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Still On The Journey: The Women Who Are Defending Black America’s Freedom Dream

Dream Defenders x NewsOne

Source: iOne Digital Creative Services

I arrived at Dream Defenders exactly 12 years after Trayvon Martin was murdered. On a quest to redefine my role as a writer in times of turmoil, I sat during my interview process feeling I was such a far cry from the days I felt hope by speaking truth-to-power as a senior editor at VIBE. I was no longer a young poet, fresh out of my undergrad years at Florida A&M University, who was certain that my pen was my sword. In the face of an active genocide and multiple ongoing wars, I had reached my wits’ end in pop-culture writing, and no Beyoncé record was going to redeem this bleak ass reality.

Dream Defenders executive co-director, Nailah Summers-Polite, offered me the role that would marry my political commitment with my love of storytelling. “Would you like the help to continue your journey?” she asked matter-of-factly.

MORE: Reclaiming Journalism: Dream Defenders And NewsOne Announce Partnership For Media Justice

Dream Defenders

Source: Dream Defenders

I thought about us sinking into yet another crippling political cycle that was coalescing a voting bloc of people who were anti-Black, anti-immigrant and anti-woman, but I was ready to navigate uncharted waters in my pivot as a culture journalist to public relations at a Black women-led movement organization.

After more than a decade of growing alongside the movement for Black lives, I was stepping away from hip-hop media and entertainment and through the doors of an organization I’d admired since its landmark inception in 2012. Dream Defenders was part of a new dawn in political movements and beckoned a new generation of freedom fighters: Black and brown youth who wanted to follow in the brave footsteps of our civil rights and Black power icons.

On our watch, state-sanctioned violence had to end.

Dream Defenders photos

Source: Dream Defenders

Today, Dream Defenders, who still put their bodies on the frontlines, have grown to also become cutting-edge digital innovators creatively spreading words, challenging discourse, and sparking new ideas. Yesterday, they were the heart of the Black Arts Movement, the Harlem Renaissance, the Civil Rights and Black Power Movements. They represent Black women and gender-expansive folks who harnessed the power of the internet, using history, music, literature, design and more, to offer multifarious depictions of us leading organizations not just as standout volunteers, but in the highest positions and across membership bases.

In turn, Dream Defenders has no interest in replicating the parts of their historic work that marginalized women, the very people who for centuries had done so much of the hard work to advance struggles and light paths toward collective freedom.

“When I came into Dream Defenders, I was surrounded by passionate, Black and Brown women plotting and leading the work across the state of Florida. That’s not to say there weren’t lots of other folks also helping to do the work, but it wasn’t really something anyone harped on,” said Dream Defenders’ other executive co-director, Jonel Edwards Mickles, who started out as a member and student organizer at the University of Florida. “Then two or three years after our founding, there were people who didn’t know Dream Defenders had women in it.”

Once again our origin story was not just being hidden. As had happened throughout the centuries-long fight for freedom, there were those who had the platform to claim our work but deny our labor. Dream Defenders exist to disrupt that vulgar pattern, one that persists whether we are well-known or not, and even when our work has changed history’s course.

Dream Defenders photos

Source: Dream Defenders

For decades, the work that Rosa Parks did was summed up like a six-word memoir gone wrong: refused to give up her seat. Only in recent years have we begun talking about her role as a fierce investigator and advocate against the sexual violence of Black women. And we may know Cori Bush’s name, but little is known about her history as the first activist from the movement to save Black lives to get elected to the United States Congress. She, like women who preceded her in history-making, persist and even thrive despite the brunt of sexist and racist tropes and stereotypes.

The truth is that now, as it was then, Black women organizers across the diaspora have utilized the power of radical love and imagination in service of a world that affirms the dignity and presence of not only Black women but also oppressed people everywhere. It was the sisters of this generation who ensured the world heard us when we said, heal Black women and you can heal the world.

Ahead of the scarily uncertain 2024 U.S. Elections, Dream Defenders have not only done the hard work to ensure that leadership is shaped by those who have long earned it, but we have been expanding our Florida-based organization into a national one. With branches or “squads” in states like Alabama, New York, Tennessee, Georgia, California, Mississippi, New Jersey and throughout the DMV area, we will be heard in this coming election.

We are throwing down the gauntlet, and calling on this generation to take their place in transforming the voting, cultural, and protest power we host. It has been an especially difficult last few years. There have been so many external attacks and even more, internally. These are the growing pains we know we can surmount with leadership who love us more than they love celebrity. We are a force capable of pushing an economic and social agenda that prioritizes our safety, dignity and good lives for all.

Would you like the help to continue your journey?

Meet the Dream Defenders.


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