Notable Orlandoans look back at the most important, mostly great things that happened in 2021

That was the year that was

Notable Orlandoans look back at the most important, mostly great things that happened in 2021
illustration by Sean Walsh for Orlando Weekly

We asked some lovely locals to tell us: What were the three best things that happened in the past 12 months? Here's what they had to say.

Jerry Demings: Mayor, Orange County

1. In 2021 I refocused on my personal health and decided to engage in more exercise. So I bought a Cannondale bicycle and learned to enjoy my 12- to 20-mile bike rides. It allowed me to de-stress and lose a few pounds before the holidays. It was one of the best investments that I made during the year.

2. I had the opportunity to celebrate my father's 99th birthday and spend quite a bit of time sitting and listening to his life's stories, albeit I heard a few of them dozens of times. I cherished each of the moments.

3. It was personally and professionally rewarding to be recognized by Onyx Magazine as "Man of the Year" and ... as a poor kid from Orlando, it was also pretty cool to have the Orlando Sentinel Editorial Board recognize my leadership during the public health crisis. I am reminded that my mother would always say, "Be humble when others praise you," and I am.

Buddy Dyer: Mayor, Orlando

1. Getting married.

2. All those who have helped us continue to make headway beating this pandemic — from those who have gotten vaccinated to our small businesses and local arts and community groups who have continued to be creative and innovative.

3. Hosting the State of Downtown this past month and gathering together again with our community.

Anna V. Eskamani: State Representative, District 47

1. The massive number of Floridians who came out in October to stand against abortion bans and fight for reproductive freedom during a national call to action against politicians taking away our rights.

2. The generosity of Central Floridians who have donated their labor and treasure to local nonprofit organizations to support those community members in need, and the growth of local small businesses and arts groups that have not only survived COVID-19 but have become stronger from it all.

3. Despite COVID-19 disinformation and politicians dismissing science, the CDC is reporting that at least 80% of Orange County's population is vaccinated with one dose and at least 68% of people are fully vaccinated. Vaccines work, and we're pushing through to help people understand that.

Chris + Beatriz Belt: Musicians, arts advocates

1. Beatriz says: The Secret River. The best thing this year was seeing the creation of an opera for all ages, set in Central Florida and with music by acclaimed Orlando-based composer Stella Sung, from early workshops and pop-up community events to the sold-out run on stage at the Dr. Phillips Center.

2. Chris says: The Who We Are project. Drummer and composer Gerald Law II has been incredibly prolific in the COVID era, composing four albums in under two years. One of those, Who We Are, is a kaleidoscopic look at being Black in America. … The messages in the songs are powerful and the music is worth repeated listening.

3. We say: The Corridor Project will feature great Central Florida artists on I-4 billboards. Curated by Pat Greene and supported by the Downtown Arts District, the Billboard Art Show includes some of our favorite local artists.

Ha'ani Hogan: Development+Marketing Manager, Downtown Arts District

1. We launched the Art 'N Soul Music Series, in partnership with creative entrepreneur Tyla, founder/owner of ViewHouse Productions.

2. Our favorite In-Between Series event of the year featured LEYA, a musical duo from New York City. It was a sold-out crowd!

3. We executed two new murals in the CityArts Courtyard: "Land of Merchants" by Stemberger and "Life Is Sweet" by Moldazor.

Nigel John: DJ, musician (Kurt Rambus)

1. My wife, family and friends and their sanity.

2. The Kind of Punk (But Not Really) nights by Johnny Wells at Lil Indies. One of THE best and most slept-on music nights in Orlando.

3. Music projects by talented friends: The Dark Arctic, Cherry Cheeks, HalfNoid, Flagman, Chris Lebrane’s Campaign, Cub, DJ Stereo 77 and Marshmallow.

Nadeem Khan: Bingo master, musician

1. The past: That historical artifact recently found on the cobblestone streets of Eola Heights is anything but. The brick with the letters KKK on it is nothing more than a prank played by ME! I installed that thing back in the mid-aughts and the letters KKK actually stand for "KHAN KHAN KHAN!" It was meant to be found, but not in my lifetime.

2. The present: At the mo', the most hellish place in CenFlo has to be the I-4 and Sand Lake intersection, and barring rapid development of 3D-printed flyovers, it will remain this way until we all go extinct.

3. The future: I understand we're walking in worn-out flip-flops here, but I predict that "The God Center" in Altamonte Springs will, on Dec. 31, remain unopened as it was on Jan. 1, 2021. However, it is my hope that when it does open it will be with an explosion akin to Sting's orgasm, if and when that happens.

Kit Knightly: Singer, Daisy-Chain

1. While shows are more unsafe than ever due to the mounting dangers of the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been a radicalization in the context of harm reduction that I am seeing growing in my peers and they are bringing that energy, that knowledge and that care with them as they return to shows.

2. The radicalization of constituents across the country to crucial issues that have been the bane of our existence during the entirety of American history: Race, sex, identity, true liberty and justice.

