Braving light rain and harsh winds with signs reading “Remember Borderline” and “Never Again”, approximately 20 University of Michigan students, faculty and community members congregated on the Diag for a vigil Saturday afternoon in honor of those lost to gun violence. Music, Theatre & Dance freshman Olivia Johnson organized the vigil, hosted by Arts in Color, in response to a shooting near her hometown in Thousand Oaks, Calif.
According to CNN, the shooting transpired at Borderline Bar & Grill on Nov. 7 and left 13, including the gunman and a sheriff’s deputy, dead. It was “college night” at the Western-style bar, meaning entry was open to anyone over the age of 18 and the crowd included many patrons from area universities.
Johnson attended Newbury Park High School in Thousand Oaks and said she used to go to the bar with her friends on Wednesdays — the same day of the week as the shooting — for 18-and-over night.
“My whole community, all of my friends, my teachers and my family — everyone — was in Thousand Oaks,” Johnson said. “When I saw the headline and I saw the city where it happened and the place where it happened, I was completely shocked and I was speechless.”
A friend of Johnson’s founded NeverAgain SoCal, an organization dedicated to uniting high school students in Ventura County, Calif., around raising awareness for gun violence through events like protests and walkouts. The organization formed after the Febuary 2018 shooting in Parkland, Florida where 17 students died.
According to a study done by the Washington Post, more than 219,000 students have experienced gun violence at school since Columbine.
Johnson’s friend reached out to her about staging a walkout on the University of Michigan campus to spread the word about the shooting in Thousand Oaks. Because of difficulties with timing and reserving spaces for events not affiliated with the University, Johnson opted instead to host a vigil for mourning the victims.
After deciding on a vigil, the first step Johnson reached out to Freyja Harris, the Music, Theatre, & Dance chief diversity and inclusion officer. Johnson said Harris connected her with Arts in Color, a club promoting activism in the arts, and Johnson worked with the group on setting up the vigil.
Music, Theatre & Dance junior Johanna Kepler, president of Arts in Color, said the vigil allowed the organization to provide support and assistance to students affected by the shooting, or something like that.
“It’s really good to just see the ability of students to put something together that they care about and get other students involved,” Kepler said. “Headlines pass really quickly about these tragic events, but how we can really come together and talk about this and mourn the victims and feel like we’re being more agents in change and not just raising awareness.”
Rackham student Sherry Lin attended the vigil to support Johnson and the Thousand Oaks community as well as for other communities that have been affected by gun violence.
Lin said she is excited about participating in similar events in the future. Specifically, as a student studying fine arts, she is looking forward to seeing art used as an outlet for discussing issues such as gun violence.
“I’m from Chicago and around the same time there was a shooting at Mercy Hospital and a friend of mine was at the hospital when the shooting occurred,” Lin said. “I really appreciate just coming together through this event, even though it’s a different location, but just really standing together in solidarity and supporting each other through tragedy.”
The vigil began with brief remarks from Johnson. During her speech, she talked about the Thousand Oaks community and her experiences at Borderline Bar, which she said is a place that usually fosters positive and happy experiences. Though she said the event was nonpartisan, Johnson stressed the need for people to continue making their voices heard.
Following her introduction, she read the names and short biographies of each victim while other students held up their pictures. After all the victims were recognized, there was a moment of silence followed by closing remarks from Johnson.
While she characterized the event as last-minute and informal, Johnson said she was inspired by what she saw at the vigil. She hopes students continue to discuss the shooting at Thousand Oaks and the issue of gun violence, and ultimately take action and be cognizant.
“I just hope that people check the news and care about these shootings and the fact that they’re happening. I hope that people are doing as much as they can to create change, even if it’s on as small of a level as this,” Johnson said. “People looked genuinely hurt by this in a way where they want to create change. Even getting the word out to one person was enough for me.”