Keith Lamont Scott, 43, was shot dead by police. Alfred Olango, 30, was shot dead by police. Terence Crutcher, 40, was shot dead by police. These are only a few of the many that were killed within the last two months. According to a Washington Post database, U.S. police have killed at least 188 black people in 2016.
The well-known Black Lives Matter movement has transcended from a simple hashtag to a real force to be reckoned with, but does anyone remember the first group that protested at
Florida’s capitol? Does anyone remember the Dream Defenders?
The FAMU chapter of the Dream Defenders was created to empower African-Americans to determine the destiny of their communities. As a growing coalition since 2012, this group has made their way into national headlines.
Sparked by an unrelenting urge to respond to blatant injustices, the Dream Defenders expanded into a movement. The movement was started by Umi Selah, formerly known as Phillip Agnew, and Gabriel Pendas.
The two were furious about the verdict of the guards who pleaded not guilty in the death of Martin Lee Anderson. They orchestrated a FAMU-FSU march and sit-in down Monroe street that interrupted traffic flow, and it only grew from there.
Dream Defenders strive to end racial profiling, defend the rights for equal education and to live free of police brutality. They believe that non-violence, love and unity will always triumph over racism. This group of individuals refuse to rest until victory is won.
Jonel Edwards, Dream Defenders’ training and member development director, vividly recalls the event that provoked them to seek change.
“In light of the 2012 killing of Trayvon Martin, some folks that had gone to school together, some from Florida A&M University and Florida State University, living across the country, came together,” Edwards said. “We needed to do something, we needed to respond to this.”
Appalled by the response of local officials, arrangements were made to complete a three-day march from Daytona Beach to Sanford, Fla. Edwards said their objective was to obtain justice for the wrongful death.
“By blocking the police station doors the idea was, arrest us young people trying to get justice or arrest this man who just murdered a child,” Edwards said.
Community Justice Attorney Alana Greer explained her involvement with the Dream Defenders.
“They went to the capital and they said ‘Hey! We might need a lawyer. We will probably get arrested when we try to stay in the capital,’ and they didn’t get arrested the first day. They didn’t get arrested the second day and the third day,” Greer said. “Thirty days later, we were still there. Since that night, I ended up moving back to Miami and starting a nonprofit law firm, and I am still working with them.”
The Black Lives Matter movement is connected to Dream Defenders in many ways. Both organizations began in response to the death of Trayvon Martin. Beyond gathering in support for the betterment of black people, many members have worked between both groups.
“With a focus on ending ‘the trap’ in Florida is a system of miseducation that our communities often go through. It requires constant policing, not only from police but with each other,” Edwards said.
Building deep relationships in communities, curating events and discussions about the meaning of safety in neighborhoods and the accountability that comes with it is the Dream Defenders’ current focus.
Former 2014-2015 Dream Defenders FAMU chapter president Jessica Ward focused on educating the community on taking control of their lives, and the importance of deciding for themselves.
“There are people making decisions about school and about your education,” Ward said. “There are people making decisions about how much financial health someone will get from the government and it is important to be a part of that discussion.”
As the organization expands in the years to come, the goal is to inherit a better world and with that power, Dream Defenders can continue to keep the dream alive.
“It'll be five years next year that we started the organization, and we are in the position now to do more than we ever have before–in respect to building power and changing our communities and how they look and (are) treated,” Selah said. “The need for improving from grassroots, inside-out perspective, rather than an outside-in is how the Dream Defenders plan to produce proactive change.”