Portrait of a Father

His son Joaquin, was murdered last year. On Valentine’s Day. Only 17 years old.

So, too, was another student.

And another.

And another.

And another…

17 students and staff members in total, all at one time.

It took 9 minutes for Joaquin Oliver and Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School to become part of a dark history. On that warm and sunny Florida day, a lone man with a semi-automatic rifle perpetrated the deadliest high school shooting in the United States. The killing spree surpassed even the Columbine High School massacre.

I was invited by Horace Panter to see his seminal band, The Specials, perform at Brooklyn Steel. Since the late 1970s, they have been steadfast proponents of their innovative blending of ska’s pogoing groove and punk rock’s edginess with lyrics that are politically and socially conscious.

At around the middle of the show, Manuel Oliver – Joaquin’s father – was introduced. His no-nonsense drive to bring public attention to the gun violence issue, his intensity in seeking justice against the killer, the emotional trauma of losing his son were all embodied in the message he delivered. It was as big and muscular as he was physically.

Manuel’s nonprofit, ChangeTheRef.org, seeks to expose the disastrous effects of the mass shooting pandemic by empowering youth – through education, conversation, and activism – to use urban art and nonviolent creative confrontation.

Manuel did not mention the tragedy at Parkland. But he spoke of losing trust in our leaders to protect us from gun violence. For change to happen, the trust must be invested in the public, of which 1,800 were in the audience.

As if to prove his point, he concluded his impassioned entreaty by stage diving into the supporting arms of the crowd.

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Published by Xiomáro

Nationally exhibited artist, photographer, speaker, teacher, and curator. Author of "Weir Farm National Historic Site" (Arcadia Publishing). www.xiomaro.com.

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