3. Over the years I’ve seen countless punk bands, and while I’m still a huge fan, never have I seen such enormous pockets of eclectic music Earth as I do now. … We no longer feel the need to dress the part and we will not be critiqued if we do dress the part. It is a very exciting time for art and I look forward to all the wonderful things creative people push out as things move onward into the chaotic infinity of tomorrow.

Ricky Ly: Writer, Tasty Chomps

1. Thanks and gratitude to our frontline health workers, local leadership and the massive national COVID vaccination campaign — all helped prevent countless deaths and got us closer to getting out of this two-year-long COVID hellscape.

2. The retirement of Dave Krepcho, CEO/President of Second Harvest Food Bank, leaves some huge shoes to fill. Dave has led the local food bank through decades of growth and modernization with an excellent team through countless hurricanes, economic recessions, and most recently, the ongoing pandemic. He will be missed dearly!

3. The Metaverse is coming: Microsoft, Facebook and all the tech giants, for better or for worse, are in a race to claim ownership of the next digital frontier — the metaverse. ... As the lines of reality, artificial intelligence and simulation continue to approach convergence (indeed it may have already for some), 2021 will be seen as a critical point for the future of humankind.

Desmond Meade: Executive Director, Florida Rights Restoration Coalition

1. Oct. 9, 2021, changed my life forever! It was the day that I found out that my civil rights had been restored. It will allow me to do things like buy a house, run for office, serve on a jury or take the bar exam to become a lawyer.

2. It was an honor to receive the 2021 MacArthur "Genius Grant" by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. This recognition highlights the work FRRC is doing to fight for a better world.

3. The pandemic has taken a toll on our community and impacted organizations throughout the world. Much of the work that we do is face-to-face, so FRRC had to shift the way that we fight to empower returning citizens and create safer communities. The safety of our staff, volunteers, partners and community continues to remain our top priority.

Brendan O'Connor: Man about town,

1. Parliament House finally gave up the ghost and shuffled off its aged, battle-worn, mortal coil on Orange Blossom Trail. ... While we've been assured that Parliament will be reopening in the heart of the Central Business District, I can't help but wonder if the LGBTQ+ alphabet soup will feel quite as at home in the middle of the downtown scene as they did on the periphery of OBT.

2. Just up the street from the new P-House, Lake Eola Park will slowly be getting a much deserved facelift as the city of Orlando has launched itself into a Master Plan process for its most-trafficked public space.

3. Our Main Streets worked extra hard this past year to support their local businesses, which had the added side effect of attracting even more attention from outside developers (see Ivanhoe's "Ivanbrofication"). ... Old-school residents in our downtown districts should know that if you thought your neighborhood was busy this year, just you wait to see what the next one holds.

Pete Olen: Concert promoter, Endoxa Booking

1. Soundbar going out of business: This was a huge blow. It sounds like they're coming back in 2022, but losing a concert venue that supported so many for years (including when it was Backbooth) and causing so many concerts to suddenly shift rooms was jarring.

2. Venues making it through COVID (thus far): While Soundbar suffered at the end, it was great to see local stalwarts Will's Pub, the Abbey and the Haven make it through the last year.

3. A number of notable local concerts: Despite all these issues, we still had a bunch of great shows. Watching Deicide, Weedeater, Gruesome and others come back mid-year was a boost heading into the fall.

Wandra Raimundi-Ortiz: Artist, Academic

1. Most Slept On Art Acquisitions in 2021: Rollins Museum of Art has acquired a seriously kick-ass list of contemporary artists’ works for their permanent collection, including some art stars that you've probably never heard of including Rafael Trelles, Antonio Martorell, Steve Locke, Shirin Neshat, Yinka Shonibare, Shawn Theodore and more! Make it your business to visit the most slept-on art institution in Orlando.

2. Most Radical overhaul of a Central Florida institution: A&H Museum (aka) Maitland Art Center This place has made some serious changes to how they do things, to the benefit of the artists and for the community. Most notably, the beautiful AIA exhibition revamp (it used to be a pop-up show, but has since been overhauled to be a true showcase for the artists they support as part of their Artists in Action initiative.) If you haven't been there or even know what this is, please do what you must to support this hidden gem in the crown of Orlando Beautiful.

3. Most Kick-Ass First Thursday at OMA 2021: True Colors (kicking off Pride Month in Orlando). What a treat it was to pop in to this feast of color and fabulosity at the Orlando Museum of Art. Shout out to all the wonderful drag performers, artists and all the supporters that made it a not-to-be-missed affair. I am so glad I went!

Melissa Schumann: Owner, The Falcon Bar

1. Best: 1/8/21, the first day of social media peace. Trump banned from Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

2. Best: Orange County Medical Examiner acquired an Anatomage dissection table. It's a futuristic touchscreen, virtual dissection table to conduct forensic investigations and autopsies. Orange County is the first in the nation to own one, and as a true crime fan, I think that is pretty cool.

3. Worst: Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization. If abortion is murder, then blowjobs are cannibalism.

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