A New Face to an Old Dream

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In various ways, the plight of youth today can be said to mirror those of their grandparents’ decades ago. The struggle for social acceptance is universal to us all and may be referenced from adolescent memories at one point or another. However, a great divide has been said to exist between the youth of the civil rights movement and the social attitudes of the present generation. In light of the victories achieved by their forefathers, today’s youth are often accused of being apathetic to the ongoing struggles for social justice and equality. Contradictory to this belief, there has been a growing resurgence of youth activism sweeping across the nation.

One emerging leader in this movement is Bro. Phillip Agnew, a Fall 2005 initiate of the Beta Nu chapter, who works to guide the next generation of civil activists. Bro. Agnew began his career as a public servant during his tenure as student body president at Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University (FAMU). There, he worked with his peers from FAMU and neighboring institutions to call attention to community hate crimes and criminal profiling of young adults. He currently serves as the Executive Director of the Dream Defenders, a grassroots coalition whose mission is to improve our nation’s social condition by bringing an end to systems that target, disenfranchise, discriminate, and impoverish select groups. Their message is simple; it is a call to reform policies that purge the inalienable rights of all people. Dreamer activities are driven by youth and empower them to become catalysts of change through education, civic engagement, and political activism.

The Dream Defenders maintain several progressive campaigns across the state of Florida. Recently, the Dreamers’ cause has received national attention for its organized efforts on Florida’s Capitol Hill in response to the controversial verdict in the wrongful death of Trayvon Martin. In this movement, the group is seeking the adoption of Trayvon’s Law – an end to racial profiling, suspension of the school-to-prison pipeline, and the repeal of the Stand Your Ground Law. Within a month, protestors received support from a number of social groups from across the nation. Most notably, the NAACP, Jesse Jackson, Harry Belafonte, and Talib Kweli are the most prominent of the campaign’s endorsers. A number of Alpha men have also taken a stand with the Dreamers to champion this cause. Among them include Bro. Abuznaid (Iota Delta, Florida State University) legal counsel to the Dream Defenders and Bro. Kevin Powell (Delta Iota, Rutgers University) another rising community leader from the state of New Jersey making a mark in our nation’s capital. Despite a month of stage sit-ins, Governor Rick Scott did not fulfill the Dreamers request to convene a special session of legislature to address the state’s “youth crisis.”

With the end of the group’s occupation of the state capital in August, a secondary phase of action has been triggered into effect. Though their original request for state legislative hearings on Stand Your Ground laws was denied, the Dream Defenders successfully persuaded Speaker of the House Will Weatherford to call for a subcommittee to host hearings in the fall. The Defenders have secured meetings with the heads of both the Florida Departments of Education and Juvenile Justice to discuss “zero tolerance” school policies. Youth organizers authored a bill, Trayvon’s Law, which they hope will provide state lawmakers a blueprint to amending current policies that aversively target youth and minorities. In addition to filing this bill, the group prompted a legislative poll – a head count to assess legislators’ current position on the issue – to which over 30 state policy makers have noted their support for revision of Stand Your Ground laws. Lastly, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement has agreed to discuss racial profiling policies, where Defenders will have the opportunity to bring experts in the field to testify before the department.

For more information on the Dream Defenders, please visit www.dreamdefenders.org

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