From Powerless to Empowered

May 27, 2022 | Features, Recent Stories

I turned on CNN in the early morning days ago and was shocked to watch the news from Uvalde, Texas. It happened yet again. Another devastating school shooting in America. I know I processed it all as most of my fellow Americans probably did. This has happened again? How can it be? What is wrong with our nation? Have we just completely abandoned the original dream of LIFE, liberty and the pursuit of happiness? With (now) 19 year old twins, I remember a teary eyed President Obama talking about the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Connecticut. With 9 year olds at the time, I couldn’t get past the abject fear that my elementary aged kids could die in similar fashion. I also felt an incredible sadness for the parents who had children killed on that horrific day. As a family, we were heading into the Christmas holiday which meant fun, family and celebration of hope. Yet, a darkness descended over us and I felt powerless to do anything about it.

Then on a day of love, when my twins were in High School now at the age of 15, the Parkland shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School happened and again, I felt abject fear that this could happen to them in their schools and deep, deep sadness for the students killed senselessly. I once again felt powerless and couldn’t understand why it happened. But, I knew one thing: it happened because our gun laws are inadequate and unjust. But still, I was powerless.

Last Christmas season, I met an incredible couple Manuel Oliver and his wife Patricia Oliver. They were protesting with David Hogg and his sister Lauren Hogg in front of the White House demanding a meeting with President Biden. The Olivers had lost their son, Joaquin, in the tragic Parkland shooting and are demanding more of our government. My powerlessness shifted to a new sense of empowerment. I can’t personally change the gun laws in America. But, I DO have the power to support, the organization started by Manuel and Patricia. They are advocating on behalf of their son for all American families. Please consider moving from powerlessness to empowerment by supporting their work.

For more on their story, read my conversation with Manuel below:

Manuel Oliver lost his son Joaquin on the deadly February 14th, 2018 Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Florida. The next day he quit his job and formed CHANGE THE REF along with his wife Patricia to advocate for change in gun legislation. In Manuel’s words, “Gun violence is beyond schools, beyond Parkland and even beyond our amazing son Joaquin”

LISTEN TO INTERVIEW - Explicit Content

by Audio recorded by Warren F. Johnson


Craig Martin, Co-Host The Good Road –
When did you move here and what’s your story?

Manuel Oliver, Parkland Victim’s Father and Gun Control Activist –
I was born in Venezuela, 1967, and we moved to this country 20 years ago. The main reason for us to move was a safer future for our kids because things were not looking good in Venezuela. That bothers me. I don’t regret the decision because Joaquin had a great life here. He really loved American culture, he was having fun…a very athletic kid, in love with sports. So, it fit him right. But, then, we went through this tragedy that only happens here but you don’t measure these things, or I didn’t, before making the decision to move to another country.

Craig Martin –
It is crazy that you guys moved here from Venezuela going through their own struggle right now and you come to the United States and face the same thing.

Manuel Oliver –
I would say worse violence because what’s going on in Venezuela is that people are not happy with what’s happening. Society is not OK with the some kind of dictator that we had for the last 20 something years. And, when I say that this is worse here is that part of our society is OK with what is happening here. So, that makes it worse.

The resistance is coming from a huge group of people. But, on the other hand you have a counter force that will try to debate the fact that it’s OK as long as we have our 2nd Amendment and we can practice our right to bear arms, everything is fine. I disagree. This is not against gun ownership, it’s against gun violence. The center of the whole debate and discussion should be the victims not the ego of the gun industry and the NRA, which is what I’ve been fighting against for the last four years.

Craig Martin –
Tell me about your son.

Manuel Oliver –
Oh, great dude. Joaquin is an amazing soul. I did so many things with him. He was almost my guide during this journey of living in another country. And, the reason for that is that he would grow in this society. Instead of me, because I was adapting myself to this society. So, Joaquin was able to absorb everything and translate to me how to do things. Watching a football game without Joaquin…I wouldn’t have any idea what was going on. [He was] In love with music, kind kid, smart, loved to write and my best friend. We did everything together. I miss my son and all those memories, of course. But, I also miss my son getting older that I will never see…those moments that will never come.

