American singer, songwriter, actor and social activist Harry Belafonte, Jr., center, reacts as Dream Defenders Executive Director Phillip Agnew, bottom left, leads a chant Friday, July 26, 2013 in the Capitol rotunda in Tallahassee, Fla. Dream Defenders were joined by Belafonte, Jr. as they went into their 11th day of a sit-in of Florida Gov. Rick Scott’s office. The sit-in is their response to the ‘not guilty’ verdict in the trial of George Zimmerman, the Florida neighborhood watch volunteer who fatally shot Trayvon Martin. They are continuing to demand Scott call a special session. (AP Photo/Phil Sears)
What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up?like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore – And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over –?like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags?like a heavy load.
Or does it explode?
– Langston Hughes
The group of college aged-students who have kept Florida Gov. Rick Scott out of his Tallahassee office off and on for more than two weeks call themselves the “Dream Defenders.” Their goal is to make sure the dreams of their generation are not “deferred,” a reference to Langston Hughes’ famous poem titled “Harlem (Dream Deferred).”
“We are here to no longer defer the dream. These issues are real to our generation. This is our movement, though we welcome icons of the past,” said Curtis Hierro, the group’s field secretary. “We are a movement of a new generation. We can’t rely on other people to do it for us. We are an organized youth resistance. The onus is on us to organize and bring people here.”
Their movement has brought civil rights leader Jesse Jackson, entertainer Harry Belafonte, and others to Tallahassee to support them.
Hierro is a recent graduate of the University of Central Florida in Orlando. The Dream Defenders first organized themselves in April 2012. Students from Bethune-Cookman University, Florida A&M University, Tallahassee Community College, and other schools set out on a three-day, 41-mile journey from Daytona Beach to Sanford to protest the improper handling of the Trayvon Martin case by Sanford authorities.
About 40 students from Gainesville, Tallahassee, Miami and Daytona Beach kicked off the march, which was organized to pay homage to Dr. Martin Luther King’s march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama.
The group began the march at a local Daytona Beach park and rested at churches along their way to Sanford. The march ended three days later at Allen Chapel AME Church in Sanford, which has been ground zero in the city where Martin was killed by George Zimmerman on Feb. 26, 2012.
The protesters were spurred to action again after Zimmerman was acquitted on July13 after his jury trial.
On July 16, about 40 students sat in at the governor’s office in Tallahassee, waiting for Scott to return from a trip to New York and take up their demand for a special legislative session addressing laws they say unfairly affect non-White youth.
They want Scott to call a special session to create a Trayvon Martin Civil Rights Act and address “Stand Your Ground vigilantism, racial profiling and a war on youth that paints us as criminals and funnels us out of schools and into jails.”
At the time, Scott’s office put out a statement suggesting that Scott would not meet their demands.
“As the governor has said, as a father and a grandfather, his heart goes out to Trayvon Martin’s family and all those affected by his death,” said Communications Director Melissa Sellers in an email. “We are grateful that people across our great nation have the right to assemble and share their views. …
“Immediately following Trayvon Martin’s death, Gov. Scott called a bipartisan special task force with 19 citizens to review Florida’s Stand Your Ground law. This task force listened to Floridians across the state and heard their viewpoints and expert opinions on this law. The task force recommended that the law should not be overturned, and Gov. Scott agrees.”
Scott also called for “a day of prayer” throughout Florida.
After putting them off for five days, Scott did finally meet with the Dream Defenders, only to tell them that he supported “Stand Your Ground” and had no intention of calling a special session.
After the meeting, Scott left town again, but not before sending Department of Juvenile Justice Secretary Wansley Walters to chat with students for several hours on Aug. 22, 2012.
Dream Defenders Political Director Ciara Taylor said of Walters’ visit: “While we appreciate Secretary Walters taking the time to meet with us, we believe the time for talk has passed.
“We currently find ourselves in a state of emergency. There is a growing fear among Black and Brown young people in Florida that their lives are of little value to the state, and the governor’s unwillingness to do anything about it is disappointing to us all….
“We urge both Governor Scott and Secretary Wansley to take our calls for justice for Florida’s youth seriously and to correct the circumstances that led to the killing of Trayvon Martin last year: racial profiling, Stand Your Ground vigilantism, and the school-to-prison pipeline.”
The sit-in continued. As of the Florida Courier’s press time late Wednesday night, the Dream Defenders were still occupying the governor’s office.
Not going anywhere
Hierro said the Dream Defenders are not going anywhere, even if that means maintaining their protests at the governor’s office until March 2014 – Florida’s next regularly scheduled legislative session.
“Our goal is to put pressure on. We are going to be here until they come to the table with something.
“They keep talking about costs. What’s the cost of a human life?” Hierro said, referring to media reports that it is costing the state $5,000 a day to handle the protests.
“We are not going to sit idly by. We will move across the state and put in work on the ground,” Hierro continued.
Movement will grow
He said whenever a legislative session does convene, Dream Defenders hope to have chapters in colleges and universities across the state that will organize and apply pressure to local state representatives and senators to vote to repeal “Stand Your Ground” and address other issues, including a national call to action to stop racial profiling and end the school-to-prison pipeline.
“Within this month, we expect more engagement as students return back to school. In the fall, we expect our base to experience growth,” he said.
Hierro said they are organizers first and they are working to bring even more of their supporters to Tallahassee.
“We don’t want any more George Zimmermans. (We want to) stop the climate of hate and injustice,” he continued.
Phillip Agnew, the organization’s executive director, says Scott “is not exercising real leadership.
“So we will remain here, not to retry George Zimmerman, but to express our anger and disappointment at our governor for what happened under his watch peacefully, and to provide a constructive way forward,” Agnew said.
“You cannot confront the world as it is without presenting a vision of the world as it should and could be,” Agnew stated. “We envision a way forward for a new generation of Floridians – and Americans – that acknowledges race and confronts race, but is not shackled by race. We want to provide this generation with the power and the tools to remove the barriers that stand before us.”
Melanie Andrade, president of the FAMU chapter of the Dream Defenders, added, “The governor told us when we met with him that we had big goals, big dreams. Our contention is if it isn’t big or doesn’t seem impossible at first, you can’t call it a dream.”