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- Photo Courtesy Stephanie Porta
- Stephanie & Billy
Billy was my best friend. But it wasn't until he passed that I realized that he was everyone's best friend.
I feel like I always knew Billy because of his coverage of community organizing for years but we became close after each of us took on our own struggles: his tragically losing Alan, my fight against cancer, my mom's lost battle to cancer, and the fight for earned sick time and the subsequent scandal led by Mayor Teresa Jacobs that prevented workers in Orange County from having access to paid sick days. We bonded through these battles. And those nights of sobbing, loss and consoling were the ones I treasure most. He felt emotions so deeply and rawly and displayed them so nakedly like no one I have ever known.
I don't think Billy ever heard of a fight for the people that he didn't jump on board for, and fight for, and write for. He used every ounce of his teeny body and his giant heart to make our state better for children, families, workers and lovers. As Billie Jean said in the movie, "Fair is fair," and these people haven't had fairness for quite some time.
He didn't back down and didn't let anything slide. Because not holding people in power accountable for what they had done meant they would do it again and probably worse. And that wasn't the community that Billy wanted to live in.
And it wasn't just the public fights. It was his private support and cheerleading for others challenged by loss, or inequality, or injustice.
I've heard from so many people who didn't know Billy reaching out to him on messenger apps and Billy coaching them through heartache and the fight to make themselves whole again. How he changed those lives, and how many, will never be fully known because he wasn't in it for bragging rights. He was in it for love, equality and justice.
Stephanie Porta is Executive Director & Co-Founder of Organize Florida, an organization working for the needs of Florida's low and moderate income communities. She has worked to raise Florida's minimum wage, pass police accountability reforms in Orange County, win foreclosure prevention and affordable utility programs, and on other campaigns for environmental justice, community safety, health care and public education. More recently, Porta led the effort to pass Earned Sick Time in Orange County. She has been recognized by the Orlando Weekly, Orlando Sentinel and Orlando Magazine for her leadership around government transparency and issues facing the working poor.