In the three weeks since Joaquin Oliver was killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, the country has come to know him for his deep love of basketball. So it was fitting Tuesday night that Oliver's father, Manuel, announced a new initiative in honor of his son from the halfcourt line of a basketball court.
He did so literally wearing his son's basketball shoes.
Manuel, along with Joaquin's mother, Patricia, and sister, Andrea, told an assembled crowd at a recreational league basketball game the family had started a new initiative called Change the Ref. Change the Ref is described on its website as a nonprofit which will "give the kids of today the tools they need to be empowered to make changes to critical issues that affect our nation, through education, conversation, and activism."
"We lost our son two weeks ago, nothing that we can do is going to bring him back home; that is not gonna happen," Manuel said from Terramar Court in Parkland, Florida, Tuesday night. "What we can do is put a big effort and faith in creating somehow an extreme force that will last, [and] support this very sad moment."
Manuel explained the origin of the nonprofit's name -- comparing a corrupt official with the deck stacked against activists trying to spark change in gun control laws. Manuel, who coached his son, said he was angered by bad calls in a game about a month ago and "wasn't satisfied with the explanation" given by officials. Joaquin encouraged his father to call the league and have the refs changed.
"If you're willing to have a fair game and you have the idea that one team is somehow buying the ref's calls, in other words, one team has a connection, has power enough to make refs to stop making the right calls, then it's not a fair game anymore," Manuel said. "That is exactly what is happening right now. That is exactly what this nation is going through. So we decided one way to keep strong is to create a foundation under the name Change the Ref -- that is being launched tonight."
"We want to know who to fight next to and guess what, it is you guys. It's the young generation, because you demand answers right away. Ya know why?" Manuel asked, while raising his smartphone. "Because different than us, you were raised with this is your pocket. ... Well that's good, I'm so glad technology created this generation. They are demanding answers right away.
"Because you will grow to become leaders with that same urgency of answers and they don't get it," he continued. "Of course they don't get it. I get it. I get it maybe because I'm the parent of a victim."
Joaquin's father also introduced Emma Gonzalez, who has become one of the students passionately leading the call for gun control after delivering a rallying speech three days after the Feb. 14 shooting. Manuel Oliver joked that the outspoken Gonzalez needed no introduction, saying, "Do I have to introduce Emma? No, I just have to give her the microphone."
"I made that speech because somebody asked me to make that speech and I didn't know the entire world was going to be watching and it was," Gonzalez said. "And we got an entire platform based off of that and everybody is listening to us."
Gonzalez is one of the students who helped organize the March on Washington, set to take place on March 24, calling for stricter gun control.
The contest Tuesday night was the first playoff game for Manuel's Parkland Basketball Club team. They ended up winning the game.
"You really can't put that in words. You hurt for the family," Wade told reporters after learning Joaquin was buried in his No. 3 jersey. "If you ever get the opportunity to speak to them, you just try to hope the time where he was alive that you were able to bring some type of joy to his life and something memorable."
Wade has since met the family and even wrote Joaquin's name on his shoes in a game in which he hit the winning shot.
"We're going to be with you in Washington, yes, but were going to be with you after Washington," Manuel said Tuesday night. "We're going to be with you next election. We're going to make people vote, so we can have a fair game, a ref with common sense, who will make the right calls for you guys."