Dream Defender reflects on growing up black in Florida

AP Photo/Phil Sears
AP Photo/Phil Sears
Phil Sears

The Dream Defenders, for which I’m a chapter president at my university, is a human rights organization directed by black and brown youth who confront systemic inequalities through building our collective power. Our current residence? The Florida Capitol.

What some have called a sit-in, a protest, or even an occupation, we call a Dream-In. We have been at the Capitol for one week. We’ll be here until Gov. Rick Scott, who met with us on the third day of our protest, calls a special session of the legislature to pass Trayvon’s Law–a measure that would seek to ameliorate the environment that led to Trayvon Martin’s shooting death 17 months ago: the racial profiling of black and brown people, the school-to-prison pipeline, and “shoot first” laws like Stand Your Ground.

When talking on the issue of being profiled, we have to be honest. This isn’t just some vague, unclear terminology. This isn’t just something for folks to believe or not to believe in. This is what we face on a daily basis.

I grew up in Kissimmee in central Florida, not far from Sanford. I was not bothered too much by race and the color of my skin until my family moved to Davenport in Polk County Florida. I am the daughter of two Cape Verdean immigrants, but was raised by a Cape Verdean woman, and a man who was first-generation American.

Being a first-generation American came with an interesting set of experiences in black America. I was not accepted as black by my black peers, but was the darkest-skinned person in my family and I always knew that. When we moved to Polk County when I was 16, I immediately began to notice the difference between races in each city and county. My parents were very happy and proud that we finally moved into this beautiful gated community. In Polk County, however, there is a heavy burden weighing on the shoulders of black and brown people. We’ve moved twice since we’ve been here and lived in three different communities, all in which I’ve been racially profiled by police.

After speaking to Gov. Scott last week about my experiences and how it was growing up a black youth profiled in Florida, I felt like a shift was occurring. It wasn’t that he had heard me or any of my fellow Defenders. It wasn’t that he understood or empathized with being black in America.  It was that he was forced to agree to even having to discuss it in the first place.

President Obama told his story of experiencing racial profiling the very next day. I was engaged in a historical moment. This week, we are mobilizing students and community from New York, Boston, Philadelphia, and throughout the state of Florida. We have high expectations. Florida, America, and the world should expect good things.

Melanie Andrade is the Florida A&M University chapter president of the Dream Defenders, and joined host Melissa Harris-Perry for a panel on “growing up Trayvon” last Sunday. See video below.