On February 14, 2018, a gunman entered the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, and killed 17 people, including 17-year-old Joaquin Oliver. After that tragedy, which forever impacted his family, Joaquin's parents founded the organization Change the Ref, in order to facilitate change on issues of gun violence.
"There's a lot of people that have died because of gun violence after Joaquin lost his life, and we are concerned about all those victims, not only Joaquin," Manny Oliver, Joaquin's father, told Cheddar.
Now the organization is holding the 83 Strikes and No One Out campaign and has placed cardboard cutouts of Joaquin in at least 14 Major League Baseball stadiums thus far this season. The campaign seeks to raise awareness of the lack of movement on federal gun regulations despite 83 additional school shootings since the Parkland tragedy, according to Change the Ref.
"The day that I lost my son, I also lost my best friend, my baseball partner," he added, describing the trips he had taken with Joaquin to ballparks like Wrigley Field and Fenway Park.
"This campaign touches the side of Joaquin that describes his passion for the sport, in this case, baseball. He loved baseball," said Oliver, hoping that expanding messaging beyond the bubble of anti-gun violence activism into his son's favorite pastime helps the cause.
Since the Parkland shooting, Oliver said that while the families of the victims have continued to press for the end to gun violence in the U.S., he feels the community itself has tried to move on.
"It's like an American tradition, and it might sound weird but we as communities, we try to get rid of the situations the sooner the better," he said. "There's a lot of things that are involved here, like property values and the fact that nobody wants Parkland to be remembered as the city that had a mass shooting in a school, but you know what, it's the reality. So, you cannot erase that just like that"
The Parkland father did express some optimism that things were already changing overall in the United States on the issue of gun violence but had some criticism for the president.
"Well, I can tell you that Donald Trump never mentioned my kid's name," Oliver said, while also pointing to the tens of millions spent by the gun lobby on behalf of the president during the 2016 presidential campaign. "He keeps having that strong relationship with the NRA."
The anti-gun violence activist said he sensed enthusiasm among voters for social change this year and expressed his own determination to cast a ballot on November 3. "But, on November 4th, I'll be doing the same thing I'm doing today, regardless, who is or not, the president of this country," he added.