We Who Believe in Freedom Reflection

By: Jasmen Rogers

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[Pictured: Folks listening to opening speeches and safety announcements before the action.]

About a month ago, I found myself feeling extremely despondent about our local and national “movement” for Black lives. I felt like we were putting in countless, unpaid hours and not really reaping any significant changes for our local communities. That feeling amplified when my father had an accident and had to have emergency brain surgery. Nothing else mattered at that time. I swore off movement until he got better and until I could figure out where I could best contribute my time toward tangible change.

At 6:30am on July 6th, a friend of mine sent me a text about the brutal shooting death of Alton Sterling. She told me about the graphic video and how he died, defenseless, at the hands of multiple officers. I refused to watch the video for the sake of my own sanity, but quickly looked at the hashtag (#AltonSterling) and came across a picture of him with three of his kids. He looked happy. Smiling. And at that moment, I couldn’t take it anymore. I said out loud “it’s too early for this shit” and ran to hide my tears in the shower. I was devastated over the death of a man that was a stranger to me and millions of others, but when I looked at his picture, I saw my father; I saw my partner’s father; I saw my future with my partner. I saw that being black, we’re all so dangerously close to death by cops.

That day, I cried more than I have in a long time. And I just couldn’t stop tears from flowing. I couldn’t stop being scared for everyone I knew in my life. I kept asking myself “how are we supposed to live like this,” and “why won’t they stop killing us,” and of course another level of trauma in it all is, no one has the answers. No one really knew how we were supposed to crawl out of our beds and head to corporate jobs filled with white folks that live in an alternate reality. No one really knew how we would console each other or other strangers that we could see were feeling what we felt. I didn’t know what to do when Black mothers were calling, wailing, and asking me what they were supposed to tell their children. I didn’t know what to say to the mother of Michael Wilson Jr (whose son was just murdered by Hallandale Police Department one month ago) when she kept saying “I just don’t understand, why does this keep happening.” But we all just, somehow, pulled ourselves together enough to make it through that day.

The next day we woke up to the news and video of the execution of Philando Castile. Again, I refused to watch the savage killing of another black man at the hands of police. My soul couldn’t take it anymore. And once again, it was “too early for this shit.”

It was then that calls, texts, and messages started pouring in to several of us. “What are we gonna do.” “When are we marching.” “Do you all have anything planned.” It’s safe to say we were all hesitant. What was ANOTHER march going to accomplish in Broward County, where police just killed Michael Eugene Wilson Jr,  a black man, just over a month ago. What good would it do to shut down streets for a few hours and then go back to a sham of a life the next day.

Then Tifanny Burks, fellow comrade, sent me an email with her reflection on her feelings after watching Alton and Philando die on camera. She knew she had to do something. We knew we couldn’t do nothing. So, we made a Facebook event page, called an emergency meeting, and the rest has become Broward County history.

We anticipated a turnout of about 200 angry and anxious people, a heavy police presence, and very little idea of what this would accomplish. But what we got far exceeded our expectations. People arrived en masse with water, coolers, and ice. Children and adults were busying themselves with making signs, decrying the current state of policing in this country. Old friends reunited and new friendships were formed. That day, over 600 people of all races, ages, religions, sexualities, heritages, and genders made a decision to stand together against police violence in our community.  

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We stopped by the Broward County Jail, standing in solidarity with our comrades inside. Letting them know they are not invisible and they are not alone. We had the power in front of that jail. We felt invincible, and the folks inside heard our cries for justice. They began banging on windows and waving at the crowd, causing so many to become emotional.

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[Pictured: Us outside of the Jail standing on solidarity as they heard us chanting for them.]

It was in those moments that I remember why we march. It may not end all of our problems in this “imperialist, white supremacist, capitalist, patriarchal” society, but right then, we were all we had. We were there to support each other. We stood together. And it’s in times like these, as unfortunate as they may be, that we build community. People see the power of people working in unison, and feel empowered to do more.

One march changed my life. In December 2014, in the way of the murder of Mike Brown, I was driving to South Florida from Sarasota as I had done many other times before. While en route, I got stuck in horrendous traffic near my parents’ house, which was abnormal. It was only when I got to their house and saw the news, that I realized that a group of people took over a major highway in Miami, demanding an end to state-sanctioned violence. In that moment, I felt more than inspired. I knew I wanted to be a part of whatever that was.

The next day, I went to a march in Ft. Lauderdale, and the next day I was at a march in Miami. Then two weeks later, I found myself arrested at another march in Ft. Lauderdale. I found myself quickly enmeshed in the growing movement in Broward County that was being led by the Dream Defenders.

