Dream Defenders hold Trayvon Martin vigil in West Palm Beach 10 years after his death
The Dream Defenders organized vigils and other commemoration events across Florida to celebrate the life of Trayvon Martin.
Trayvon Martin was shot and killed by a white man in Sanford, Florida, on February 26, 2012. The 17-year-old's shocking death ignited national social justice movements, conversations and protests. In Florida, the Dream Defenders, a statewide coalition of young activists, was formed shortly after.
The man who killed Trayvon was acquitted of all charges in 2013. The Dream Defenders responded to the verdict by gathering at the Florida State Capitol for 31 days in an attempt to repeal the controversial Stand Your Ground law, which the killer used to justify his actions.
Ten years later, the Dream Defenders’ mission has expanded significantly as thousands of youth have joined their cause, advocating for social change in Florida.
Different Dream Defenders "Squadds" organized events across the state Saturday to celebrate and remember Trayvon Martin’s life. One of those commemorations was at Deher Park in West Palm Beach.
Joi Ada Williams is the South Florida Regional Organizer who led the vigil. A small group of supporters joined her as they recalled where they were when they first heard about Trayvon’s death. Williams was a 15-year-old living in Birmingham, Alabama.
“I feel like that was the moment where I just decided like, this can't go on, this can't happen,” Williams said.
She joined Dream Defenders a year ago after hearing about it at a voting rights event in Georgia. Williams was encouraged to join after learning the group’s ideologies for freedom. She also loved who founded the Dream Defenders.
“It was just a huge bonus that leadership looked like me,” Williams said. “There were Black women leading the movement and … knowing that this was something built by people in Florida for people in Florida and eventually to impact the entire nation, I just I had to be involved.”
Samantha Malone, a student at Florida Atlantic University, was 10 years old when Trayvon was killed.
“It just kind of made me a little more hesitant to go outside and play at night sometimes, or hang out with friends who may not necessarily look like me because I could be picked out of a crowd easier,” Malone said. “It just made a young girl kind of grow up a little bit and understand life a little more.”
The West Palm Beach Dream Defenders painted uplifting words on a canvas that featured Trayvon’s face underneath a hoodie. He was wearing a hoodie when he was killed. Some of those words included, “The fight is not over,” “You deserved to live,” and “We love you.”
Crystal McDougle is a graduate student studying social work at FAU. She plans to use her degree to pursue social justice.
McDougle painted the phrase, “As within, so without,” on the canvas. It’s a quote she uses to remind herself that despite the external opposition she faces, what really matters is what’s inside.
“If Trayvon Martin was here today, that's something that I would tell him,” McDougle said. “‘As within,’ you have everything with inside you. ‘So without,’ [meaning] yeah, maybe you don't have systems that support you, or maybe you don't have the state or the government that you need to support you, but you have yourself and you have all of us.”
Williams and her fellow supporters say that not much social justice has occurred over the last decade since Martin was killed, but they’ll keep fighting for the freedoms of the oppressed.
“It's important for us to continue to have events," Williams said, "to remind us of where we were, where we are, and what it is that we need to do to continue to move forward to be a better Florida.”