When you lose a loved one like a son you miss the moments of the kid. It’s very nostalgic when I remember him hugging me or kissing me. And then you also miss the guy that you will never see again, the older Joaquin, Will he be married? Will he be in college? I don’t care, I just want to hug him and I can’t.


Craig Martin –
Take me back to that day.

Manuel Oliver –
That day was Valentine’s Day. That was a very happy day. I mean, every day was a happy day for Joaquin but this one had that special connotation of love and friendship. The night before to – he was playing basketball and I was the coach of the team – so, he asked me to stop by and buy some flowers for his girlfriend, Victoria. So, we went by the grocery store and I can look at him choosing the flowers. He grabbed some small, yellow sunflowers and then we went home.

The next day he wakes up, takes a shower, looking sharp, handsome dude, flowers in one hand…cell phone in the other. He said bye to his mom, “I love you.” That was the last time his mom saw.

I took him to school. He walked out of the car. He gave me a hug, said “I love you,” we always did that. He walks away and I remember pulling down the window and saying, “hey, make sure you call me and tell me how did the flowers thing go.” And, I never got that call.

We started listening to the news. Patricia called me to my office around 2 pm letting me know there was something going on in the school. We heard that there was an active shooting going on.

I ran away from my office. Jumped into my car. I reached that point where the police had barricades. I can’t go any closer to the school. There’s thousands of parents doing the same thing. There was total chaos. Some kids are walking so you still have the hope that your kid is going to be walking. He won’t answer the phone. I’m calling, calling, calling.

But, hours pass. It gets probably already 6 pm or so. Most of the kids are already with their parents and a lot of the kids are not. We decided to go to different ER locations, emergency organ care locations, hospitals…no one under that name is in any of these places.

We heard that the best thing to do is that we need to go to this hotel in Parkland where everyone will be concentrated and from that point we could give photographs of Joaquin, everything was gonna be working from there like a headquarters for the whole tragedy.

At 2 am, 12 hours later…now you know. You get to a point where you hope your son is injured in a hospital. That’s what I am hoping which is already bad. And, you are trying to fight against the possibility that your son is one of the victims.

At some point, that’s it, they call you to a little room. You know that nothing good is going to come out of that room. Now you see the FBI, the Broward police department, a whole group of law enforcement letting you know that your son is one of the victims.


Craig Martin –
I am so sorry, Manuel. So, now what? You are out here for a purpose and a reason. What are you wanting to accomplish?

Manuel Oliver –
At some point, we both understood – Patricia and myself – that we were still Joaquin’s parents. You don’t lose that role. You don’t allow the killer or the system to take that away from you. So, I am still Joaquin’s dad. And, that brings me here. Because, I have to be like any other dad, responsible for my kid…support him. And, how do I support my kid now at this moment?

I need to fight against what happened to him. I need to fight against injustice. This is exactly what Joaquin would be doing. Joaquin was a very vocal person. He wrote a lot of posts and tweets and most of them are related to civil rights, he will always criticize gun violence, racism. The guy deserves a whole

movement behind his ideas and that’s what I do now. I’m very offended that after four years we still see these happening. This is a duty. This is something that I need to do.

That day, February 14th, that night I quit my job. I had a nice job. I called my boss and friend and I told him – that was the only call that I made that night – letting him know that, “dude, my life has changed. I can not work anymore on what I am doing. I don’t know what I’m going to do. But, I know along with Patricia I will find a way to represent my son.” And, we haven’t stopped since then.

Craig Martin –
I’m gonna ask you this question and you tell me what Joaquin would say. What is the solution?

Manuel Oliver –
We the kids are the solution. I’m 17 years old and I HATE to see my friends dying. And, I HATE to see kids my age dying in schools everywhere, in low income neighborhoods. I HATE that. I F-ing hate that. But, WE are going to be the change. We know that you’re not doing anything to save our lives.

Guess what, we choose you to be there or not. We are the ones that could vote for you or vote you out. So, your little game is over. Because we are going to be in charge in the next 10 or 15 years because I am not going to be 17 forever. And, then, you won’t even matter. So, F-you NRA. That is totally Joaquin.

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