That first march, that led to many more marches, and so many new friends, prompted my move back to South Florida (despite every feeling that I had that I would never move back home); it was what gained me employment organizing other marginalized groups of people; it was what brought me and my partner together, and has kept us together; it inspired my sister to be involved and take more interest in her own blackness;, and it has made me feel at home. One march literally changed the entire trajectory of my life.

This is why we march. We do it for the community. Because if we can change a few lives by just showing up and refusing to stay silent, while also building and growing in our neighborhoods, one day, Broward County will never be the same. We will hold the power and influence over what happens in our community.
As I looked across the bridge filled with people bubbling over with righteous anger, it was then I knew, in the words our illustrious, Kendrick Lamar, “we gon’ be alright.”

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Reflection Piece on the MLK/ Malcolm X Debate

By: Doriane Sarrazin (Community Member/ Co-founder of M.A.R.K. Inc.

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As a board member and co-founder for M.A.R.K. Inc. which is an acronym for My Act of Random Kindness, I had the opportunity to attend Dream Defenders’s event Martin Luther King vs Malcom X: Who will lead us to he future? Listening to the panelist go over key points for these historic figures on how their upbringings brought about their approach on inequality in the United States made me appreciate even more the fact that today as young adults, we can continue to strive for change. The audience was extremely interactive and gave feedback and ideas on how It is imperative that we utilize both MLK and Malcolm’s theologies and decide which ones we can incorporate in our society to promote change. Thank you Dream Defenders for a phenomenal discussion! Continue to uplift the community.

***Be sure to attend their event Meals for Those in Need July 9th 11:30am- 1:30pm at 4340 NW 36th Street, Lauderdale Lakes, FL, 33319 as they feed the homeless and/ or those who are in need.***

A Personal Reflection

By: India Ferguson (Community member/ DD Supporter)

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Being in new social situations usually feels like i’m sitting alone in an empty movie theater. In this feature, I was watching five men debate the political ideologies of Malcolm X and Dr. Martin Luther King, I watched tensions fume from disagreement, and I watched the organizers help diffuse anger with love. Towards the ends of the debate, a young man in the audience frustratedly stood up and said, “we can sit here like a news team to talk about these problems but what about action?” An older man a couple seats ahead of him also stood up in agreement which led to further discussions about the fight towards black liberation, derailing from the topic at hand, and where empowerment and solutions meet reality.

Most of what I’ve learned about social activism and racial justice has been through essays from people living cities, states, and countries away from me. i wanted to be a part of conversations about black history and racial justice in a more vulnerable setting rather than only typing the right words in the correct grammatical way to get my message to people miles away from me. I want to engage, collaborate, laugh, and debate with those around me.

Basically, I needed to get out more.

Attending a community debate in my area was the first experience I’ve had being apart of a space in which I saw how grassroots organizers gather people, diffuse conflicts between the guests while also physically + emotionally opening space to uplift and empower each person who came out.

The only way to my activism goals is leave the empty movie theater and realize i’m a part of the script. Ever since I left the debate, i’ve been using the momentum and inspiration I felt to actively listen more, write more, and get out more.

Reflections of an Introverted Social Activist at the Debates

By: Alexis Hyatt

It’s somewhere around 4pm and last minute obligations are speeding up the pace of time as my anxiety rises in the process. The day is Thursday, June 30th and tonight is our monthly community debates in our adopted neighborhood of Sistrunk. Jodi, Ian, and I had stomped the pavements the day prior reminding folks that our events of the month are coming up; community debates on Thursday followed by our movie nights on Friday (always held the last Thursday and Friday of the month). We were met with unopened doors, faces revealed through parted blinds, familiar faces, deaf nods, wrinkled curious brows, lips that formed smiles,and blatant no’s; all what’s the be expected while canvassing. The highlight of the canvassing trip was meeting Jared who was walking his dog with a friend. What started out as casual conversation promoting the event, turned into conversations about his experiences and those he’s witnessed in Sistrunk the couple of years that he’s been living there. He was enthusiastic to see Ian with a camera and his excitement showed through the outreach of his arms as he said “Ayo, you film documentaries?!” During conversation, we found out that Jared had been wanting to shoot a documentary on his life and, right there, found Ian to be the perfect person to make his vision come to life. I’ll say that canvassing isn’t easy, but coming across one person like Jared makes it worthwhile. That conversation is what I used to measure the success of the footwork that day.

Prepping for the debates the day of consisted of hoping that the rain would let up in time and me no longer fighting the course of nature by allowing sleep to reclaim its role in providing energy. It was a long night prior as we celebrated the birthday of our SquaDD member, Stephen. In and out of sleep, there had been talks of food for the event, yet, the plan to get food didn’t fall through. Familial and person woes have hit us recently and redirected what we view to be priority in our lives. Yet and still, through those woes, we all managed to show up for our event. I will have to agree with Miss Ruby when she got up at the end of the debates and called us out and called us in by saying, “Although there wasn’t food, there should’ve been water”, so for that, we apologize. You right, Miss Ruby, you right (hahahah!).

Another more personal prep was me convincing myself that Asa forgot that I kinda sorta agreed to MC. I wouldn’t say that I’m terrified of public speaking, but anxiety does tend to get the best of me from time to time. As Dream Defenders, we know our history, we know our purpose, yet and still, it doesn’t prevent us from getting tongue tied. The issue for me is making sure that I don’t explain it in a way that leaves out key points of who we are and what we do. I feel like as an organization that’s been misrepresented in media, it puts more pressure on us to correct those false narratives and allow folks to see and get to know who we really are.

My hopes of Asa forgetting failed to manifest as he approaches me and says, “So, you kickin’ us off right?”. I let out of laugh as I thought to myself, “Oh gosh, he remembered” and said “SURE! Absolutely no problem.”, with a hint of sarcasm. I knew Asa picked up on the sarcasm because he gave me a side eye and laughed and proceeded giving me the general outline of what to say. I’ve done it before, but it always helps to get those reminders from your comrades. Needless to say, I managed to not freeze at the mic lol.

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The topic of this debate was comparing the ideologies of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. Nation of Islam (NOI) was there on behalf of Malcolm X. We reached out to Southern Christian Leadership Committee (SCLC) to be there on behalf of Martin, but we weren’t able to get a response.

What I envisioned for the debate was for the panelists to speak and then for there to be an open floor for audience members with questions or comments. That definitely didn’t go as planned as audience members got passionate during the debates and spoke up about their feelings towards both ideologies and needing a solution to the problems our communities face today. The two notable ones were Christopher and Mr. Ottis.

This was the first time Mr. Ottis has attended one of our events, and boy did he leave quite a first impression lol. When community member Christopher spoke up about needing solutions, Mr. Ottis also spoke up. We tried to follow the format of the debates and assured them that there would be time to express themselves, but these are folks that have experienced systematic and societal oppression in their lives. Their thoughts and frustrations have often been silenced and they felt that this was their opportunity to let out their frustrations and say all that they’ve been wanting to say.

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 DD members Asa (left) and Stephen (right) have a talk with Mr. Ottis to understand his grievances. 

Listening to Mr. Ottis reveal to us that he’s fought for this country and has experienced racism throughout his life made me imagine what it would be like to live in his shoes. My imagination, however, couldn’t and wouldn’t be close to reliving his reality. I look forward to talking to Mr. Ottis more. I’m sure he won’t mind. He has a lot of stories to tell. He and Christopher. Christopher has been imprisoned and shared with us his experiences and encouraged us to speak up about injustices that we face. The fact that these men have been through so much and continue to be vocal about it is both encouraging and inspiring. They have a lot of wisdom and it was evident at the debates. I’m glad that the space we created allowed them to share their stories with us.

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Christopher shares a part of his story and calls for solutions to problems our community faces.

I was beyond moved by the feeling of community and family that was felt at the debates. I was especially excited about sixteen year old Jaurice who participated in the debates. I thought back to when I was sixteen and just wish I had twice the courage Jaurice had to participate in community talks and debates. I’ve told him that he’s inspiring, and although he denies it humbly, I’m sure he knows it. When Jaurice got a little tongue tied at one of his talking points, Asa pulled him to the side to help him out. I thought to myself, “It takes a village, and we’re building one”.

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Asa pulls Jaurice to the side to help him out with talking points.

There was active communication in order to solve disagreements that arose, there were people speaking up to have their voices heard, there were folks referring to eachother on a first name basis, kids running around being free and wondrous and magical, people staying throughout the duration of the event, folks networking… I like this community that we’re building; this family that we’re building. The debates is a great talking initiative to spread ideas and promote perspectives within the community we live in. I look forward to more moments like this. And hey, it can cure my anxiety in the process lol.

Be sure to look out for us at the end of this month for our monthly debates and movie nights. Feel free to suggest what movies we should watch and what topics we should debate.

