Gun safety advocate Shannon Watts to speak at Gabriel Zimmerman Award benefit

Photo of Gabe Zimmerman speaking at a podium
How do you find hope in dark times? You find ways to make the future a brighter—and safer—place.

Some do that by launching a grassroots movement that grows into a national organization; others create a scholarship to support students who are making a difference in their community.

Those efforts are coming together March 23 in a celebration of the legacy of UC Santa Cruz alumnus Gabriel “Gabe” Zimmerman (Stevenson '02, sociology).

Zimmerman was doing work he loved, serving as the community outreach director for Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords (Rep D-AZ), when he was killed in the January 2011 mass shooting that took the lives of six and wounded 13, including Giffords.

On March 23, the campus is hosting a reception with a keynote address by gun safety advocate Shannon Watts, founder of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America.

Like many, Watts was deeply moved by Zimmerman’s death.

“I remember the Arizona shooting really strongly,” Watts said during a phone interview. “When people who are part of Congress get shot and killed, I thought surely Congress would do something.”

After the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in December 2012, Watts decided she had to act. She started a Facebook Group that quickly morphed into Moms Demand Action, an organization focused on legislators. In 2013, Moms Demand Action partnered with Mayors Against Illegal Guns to create Everytown for Gun Safety, the largest gun violence prevention network in the country.

“From the stories I heard from our survivors, Gabe was truly a kind and thoughtful young man, who loved working with constituents and serving others,” said Watts. “Like too many other talented young people, Gabe's life was cut short by senseless gun violence."

In the days following Zimmerman’s death, UC Santa Cruz alumni Alex Clemens (Porter, '89, international politics) and Jonathan Klein (Merrill, '89, politics) joined forces to honor his dedication to public service by creating a scholarship in his memory. Every year since 2011, the Gabriel Zimmerman Memorial Scholarship has presented a student in the Division of Social Sciences with a scholarship in recognition of their commitment to social issues and public service.

To boost the scholarship endowment, pioneer faculty member and professor emeritus of economics David Kaun has pledged to match any contributions to the fund made during the reception.

Also speaking at the event will be Yethzéll Díaz (’12, Latin American and Latino studies and sociology), the inaugural Zimmerman Scholar. Díaz is now the leader of the People, Projects, and Leadership initiative at Digital NEST, a community organization started by alum Jacob Martinez (Oakes '04, ecology and evolutionary biology). Digital Nest aims to bridge the digital divide in California’s agricultural regions, serving underrepresented communities and fostering stability and growth through youth development.

“Living in a democracy affords us the right to get involved and make change,” said Watts, who urges people to become involved with issues impacting their local communities.

“The only thing to fight back with is our voice and our vote,” added Watts. “We have to be louder and larger than our opposition.”

The event will be held 6 p.m. March 23 at the newly restored historic Cowell Ranch Hay Barn located at the base of the UC Santa Cruz campus. For more information and to RSVP, please visit: