Change the Ref : Insight on Manuel Oliver's Talk at UMass

On February 14th, 2018 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas (MSD) High School in Parkland, Florida, 17 lives were lost during a school shooting. One of these 17 innocent victims includes Joaquin Oliver, son of Manuel and Patricia. In honor of their son and the other many, many lives lost due to gun violence around the country each day, Joaquin's parents founded Change The Ref with the message to "empower our next generation so they can fight for their values, have their voices heard, and impact change for their future." 

On March 18th, 2019 the University of Massachusetts Amherst welcomed Manuel and Patricia Oliver with MSD High School graduate and UMass student, Hannah Karcinell. Manuel introduced Change the Ref (click here to view the website) and spoke a bit about his visions, artistic endeavors, and fight to change the policies on gun violence. 

To begin the talk, Manuel started with a minute of Bob Dylan's "Knockin On Heavin's Door" as a way to contrast the mainstream minute of silence. Manuel explained that he didn't want a minute of silence as he believed that to be somewhat of a minute wasted. He didn't feel the necessity of a minute of sadness, lack of action, and mourning. He preferred to spend a minute listening to music, like Joaquin loved to do, in happy memory of his son's legacy. This grabbed the attention of each and every audience member in the UMass auditorium and I, personally, was instantly compelled and moved by the introduced gesture. 

Manuel discussed the prevalence of gun violence in the United States and his current investment in pushing for policy change. He even went on to explain that he hasn't always been driven to petition for gun regulation in America, and that he never thought of it as a problem that could directly impact his life. Yet, his son was tragically taken away by a means that could be preventable. He reinforced that "it could happen to you" just like it had happened to him. 

With that being said, Manuel continuously pushes for more wide-spread concern that can lead to empowerment and change. With power behind every word, Manuel spoke "This is beyond school shootings, Parkland, and Florida...right now, someone is getting shot in America." Manuel focused on his message and declared that "you don't have to be sad, but you have to be concerned."

Gun violence in America is current, prevalent, tragic, yet very preventable with the implementation of regulation and policy change. As individuals, it is necessary for us to unite and fight for the change we want to see. Everyone has their own strengths and skill sets to bring to the table, and Manuel utilizes his passions for art to fuel his drive for such change. Manuel travels the country, painting murals and setting up artistic displays to portray emotional messages in hopes of inspiring minds to join the fight to ultimately Change the Ref

As university students, Manuel emphasized his hope for young minds to soak in his words and fight for the future of our generation. He opened up with vulnerability as he expressed how he wished he was at UMass to visit his son and to see how he was doing. He wished that his presence at a university was to check up on Joaquin, to see his dorm life, to meet his friends─but he wasn't. Instead, he was there to share Joaquin's story and to instill a raging passion to change our future. 

So I, an inspired student who is empowered by the words Manuel and Patricia Oliver spoke, hope to work as hard as I can to Change the Ref, but this isn't a solo fight. If I, if you─if we want our generation to be safe at school, concert venues, even grocery stores, then we have to fight together

I invite you, reader, to join the fight. Attend public events, walk at marches, write to your reps and local politicians, join the movement so we can Change the Ref

For more information, follow Change the Ref on social media and check out their website!

Instagram: @changetheref

Twitter/Facebook: @ChangeTheRef


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