Debates: Thursday 7/28

Movie: Friday 7/29

Location: 808 NW 13th Terrace, Fort Lauderdale, FL, 33311

Under “The Hoods”

It seems that now, more than ever, the once hidden behaviors of our law enforcement officers is coming to light faster than we can keep up with it. Case after case, name after name, we are learning more and more about the deep roots of racism weaving through our government agencies.

The roots of institutionalized racism have long been felt by marginalized groups; and the rest of the country is just now catching up. We have known long before Officer Victor Ramirez shamelessly slapped a homeless man; long before four racist officers made a mock movie trailer with images of black men being attacked by dogs; long before black people were being arrested disproportionately for “biking while black.” We knew.

It took the ex-fiancee of one of the officers to bring to light a disgusting display of disregard for black life within the Ft. Lauderdale Police Department. A Pandora’s box of racism was finally opened. Now others know.

“The Hoods”, a mock movie trailer, included derogatory images of President Obama, of the Klu Klux Klan, and of black men being attacked by police and police canines, among many other disturbing messages. The video was revealed to the Ft. Lauderdale Police Chief in October 2014, and on March 20, 2015, the internal affairs investigation was concluded. Three of the four officers were terminated, and Officer Alvarez, the creator of the video resigned.

Text messages between several officers were also investigated and released. These message included numerous racial slurs, derogatory remarks about Hispanics, and even references to killing black people finding pleasure in chasing suspects.

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The internal affairs investigation was far from comprehensive. And after citing numerous holes and gaps, the Ft. Lauderdale Citizens Review Board recommended that City Manager, Lee Feldman, send the investigation back to internal affairs for further investigation. The City Manager has since refused to conduct any further investigation into the breadth and implications of the racist video on the remainder of the police force and the community itself.

Currently, the three officers that have been terminated have filed an appeal to regain their employment with the Ft. Lauderdale Police Department (FLPD). The appeal will be processed through an “independent” arbitrator, chosen by the police union.

According to Internal Affairs, the officers will retain their law enforcement certification and could legally work anywhere else despite their very obvious discriminatory views. They have stated that the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) does not consider the officers’ behavior to be a “moral character violation,” which would warrant them being stripped of their certifications.

However, according to the FDLE Law Enforcement Ethical Standards of Conduct, “police officers shall perform their duties… without prejudice or discrimination.” It further states, “police officers shall not express, whether by act ,omission or statement, prejudice concerning race, color, creed, religion, national origin, sex, marital status, status with regard to public assistance, disability, sexual orientation or age.”

We know that this problem is not confined to four officers in one local police department. We know that rectifying these issues is a long and hard battle to overturn and revamp a broken, unjust system.

FDLE Ethical Standards clearly states that “diverse communities must have faith in the fairness and impartiality of their police. Police officers must refrain from fostering disharmony in their community…” This seems to be the exact opposite of what these officers — Jason Holding, James Wells, Christopher Sousa, and Alex Alvarez — were doing in the performance of their “duties.”

According to Ft. Lauderdale residents, there is no trust in their police department, and there hasn’t been in some time. They have shared stories of being stalked and harassed by officers. Some even having their homes broken into by police. How can there be trust when behaviors like this go unpunished? When people are traumatized and victimized by those who have been sworn to protect and serve?

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The Broward Squadd of Dream Defenders have also had their own adverse interactions with the FLPD. Officers from FLPD have threatened to shoot members during actions, have arrested members unnecessarily, and have used unnecessary force when dealing with protestors. All the while, being awarded by the City Commission for their behaviors. We ask again, how can there be trust?

The journey will be long, but we have made a pledge to the community to stand with them in seeking justice, transforming their communities, and exposing what’s under “The Hoods”. We have no choice but to fight now for a better future.


Continue to follow us on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram for the latest updates from the community.

The Best Miami Gardens Can Do?

Those armed with the power of the government have repeatedly abused it and continuously oppressed those who possess characteristics different than the desired “norm.” Whether that be gender, race, religion, or sexuality, those who are different or “deviant,” have continuously been criminalized, struck down and brutalized from the streets in our own neighborhoods to the courtrooms in Washington, D.C.

