get in trouble when they’re not supervised – it’s like Lord of the Flies,” she said, invoking the classic William Golding novel. “You leave kids without supervision, and they create their own government, that’s run by kids. And the biggest bullies end up being the president of the kids’ government. It’s never a good thing.”
Those were the children Nicolas wanted to help.
“He said ‘let’s reel them in with positive role models,’” she said. “And the way you do that is, you find out ‘what do you want to do? We’re here, we have resources, we can take you places, do stuff, we grew up here, we know you. They said things like ‘we want to go to the movies. We want to go bowling. We never went bowling before. We want to do a movie night, and these are the movies we want to see.’”
She said he had just gotten done with a trip in which he took a group of young children to the Kennedy Space Center.
“Those are the kind of things he was doing,” she said. “That’s where he was on Saturday night. He was out there with the kids. Talking with them, hanging out with them.”
In the aftermath of Nicolas’s death, Early said his fellow My Brother’s Keeper team members were in agreement: they all felt it was important to move forward with “an even greater urgency.”
“Everyone has stepped up, all the staff, all the kids in the neighborhood, have stepped up and said ‘we’re moving forward in his honor,'” she said.
One friend of Nicolas’s who grew up alongside him in Orlando, Withney Simon, currently lives in Illinois, but feels the bond with his old friend just as strong as he ever did.
“I knew Gino because of the Parramore Kidz Zone program,” he said. “We had a special relationship, like a brotherhood.”
He said that Nicolas’s work “would not be in vain.”
“A lot of young men look to go to school and do something to improve their lives because of him,” Simon said. “There will be a lot of young men to pick up the slack and help to move onward. Gino’s work has not been in vain.”