The story of the Dream Defenders begins in April of 2006. Florida A&M’s then-Student Body President Ramon Alexander and Vice President Phillip Agnew* joined forces with Florida State University Senate President Gabriel Pendas and Student Body Vice President Ahmad Abuznaid and student leaders from Tallahassee Community College to non-violently protest against former Governor Jeb Bush’s decision not investigate the murderers of Martin Lee Anderson, a 14-year-old child.
Shortly thereafter, Agnew, Alexander, and others banded together to found a non-profit, The Student Coalition for Justice, Inc., to lead the charge in standing up for Anderson’s civil rights. For three days in late April, their demonstrations alongside Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton made Governor Bush reconsider and call for an in-depth investigation of Anderson’s murder.
This victory provided the adrenaline rush in Agnew, Pendas, and Abuznaid’s veins to continue community organizing and activism work in Tallahassee, Florida. Upon graduating from FAMU, Agnew accepted a sales position at a pharmaceutical company in Charlotte, North Carolina, but remained in close contact with his activist comrades.
After the killing of Trayvon Martin, Agnew, Pendas, and Abuznaid reunited to lead a march from Daytona Beach to Sanford, Florida to demand the arrest of George Zimmerman. When they arrived at the Sanford Police Department headquarters, they peacefully protested much like they had for Martin Lee Anderson six years prior. Soon, the idea for the Dream Defenders was born.
In April 2012, the Dream Defenders applied for 501 (c)(3) non-profit status, further establishing themselves as an organization focused on building youthful social and community leaders for the 21st century. The triumvirate decided to move in together at a residence they dubbed “the Dream House” to brainstorm on the growth and outreach of the organization. From their planning sessions, they’ve been successful in establishing organizational chapters on nine different campuses in Florida. They boast a membership base of more than 100 students, but can call on at least 250 members throughout the state at any given time.
The core leadership of the Dream Defenders includes Phillip Agnew, Executive Director; Ahmad Abuznaid, Legal and Policy Director; Ciara Taylor, Political Director, Curtis Hierro, Field Director and Steve Pargett, Communications Director. Together, these young activists represent the ‘dream’ of the Civil Rights’ era and the nightmare of those who work diligently to keep people of color oppressed via legal means. Each member represents diverse industries ranging from social work, teaching, community organizing, and practicing law.
Over the past two weeks, they’ve occupied the Florida State Capitol to ask state legislators to hold a special session to vote in favor of a measure called “Trayvon’s Law.” The law would abolish “Stand Your Ground,” confront racial profiling, and end the prevalent school-to-prison pipeline in various Florida communities. Their days consist of attending workshop sessions educating them on leadership, community organizing, social justice, and chanting songs and slogans of positivity. For their efforts, Governor Rick Scott met with them last Thursday to discuss their concerns. However, he has continued his support of “Stand Your Ground.”
The Dream Defenders have promised not to leave the Capitol until a special session is held by state legislators.
Here are five things you can do to help the Dream Defenders right now:
1) Place outside pressure by contacting Florida State Representatives and tell them to make Governor Rick Scott convene a special session in the state legislature on "Trayvon's Law."
2) Get more Floridians to travel to the State Capitol to rally and protest with the Dream Defenders on Monday afternoon.
4) People can sign their petition to get Governor Rick Scott to convene a special session in the state legislature on "Trayvon’s Law."
5) Live in a "Stand Your Ground" state? Take over YOUR capitol!
Chris Williams is an internationally-published writer. You can follow him on Twitter @CWmsWrites.
*A previous version of this article incorrectly identified Philip Agnew as a former Student Body President of FAMU and stated that the Dream Defenders had already received 501(c)(3) status.