Formed less than a year ago in the wake of the collective outrage emanating from the death of Trayvon Martin, members of the Dream Defenders describe themselves "as an organization directed by black and brown youth, who confront systemic inequality by building our collective power."
Twenty-one-year-old Tampa resident Alekos Zambrano is speaking about Florida's controversial Stand Your Ground law at the Dream Defenders' "TRUE State of the State Address." Issues about the 2005 Florida law came to the forefront after Martin was shot and killed by George Zimmerman in February of 2012. Though the law may or may not be used as a defense for Zimmerman, it's believed to have been factor in why Sanford, Fla., police did not immediately arrest Zimmerman last year.
"My speech is about the experiences of the youth, and our experiences with that law which has been one of racial profiling and targeting," said Zambrano, a Columbian-American who came to the U.S. at the age of eight but is a legal citizen.
Zambrano said the members of Dream Defenders have several core issues they're working on, beginning with state campuses divesting from any associations with private prison corporations. This specifically targets Florida Atlantic University (FAU), which recently announced a deal with the GEO Group for naming rights to the FAU stadium. The GEO Group owns and operates private prisons, and has been accused of human rights violations.
Dream Defenders also takes issue with what Zambrano called "the whole culture of racial profiling from a young age" in Florida. He said with student resource officers in some elementary schools, "there's a huge disproportionate of children in Florida in prison, more than any other state in the country."
In a state where all branches of government are controlled by Republicans, Zambrano said he and his colleagues aren't delusional in what they can accomplish this year; he recognized that social change takes time.
"I think the main thing to remember is any big change or any real impact on the Legislature is not going to come from one rally or one speech or one march or anything like that. These actions are really building toward a mass movement, and real power may be months or years down the line," he said. "But it's about organizing, and it's about one day having the sheer numbers to threaten their votes, their chance for election. That's really what it comes down to."