A new era to ‘Dream’

Published: Wednesday, March 6, 2013 at 4:06 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, March 6, 2013 at 4:06 p.m.

We are at the end of an era of compromise and complacency. We have no more time for armchair activists and social media pundits.

We do not live in a post-racial society. One black man elected to our highest office does not negate the fact that black and brown youth are in a state of emergency. The children are our society's canaries in a mine. It's time to stop pretending that our canaries aren't dying. It's time for us to make decisions about our own lives. We've decided that we have worth.

A year ago on Feb. 26, Trayvon Martin was killed by George Zimmerman on his way home from a convenience store in Sanford. Trayvon, a 17-year-old boy, was seen as inherently dangerous, a criminal, a second-class citizen, by virtue of being black. He was ultimately shot for being somewhere Zimmerman deemed inappropriate.

In 1955, 57 years ago, two men also decided that a black child's life held no value. Emmett Till, a 14-year-old boy, was dragged out of his family's home, taken to a barn, shot in the head and mutilated until unrecognizable because he stepped out of "his" place.

In 1787, 226 years ago, at the Philadelphia Convention, our founding fathers formally decided that the life of a black person was not equivalent to that of a white person in America. In fact, our Constitution claimed that we, who were already enslaved and abused, were 3/5 of a whole white man, and called it a compromise. Surely, not a compromise we agreed on.

The founders of this nation set a precedent, one that continuously manifests itself in our society. So much so, that on Feb. 26 when Zimmerman decided to shoot and kill Trayvon as he walked home, Florida was all but ready to send Zimmerman on his way.

As a result, we began to awaken and gain a new consciousness. We took to the streets, we protested, and for a short period of time, we stood together and we decided that this was not justice. Out of this turmoil arose the Dream Defenders and we have been building ever since. We've been building because we are living in a state of emergency.

Look at our public schools, for example. Black and brown youth have been labeled as less than from the moment they enter the classroom. Schools are less concerned with seeing these students flourish, but more apt to push them out. What was once a visit to the principal or counselor's office in our parents' day is now a degrading ride in the back of a police car.

Shoving in the hallways (battery), taking something from a classmates' book bag (theft or robbery), or being a class clown (disorderly conduct) are all grounds for arrest in Florida schools.

In Alachua County, where black students make up 32 percent of the student population, they account for 76 percent of school-based arrests. Black students are two to three times more likely to be suspended, expelled, or arrested than white students for the same kind of conduct. It's not because black kids behave worse than other students. You would think that after 226 years, black youth would stop being unfairly treated like criminals and second-class citizens.

As Malcolm X said, "The odds are against us, but what do we care about odds?"

We have decided that we are ignoring precedent. We've decided that we are whole. We will no longer be second-class citizens in the country that was built on our backs. It's time that we remember how we felt a year ago. It's time we remember how we felt when voter suppression laws swept this state. It is time we remember that no human is illegal. It is time that we stand our ground and demand that our kids be taught rather than dismissed and senselessly killed. It is time we stop reacting and start building.

No more Trayvon Martins, no more Jordan Davises, no more Rodrigo Diazes, and no more Emmett Tills.

So, we welcome you to the "Dream" era. It's only just begun. The "Dream" era will be an era propelled by black and brown youth who spent their formative years criminalized, marginalized, tossed aside and forgotten.

We've found beauty in the dark. We found strength in our struggle and determination through despair. Now we're ready to set new precedents.

Jonel Edwards, a senior at the University of Florida majoring in political science, is vice president of the UF Dream Defenders and the president of the Gator chapter of the NAACP.

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