Police brutality is symptomatic of the systemic obsession with power and control. A not-so-new phenomenon occurs under the concept of “law enforcement” which rationalizes the problematic overreach of the bounds of its authority. Overall, reports on what took place between an officer and “suspect” were left up to a crooked police force. Their accounts of interactions and the development of situations oftentimes represent the only tangible evidence of the events that took place. But now, with the prevalence of advanced technology and social media, acts of violence committed by police can be recorded  immediately and shared in a matter of seconds. Now, we have access to multiple versions of these events; now we can gather millions of witness accounts of the blatant ongoing violence of police. And we are all watching.

These systematic abuses of power can no longer go unnoticed.

Sadly, keeping a close watch doesn’t make the problem go away. So, when the violence of the police comes knocking at the door of our own neighborhoods, we have a duty to Stand Up & Fight Back!


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In the early hours of February 15, 2015, Lavall Hall, a 25 year old Black man diagnosed with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder was killed by Miami Gardens Police. Another fallen victim to unexamined abuses of violence and power by those who supposedly are here to protect us. He was having a schizophrenic episode when he exited the home that he shared with his mother and step-mother. Concerned, his mother, Catherine Daniels, attempted to call him back into the home. When he did not return, his mother chose to call law enforcement for assistance–as she had done several times in the past–in an attempt to calm him down and hopefully get him the help he needed. While on the phone with 911 and when police arrived at her home, Mrs. Daniels notified emergency personnel that her son had a mental illness, was having an episode, and was refusing to come back into the home.

Shortly after, Mrs. Daniels heard screeching tires outside of her home when the Miami Gardens Police Department arrived. Later she heard law enforcement officers yelling “we got him!” Thinking that law enforcement would then return to her home with her son to figure out next steps for his treatment, Mrs. Daniels returned to her home. But then she heard five loud, heart stopping gunshots.

Lavall’s body lay on the ground; shot twice by law enforcement, he died on the street, and was then handcuffed.

During a press conference, the former chief of Miami Gardens Police Department, Stephen Johnson, said that Lavall engaged in a physical altercation with his officers and refused to respond to their verbal commands. He confirmed that the officers first tased him twice and that after allegedly continuing to be combative with the officers they chose to take Lavall’s life. Former Chief Johnson reports that his officers did “the best they could do” with handling Lavall in his state of mental incapacitation.

For a long period of time, the Miami Dade State’s Attorney (Katherine Fernandez-Rudle), the Mayor of Miami Gardens (Oliver G. Gilbert III), and the Miami Gardens Police Department were refusing to release the audio and video of what took place that night; despite the former chief stating that the video shows that the shooting is justified. City officials were also refusing to release the autopsy to Lavall’s family, which has caused Ms. Daniels severe emotional stress.

And as yet another victim falls, we must ask ourselves, was this the best our police could do!?

In response, local South Florida Squads of Dream Defenders came together to support the family in the journey to #JusticeForLavall. Through our work as local community and youth organizers, we understand that Lavall Hall was a victim of the systemic issues affecting many people of color throughout South Florida communities as well as the rest of the state. And as Dream Defenders, it is our duty to fight these forms of injustices; for our lives and futures and those of our loved ones, all of which, under this oppressive and violent system, are always at stake. Together with the family of Lavall Hall we consistently raised our voices and demanded that these injustices stop!

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As part of this cry for justice, Dream Defenders developed a campaign aimed at getting Miami Gardens Police Department and the City of Miami Gardens to release the dashboard-cam video that showed the nights’ events. Over the course of one month, community members, family, and local community organizers collected over 1,100 signatures and engaged with the Miami Gardens community in important and necessary conversations about Lavall Hall, mental health, and the use of excessive force by the police. After many hours of canvassing, after multiple actions to raise awareness about the situation plaguing not only Miami Gardens but numerous communities across the nation, and after several visits to Miami Gardens Commission meetings, the Mayor conceded that according to Florida Statute 406.136, Lavall’s mother had an undeniable right to receive the video and audio surrounding her son’s death. Finally, Ms. Catherine Daniels and the rest of the people who love “LaLa” can get some closure. And although this video doesn’t bring “LaLa” back, it provides a path toward justice for his life and an example of justice as part of his legacy.

Despite the biased reports of unjust media and police force, Lavall is remembered as a young man who was full of life, taken much too soon. He graduated from North Miami Beach High School and was getting his life on track. Friends have stated that Lavall was often the one that kept them out of trouble. He had a big heart and wanted the best for everyone around him, especially his daughter.

Overall, Justice for Lavall is a necessity; not only to heal the deep wounds in our communities in Miami Gardens and across the rest of Florida, but a reminder that we must remain forever vigilant, and that we can use our power to bring about the change we want to see in our communities and the rest of the world.