Dream Defenders support students in ‘March for Our Lives’

J.A. Jones, Staff Writer

ST. PETERSBURG – In the week leading up to the nationwide “March for Our Lives” rally, the student-led protests for gun control that took place around the nation, the Bay Area Dream Defenders were already helping to prepare the ground in Pinellas.

On Wednesday, March 15, the Dream Defenders hosted “Walk It, Talk It: A youth-led discussion about the real causes and solutions to gun violence” at Allendale United Methodist Church.

Attended by students from schools including St. Pete, Osceola Fundamental, Largo, St. Pete Collegiate and Blake High Schools and Randall Middle School, the event gave the students center stage to discuss issues including mental illness, post-Parkland fear and anxiety and the newly passed Senate Bill 7026 — the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act.

March for Our Lives Attendees

With parents, school counselors, social workers and community members and activists on hand, the event was a solemn but impactful way to address an issue that is becoming unfortunately too familiar in our country.

Char Singleton, Dream Defender’s statewide organizing director, discussed the purpose of the talkback.

“I think the event was essentially trying to bring folks from across the community in conversation about gun violence in this moment of living in post-Parkland — while trying to build a connection between the gun violence that happens in black and brown communities with the young folks who are leading the walkouts across the Tampa Bay area,” Singleton shared.

The Dream Defenders as a group came into being in 2012 in the wake of another episode of gun violence, the murder of Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman and Zimmerman’s subsequent not guilty verdict.

The injustice compelled dozens of young activists throughout Florida to demand a change in violence towards people of color by police, and in Zimmerman’s case, racially motivated vigilante-style killings. Their ongoing platform addresses the criminalization of youth, police in schools and the school-to-prison pipeline.

 “I believe that the event went well, and it served its purpose around having those youth who are leading this sort of organizing actually understand what gun violence has looked like historically in black and brown communities,” Singleton continued.

As Bay area students prepared to join youth nationwide for last Saturday’s “Walk for Our Lives” rally protesting gun violence, the Dream Defenders aided in training the youth activists leading the march and preparing them for a variety of scenarios that could have arisen.

At Saturday’s march, an estimated 1,500 people gathered at Poynter Park to hear speeches by the mayor and student activists, plus a song recorded by students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas. The march officially started when the student-turned-activist leaders set off with the rousing cry: “We did it, you guys!”

The march was an inspiring event; yet, at the Dream Defenders “Walk It, Talk It” conversation at Allendale UMC, there was a myriad of issues.

Student feedback included how they do not want guns in the classroom, being afraid of going places without fear of violence and how politicians are disrespectful to their needs.

Two students shared how a tripped alarm the day after the Parkland massacre led to panic throughout their school, with frightened teachers asking students should they lock the doors.

Adults were equally vocal. A former vet shared that as a young man, revolvers were used and how he didn’t see an automatic weapon until he went to Vietnam.

“I could never understand why regular citizens had them; they don’t belong in public places,” he said.

One man who lost a daughter to gun violence remarked that he would never wish that on anybody, and how proud he was that the school board voted against arming teachers. He was referring to a letter sent to Tallahassee that day by the Pinellas County School Board stating that board members had voted against arming teachers in the county’s schools.

A school counselor spoke about seeing trauma from a variety of sources impacting students’ mental health daily.

Many adults praised the young people who were taking a stand with one woman tearfully stating that her generation really “screwed things up,” and apologized to the teens.  Another adult said that the actions of young people decades ago helped end the Vietnam War but that it was a long road, cautioning that they are at the beginning of this fight.

To follow the student movement, visit Pinellas4Parkland.org. To learn how you can support the work the Dream Defenders are doing and to stay abreast of activities held around the Bay area, including the monthly “Books and Breakfast” community event held the last Saturday of every month at 10 a.m. at Childs Park, visit them on Facebook at Bay Area Dream Defenders.

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