Central Florida man spreading love, hope one ribbon at a time

325,000 ribbons given out by Orlando Ribbon Project

ORLANDO, Fla. – In the hours following the Pulse tragedy, one Central Florida man made it his mission to spread this message: Where there is love, there is hope.

That man is Ben Johansen, known as "The Ribbon Maker."

"I just picked up one roll of ribbon and it's turned into 325,000 ribbons so far. There's not a day that goes by that I don't think of these 49 people. I only knew 12 of them. But I feel like I know every one."

Johansen said making the tiny rainbow ribbons helped him cope emotionally with the tragedy.

"It was my therapy. Just the repetitive action of cutting and folding and pinning. It made me focus. As a member of the GLBTQ community here in Orlando, I didn't know what to do. I was completely lost."

From those first ribbons, orders began rolling in, and Johansen said friends offered to help make the ribbons.

"At first I said no. I didn't want to the help because I need to do this for me. But then I said, you know what, more people need the help, too. So it turned into physical therapy sessions."

Carlos Rivera is one of the original "Ribbon Angels."

Some of the more than 320,000 ribbons the Orlando Ribbon Project has completed.
Some of the more than 320,000 ribbons the Orlando Ribbon Project has completed.

"This is what makes me feel good, knowing I could give something back to the community in a small aspect," Rivera said. "I have one on every shirt I've purchased and they're really good in the washer."

Another Ribbon Angel, Ginger Minj, is a local performer with an international fan base because of her run on "RuPaul's Drag Race."

"I just kind of try to be the messenger who takes them on my travels," Minj said. "It's important that they have the personal connection to a tragedy that not only affected us, but affected everybody."

Johansen said ribbons are now in all 50 states and all over the world.

"The more people that wear them, the more people that see them, the more people that understand and the more people who will never forget what happened here," he said.

Johansen said he is honored that celebrities like Lance Bass, Jessy J. and Alan Cumming wear the ribbons. But he's especially touched to see other Central Floridians with the pins.

Alan Cumming wearing an Orlando Ribbon Project ribbon
Alan Cumming wearing an Orlando Ribbon Project ribbon

"We get into conversations of where we are in our dark, dark, time and where we are now that the light has come through," he said.

Johansen said he thought about stopping production on the Orlando Ribbon Project but instead he's going toward the goal of one million ribbons.

"We'll get there, ribbon by ribbon, Pin by pin. But a million people will be a million smiles and a million people will make a difference."

Anyone who would like a ribbon can place orders through orlandoribbonproject.com. Johansen asks for a  $1 donation per ribbon to cover supplies. Any money left over is donated to the GLBT Center of Central Florida.

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