Dream Defender Founder Protests Youth Being Treated as Cash Crops in School to Prison Pipeline

Phillip Agnew
The Escambia County Democratic Executive Committee (DEC) held a fundraiser on Sunday March 30th at the Five Sisters Restaurant in the Historic Belmont and DeVilliers Business District. The guest speaker for the event was Philip Agnew of the Dream Defenders, preceded by Democratic candidates Ellison Bennett, and Laura Elder for the School Board Mike District 3, Mike Lowery who is running for County Commission District 4 and Ray Guillory competing in County Commission District 2. All candidates shared their platforms and updates on their campaigns.

Samantha Herring, Democratic State Committeewoman from Walton County introduced Philip Agnew, Founder of the Dream Defenders who when he took the microphone he immediately thanked Cassandra McAway, DEC Chair; Dianne Krumel, President of the Democratic Women’s Club; and Samantha Herring.

Agnew, born and raised in Chicago, described a childhood of challenges that embedded in him the desire to succeed in obtaining an education and never experiencing poverty as an adult. He went on to attend Florida A & M seeking a degree in business and became Student Government Vice-President and pledged Alpha Phi Alpha. He described a life in college where he felt all of his goals were being achieved until one day he was shocked into reality of the world around him when he was shown a video of the correctional guards at the Panama City Juvenile Facility beating Martin Lee Anderson to death. Tallahassee Attorney Darrell Parks shared that video with the younger Agnew and he challenged him to get involved in the process of civic engagement for concrete change.

Change came when Rev. Jessie Jackson and Rev. Al Sharpton joined in with the voices and protests of students and civil rights organizations on conditions in the juvenile facilities. However, the guards were eventually exonerated and the juvenile facilities reopened under new names. Never forgetting that experience, the founder of the Dream Defenders saw his life change forever when Trayvon Martin was shot and killed by George Zimmerman. Now with the challenge by Attorney Parks evolving into a relationship of commitment for systemic change the Dream Defenders were born.

Philip Agnew spoke with the conviction of a seasoned community organizer, an experienced politician, and impassioned preacher when he described the school to prison pipeline as using low-income and minority youth as products for corporate wealth when he stated, “the system in this state and this country allows our children to be used as cash crops” when felony convictions lock them in a perpetual cycle of employment, housing, and voter discrimination.

Agnew received a rousing applause and standing ovation from those in attendance and was congratulated and approached for additional information on the Dream Defenders after the speech.

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