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Bulletproof vests for back-to-school

Fashion show highlights gun violence

Catherine McGloin
Bulletproof vests for back-to-school
Students of all ages on the catwalk outside City Hall to make statement about gun violence in the classroom. Photo: Catherine McGloin

Back-to-school should mean shopping for pencils and backpacks, not bulletproof vests and gas masks.

This was the message local youth and anti-gun violence advocates sent to lawmakers on Monday, outside City Hall, with a controversial back-to-school fashion show. Students modeled protective clothing, camouflage and police siren horns, to highlight the potential threat of another mass shooting and the dangers they face returning to school in the coming days.   

photos: Catherine McGloin Students model safety equipment during a mock back-to-school fashion show. Photo: Catherine McGloin

photos: Catherine McGloin
Students model safety equipment during a mock back-to-school fashion show. Photo: Catherine McGloin

“The fashion show is an ironic way of explaining to these people what we’re demanding,” said Manuel Oliver, organizer of the protest and founder, along with his wife Patricia Oliver, of Change the Ref, an anti-gun violence nonprofit set up after their son, Joaquin Oliver, was killed in the Parkland, Florida school shooting.

Large images of the murdered 17-year-old covered banners behind the catwalk, as Manuel Oliver urged politicians to distance themselves from gun lobbyists, and called for voters to elect candidates who will push for tighter gun controls in the general election on Nov. 6.

Addressing the NRA and gun rights activists, Manuel Oliver said, “You only have two options … this train is not going to stop, you get on board or you move to a side.”

He added that he is not opposed to the Second Amendment, but wants to see stronger regulations in place that would ensure responsible gun ownership is enforced.

Manuel and Patricia Oliver, who travel the country to campaign against the NRA and to raise awareness about mass shootings, were joined by students from across Massachusetts in a 50-mile walk from Worcester City Hall to the headquarters of gun manufacturer Smith and Wesson in Springfield. Boston, Manuel Oliver said, was a logical place to protest after the march, despite the state having relatively strict gun control laws.

It was while they were marching that the news broke about the gaming tournament shooting in Jacksonville, Florida, in which three people were killed.

“It will happen again, it will happen maybe today, it could happen right now, because this is the nation where we live,” said Manuel Oliver, repeatedly referring to Florida as the “gun-shine state.”

Boston shootings

Local activists, including Violence in Boston’s Monica Cannon-Grant, Mary Franklin, founder of Women Survivors of Homicide, and city councilors Ayanna Pressley and Michelle Wu, were also at the event.

Cannon-Grant, a former candidate for state representative and Roxbury resident whose son survived being shot twice, said that as of Aug. 19, 123 people have been shot this year in Boston.

photos: Catherine McGloin Students model safety equipment during a mock back-to-school fashion show. Photo: Catherine McGloin

photos: Catherine McGloin
Students model safety equipment during a mock back-to-school fashion show. Photo: Catherine McGloin

“Let’s not forget our black and brown children who are dodging bullets,” said Cannon-Grant. “They stand in solidarity with these young people because that is their story every day.”

Ayanna Pressley emphasized the individual value of the lives lost to gun violence, regardless of whether or not the victims are gang affiliated.

“Every life is of value and this is everyone’s problem,” said Pressley.

DJ Vida provided the music as about 20 children paraded their provocative designs, a form of expression that artist Manuel Oliver told journalists reflected his son’s creative personality. He said their organizing and campaigning gives Joaquin a continued voice.

“We are not the victims, we are the survivors,” said Manuel Oliver, “but if you don’t want to join this group then do something, vote for the right people.”

Manuel Oliver had some advice for parents whose children are returning to school, and for those who might be concerned about mass shootings.

“Enjoy your kids while you have them and make sure you start working on this issue today. Don’t wait,” he said.

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