Youth-Led Campaigns Continue to Seek Justice for Trayvon Martin, Refute CNN’s Don Lemon

At left, American singer, songwriter, actor and social activist Harry Belafonte, Jr. listens as Dream Defenders Executive Director Phillip Agnew, right, raises his fist as he leads a chant calling for a special session Friday, July 26, 2013 in the Capitol in Tallahassee, Fla. (AP Photo/Phil Sears)

In wake of the Trayvon Martin murder trial, movements led by young people who embrace hoodies, tattoos, hip-hop culture and rebellion are proving that a powerful voice in this nation can defy stereotypes or expectations.  While media pundits and lawmakers continue to bicker over the destructive ethos of American society, organizations like the Dream Defenders, the Million Hoodies Movement for Justice and the Trayvon Martin Foundation have taken their concerns to the streets.  They’re camped out. They’re marching Washington. They’re demanding that laws be changed and they’re forcing the government to listen.

An uprising not unlike civil rights movements of the past, these youth activists have utilized social media, new technology and the provocative antics of hip-hop to make a difference, and they don’t intend to stop.


“We are powerful because we are a product of our generation,” Ciara Taylor, political director for the Dream Defenders, tells theGrio. “We show the world that yes, you can listen to rap music, and yes, you can sag your pants, yes, you can have tattoos and wear snapbacks, but you can also stand up for yourself and your community.”

The Dream Defenders: #TAKEOVERFL

After occupying the Florida State House for three weeks to demand repeal of the state’s “Stand Your Ground” law, Taylor’s team demonstrated their influence this weekend when Florida House Speaker Will Weatherford announced he would hold hearings on the subject this fall.  The victory arrives after the organization, primarily made of twenty-somethings and college students, rallied legislators, drafted letters and sought approval from the Secretary of State to bring the matter to its feet.  According to, the protest has cost the government $182,362, including $68,777 in overtime for law enforcement officers.  “I’m thinking I’m going to lose my job,” says Taylor, who works part-time at the American Civil Liberties Union and has taken significant time off to lead the protest.

Thanks to two nearby churches, the group has been able to shower periodically, but they also bathe with baby wipes over the weekends when they can’t leave and return to the building. Food is delivered, though not in large amounts.

Along the way, celebrities like Reverend Jesse Jackson and Harry Belafonte have joined the Dream Defenders; rapper Talib Kweli will reportedly unite with them this week.  Taylor describes the journey as a path filled with excitement, frustration, sadness, disappointment, joy, and pride.  “We’re using direct, nonviolent civil disobedience – that’s one of our tactics – but also we get involved in the political process,” Taylor comments. “We register people to vote, we get people out to vote, we lobby our legislators, and now when those legislators have failed us, we’re going directly to the source.”

She continues, “A lot of times when it comes to organizing around particular issues, it’s usually white locals who are the ones advocating on behalf of black and brown people. This is different because it’s actually black and brown people, and white people, who are coming together to support each other.”

Keeping It Moving: #HOODIESUP

Like the Dream Defenders, Daniel Maree, founder of the Million Hoodies Movement for Justice, realizes the propensity for change requires a dedicated, creative commitment.  Maree began his organization following Martin’s slaying in 2012. With it, he organized an Internet campaign and marches in multiple cities across the country, drawing 50,000 people and even more around the world.

On July 31, Maree received a VH1 Do Something Award and $100,000 grant, which he intends to use to grow membership, continue fighting for gun control and civil rights, monitor police misconduct, and push for a national plan of action against racial discrimination.  “Justice in individual cases is important,” Maree explains to theGrio. “At the end of the day, you have to recognize that this is an institutional issue that’s only really going to be effectively changed through hardcore legislation, advocacy, grassroots mobilization and culture shifting through the use of creative technology.”

From the outset, Maree capitalized upon social media to forward his call to action, transforming ideology surrounding the hoodie from criminality to solidarity, from danger to power.  Accordingly, Maree criticizes those in the media like Geraldo Rivera and Don Lemon, who’ve attributed racial disharmony to peripheral actions such as wearing hoodies or sagging pants and using the n-word. He says these opinions shift focus from the root of the problem.

In particular, Maree feels Lemon’s recent statements on CNN’s No Talking Points were “inappropriate” and ill timed.

“It’s irresponsible for Don Lemon to say those things as a national TV host and, frankly, as an African-American,” says the activist. “[His statements] take the stance that to be an African-American, or black culture itself is somehow devious. It reflects the comments that Bill O’Reilly and Geraldo Rivera have made, which essentially are blaming the victim.”

