Dream Defenders of North Florida hosted a panel this week urging Florida A&M University students to stand up for justice while reflecting on historic student activism.
Dream Defenders was founded in 2012 after the killing of Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Florida. After his death, Black and Latinx people marched from Daytona Beach to where Martin was killed and sparked a movement. A year after George Zimmerman was acquitted, the Dream Defenders occupied the Florida State Capitol for a month, demanding a repeal of the Stand Your Ground law.
Panelists shared their thoughts on the justice movement pushed by Dream Defenders and reflected on today’s racial atmosphere.
Tiffany Packer, a current history professor at FAMU, opened the event sharing her connection to the movement.
“The movement is in my spirit. I went to FAMU and in this space as a community citizen, my duty to my ancestors is to always do my part,” said Packer.
Students at historically Black colleges and universities have always played a major role in civil rights movements across the country, due to the high amount of Black students who attend the schools and feel a connection to the social issues at the time.
“Universities have been separated by race since the 1896 Plessy vs. Ferguson’s decision and because of that our former leaders like Martin Luther King attended HBCUs. Without our HBCUs, there would not have been a civil rights movement because our men and women who had the ability to lead a protest were educated through those universities. It’s wonderful to see students sixty years later still leading the protests” said attendee and Tallahassee native Chuck Hobbs.
The panel also commended Black women on their accomplishments and dedication to the movement for civil rights.
“People on the ground, primarily women, pushed the movement. Today women are at the forefront of the movement, but in the 1960s men were in the front and women were the backbone. I’m very pleased to see we have women in the forefront of the movement today.” said former civil rights activist Gwendolyn Simmons.
Attorney Harry Daniels weighed in on the topic saying “The strength of the Black women is unparalleled to anyone. Black women will go the extra mile to make sure things are right so that they can make a change. It gives me joy to see Black women become forefront leaders.”
The panel also urged attendees to sign a petition going against Governor Ron DeSantis’ HB 1 bill. The bill known as the “anti-riot” legislation, arose after the killing of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor resulted in protests. Many people referred to the bill as racist and condemning the actions following the marches against police brutality.
“This bill makes protesting punishable by felony, denies protestors bail, makes pulling down or damaging a confederate statue punishable up to 15 years in prison, and allows the state to override any municipality that decreases police budgets,” said attendee Zarria Hill.
“I tell my non-Black students the Black fight isn’t just for Black people, non-Black people can join in too,” said Packer.
People who are interested in stopping the pass of the bill can sign a petition online here.