“It was a continuation of our work with Martin Lee Anderson,” Pendas said. “Another young man of color had been killed. We needed to take a stand.”
They had a new name: the Dream Defenders.
“It was the perfect framework,” Pendas said. “Martin Luther King, Jr. had a dream. Millions of Latino students have a dream.” The latter is a reference to the fight undocumented immigrant children are waging in Congress to gain legal status through the DREAM Act.
The march turned out to be just the beginning. A handful of current FAMU and Florida State students had become involved in the Dream Defenders through Facebook and Twitter. And the young activists were hungry for next steps.
That’s when the idea really coalesced. The Dream Defenders would do more than just advocate for social justice causes: They would develop the next generation of student leaders.
Agnew, Abuznaid and Pendas moved into a house in Miami Lakes — it was later nicknamed the Dream House — and began to develop the organization.
The Dream Defenders now has chapters on nine college campuses in Florida. More than 100 student members have campaigned to end prison privatization, racial profiling and zero tolerance policies in schools.
“They make the decisions on what kind of campaigns they want to run and we help them facilitate it,” said Abuznaid, who serves as the group’s legal and policy director. “The leadership is shared between us and the students.”
The organization survives on private donations and contributions from local unions. Agnew receives a small salary as executive director, but Abuznaid, Pendas and the other staffers work for free. They hope to continue expanding and eventually have a fully funded staff that receives health benefits.
For now, they are focused on the ongoing occupation of Scott’s office, which began Tuesday.
About 60 Dream Defenders are taking part in the demonstration, including Agnew, Abuznaid, Pendas and a handful of others from the 2006 sit-in. They have been joined by eight students from Miami’s Power U Center for Social Change.
For the group’s younger members, the demonstration has been a learning experience. The students are essentially shut in for the night when the Capitol closes at 5 p.m. They sleep on thin mats on the marble floor. Even at night, the harsh overhead lights stay on.
During the day, the activists have hours-long discussions about social justice, and attend workshops on community organizing, effective communication and leadership. Taking a cue from the Occupy movement, they have divided into committees to handle media, logistics, outreach and clean up.
“We who believe in freedom cannot rest,” they often sing. “We who believe in freedom cannot rest until it’s won.”
Jonel Edwards, a recent University of Florida graduate from Miramar, said she has spent some time reflecting on leadership.
“For the most part, I’m a very quiet person,” she said. “But I’m learning to speak up more and take the lead. It’s empowering to put yourself out there.”
For 26-year-old Travis Roberts, a senior at FAMU, the takeaway has been patience and respect.
“I’ve learned that there are some people who don’t look like me, but who are here to help,” he said. “Not all of the state of Florida is evil. We have supporters across the city and across the state.”
How long the demonstration will go on remains to be seen.
The group leaders say they won’t leave until Scott has convened a special session to consider a Trayvon Martin Civil Rights Act, which would repeal the Stand Your Ground law, and end the school-to-prison pipeline that has led to a high percentage of young black men being incarcerated at an early age.
Scott met with seven of the students late Thursday and said he would not call the Legislature to Tallahassee. He reaffirmed his position on Friday on a visit to Miami.
But having their demands met might not be the only measure of success.
“It’s also about a paradigm shift,” Agnew said. “It’s about empowering the next generation.”
Kathleen McGrory can be reached at kmcgrory@MiamiHerald.com.