On the same lines, Maree refutes the idea that hip-hop idealism, style and demeanor negatively alter the fate of youth.  “You have to go much deeper than that,” he observes. “You have to start looking at how those drugs and guns got into our inner cities, at Iran-Contra and Ronald Reagan; you have to look at the War on Drugs. Because this didn’t happen overnight. Our neighborhoods didn’t just all the sudden have the highest gun violence rates. The 1980s, the drug wars, that was a systematic perpetration by the U.S. government on the inner cities. Those are the things nobody’s really talking about when they start talking about black-on-black crime.”

United They Stand: #ANEWREVOLUTION

Along with Maree, Taylor, and the legions of youth fighting for Martin stands Michael Skolnik, Editor-in-Chief of the GlobalGrind and board member of the Trayvon Martin Foundation.  Skolnik has been active in Martin’s story since day one, employing various platforms to generate discussions on social inequities.

“Daniel’s a hero…the Dream Defenders are heroes,” Skolnik tells theGrio. “These young people have moved masses. If you say the name Travyon Martin, 90 percent of the country will know who that is. The fact that a young black kid, that his memory is part of the American vocabulary, sadly, that’s a great direction. We at least have a certain amount of empathy for a young black kid who dies.”  Skolnik faced Lemon on air to counter the host’s arguments that the African-American experience would be improved by refining its image, and contends that supporting young people means accepting their attitude and their role.

“Young people have always been rebellious and that’s the beauty of them,” he says. “Whether you have your pants sagging, or you use the n-word, or you’re rebellious and you don’t listen to authority all the time, embrace young people. Don’t tell them that’s the problem of their culture and that’s why they’re violent.”

“If you want to talk about issues in the black community, let’s have a conversation [about] prisons, reading levels, education, closing schools in Chicago and opening up more prisons, incompetent health care,” he adds. “I’m not interested in talking to Don Lemon about sagging pants. I sagged my pants, Justin Bieber sags his pants, Mark Zuckerberg wears hoodies. Let’s not say that black kids can’t do it, but white kids can.”

Rather than argue semantics, Skolnik believes in focusing on a unified cause.  With the Trayvon Martin Foundation, his goal is to empower families affected by violence in order to create a “ripple effect,” which will prevent repeat occurrences.  Additionally, he aims to spark dialogue establishing that one citizen’s problems are every citizen’s problems; the nation works as a whole and success depends on the sum of its parts.

“Until we have an understanding as a nation, as members of different races and different communities, then yes, certainly, we’ll have discussions of sagging pants and the n-word because that’s a lot easier,” Skolnik remarks. “It probably sells more ratings on TV shows because white people love, love, love to watch black people fight over that. I know that game because I’m white. I hear what white people say behind closed doors.”

An ongoing project: #CANTSTOPWONTSTOP

Meanwhile, young people are marching to beats and rhymes as they take steps to change laws and better the path for those who follow.  Beyond the Dream Defenders, Trayvon Martin Foundation, and Million Hoodies Movement, other groups, both local and national, have emerged to support the cause, including GLAADMan Up, thePeople’s Organization for Progress, and the We Are Not Trayvon Martin campaign.  Next for Maree, the Million Hoodies crusade will march again on Washington in September, coinciding with a virtual campaign to include activists around the world.

The Dream Defenders maintain their ground, waiting for the day when they will achieve justice for their fallen peers.  As Taylor points out, it’s the extension of a movement that began long ago.  “We’re not some random kids that came to the Capitol to disrupt the everyday flow of things,” she adds. “We’ve been reading and researching and analyzing and figuring out what’s the best way to go about doing what we’re doing. And a lot of that comes from strategies that were implemented by the NAACP and those civil rights movements from the 1940s and 1970s.” 


Surrounding these factions, an industry has been built to further awareness through merchandise sales, which benefit the foundations.  Though commercial elements are not always favorable, Maree and Skolnik express little concern that Martin’s story will become a moneymaking venture.  Maree contends his work in entertainment and media has enabled him to beneficially leverage products, and that he has the backing of the Martin family.  Says Skolnik, when used properly, campaign paraphernalia can make the greatest impression of all.

“The hoodie that Travyon Martin wore, you’ll always remember,” he remarks. “That’s what makes us hip-hop. Our fashion, our style is part of our language and that’s why we’ve been the most powerful youth culture in the history of this country…We make statements with what we wear.”

article by Courtney Garcia via

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