Dream Defenders

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Rachel Gilmer

Chief of Strategy

Rachel Gilmer is a Black feminist organizer with over 10 years of experience in advocacy, programs, leadership development, research and writing on issues of racial and social justice. In July 2015, Rachel joined the Dream Defenders as the Chief of Strategy. Rachel graduated from Vassar College in 2010 with a degree in American Culture and Africana Studies. As a fourth year student, she received an award for her thesis, a critical analysis of the rise of Barack Obama as both an emerging hero of the African Diaspora and the new face of American hegemonic power. While researching the project, she received a grant to conduct fieldwork in France, where she worked with various civil rights organizations in Paris, studying the impact his presidency has had on Black French people’s view of themselves and America. In addition, Rachel is a graduate of the Politicorps fellowship, an intensive political leadership program, the Western Institute for Leadership Development and Emerge, a national program designed to prepare women to run for elected office. Prior to this role, Rachel organized on issues of racial and social justice in a variety of settings, including schools, prisons, community based organizations and government. Most recently, she served as Director of Leadership for the Portland African American Leadership Forum where she founded a leadership development program focused on creating and supporting young, radical Black leaders and an anti-gentrification campaign, that resulted in the allotment of $20 million additional towards affordable housing in one of Portland's most rapidly gentrifying neighborhoods.


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Jonel Edwards

Lead Organizer

Jonel Edwards, 24, serves as the Dream Defenders’ Youth Engagement Director and Lead Organizer. She currently lives in Miramar, FL. Jonel is a graduate of the University of Florida where she graduated with a bachelor's degree in Political Science. While attending UF, Jonel was heavily engage in campus activism. While on campus, Jonel served as the President, Political Action Chair and Volunteer Coordinator for the Gator Chapter of the NAACP and Vice President for the Dream Defenders’ UF Chapter. She also worked for the Southern Poverty Law Center, where she participated in the Florida Campaign for Juvenile Justice advocating for the removal of zero-tolerance type policies in Florida schools. As Charles Cobb once said, “Schools as institutions [are] part of the apparatus of oppression.” Therefore, Jonel’s activism is rooted in the fundamental duty to develop the power of young people to defend their right to determine their destinies through taking ownership over their education, their history, and their communities.  


umi.pngUmi Selah

Mission Director

Umi Selah, a native of Chicago, Ill., and co-founder of the Dream Defenders. He found his voice as one of today’s most prolific community activists while a student at FAMU. In addition to serving as student body president from 2006-2007, a student member of the Board of Trustees, and the co-chair of the University’s Vote Coalition, he was recognized as a national IMPACT Leader and as one of the top student leaders in the nation by the Diversity Leadership Conference. In 2008, he was honored with the University’s prestigious Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Student Leadership Award. Umi emerged as a national activist when he helped to organize students from FAMU, Florida State University and Tallahassee Community College in the creation of the Student Coalition for Justice, which was formed in response to the Martin Lee Anderson case. In 2012, he co-founded the Dream Defenders and has been dubbed “one of this generation’s leading voices” and recognized by both EBONY magazine and The Root as one of the 100 most influential African Americans in the nation. His work in community activism has been highlighted internationally, including on MSNBC and in the Huffington Post, USA Today, the Guardian and Democracy Now. Umi is a 2008 graduate of FAMU’s School of Business and Industry and is a member of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc.

 


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Ahmad Abuznaid

Chief Operations Officer

Ahmad Nabil Abuznaid Esq., is a co-founder of the Dream Defenders and currently serving as its Chief Operating Officer, also leading in legal & policy matters. Ahmad was born in East Jerusalem, Palestine. It was there growing up while living under occupation that he first developed his interest in social justice. Ahmad returned to the US for high school and then attended the Florida State University, where he received his bachelors in International Affairs, with a minor in business in 2006. Ahmad later received his JD from the Florida Coastal School of Law in 2011 while receiving pro-bono honors and interning at the International Criminal Court at the Hague, he is a member in good standing of the Florida bar. In 2014 Ahmad advocated before the United Nations Deputy High Commissioner on Human Rights in Geneva, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, the United States Commission on civil rights, and the Congressional Black Caucus foundation conference. He co-authored an article that was published in the University of Miami Law Review titled: “Stand Your Ground” Laws: International Human Rights Law Implications." Ahmad has been passionate about exploring and uplifting the intersectional work between black & Palestinian liberation, which continues to be a focal point of his work.


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Ciara Taylor

Director of Political Consciousness

Ciara Taylor is a founding member of the Dream Defenders and currently serves as the organization's Director of Political Consciousness. In this role, she is responsible for developing and executing the Dream Defenders' statewide political educational and leadership development programming. Her philosophical approach to this work is grounded in the words of Kwame Toure, "Our task is not to teach the unconscious to be conscious but to make them conscious of their unconscious behavior." Ciara is working with the Dream Defenders to forge a new path of political education and engagement by infusing accurate understandings of history, identity and the necessity of our collective healing and “rehumanization” from the traumas of systemic oppressions.

 

 


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Steven Pargett

Director of Communications and Culture

Steven Pargett is the Director of Communications and Culture for the Dream Defenders, a Florida based, youth of color led organization that confronts the criminalization of black and brown communities. The passion underlying his creative and culturally deft work lies at the intersection of the education that communities of color need for liberation and the urban culture that’s woven into the social and linguistic fabric of a whole generation. He is a 26-year-old native of Los Angeles, California, who initially came to Florida to study Public Relations and Psychology at Florida A&M University. His work since dropping out his senior year reflects the marriage of those two disciplines through its grounding in human understanding and a sincere desire to use strategically effective means to spread the principles of social justice and human rights. He seeks to use his expanding platform and diverse skill-set in strategic digital communications, design, and film to collaborate on creative projects that challenge conceptions about young people of color, highlight issues of criminalization and ultimately redefine what it means to be human.

 

 


 

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Elizabeth Marie Taveras

Kairos Fellow - Communications

Elizabeth Marie Taveras is Cuban-Dominican and a Miami native. She uses the pronouns she, her, hers, ella. She attends the Florida International University School of Journalism and is in the Digital Media Studies program, with a concentration in Political Science. Over the past five years, Liz has been active in the fight for justice on issues around permaculture, climate change, prison divestment, gender equality, feminisim, and justice for Palestine. She served as an Americorp Public Ally at the Florida Immigrant Coalition as a communications associate for over 2 years and worked on campaigns around immigrant justice, citizenship, and Obama’s executive order on DAPA and DACA expansion. She has since joined the Kairos Fellowship program, a program designed to address the racial disparity that exists within the digital movement, as a digital campaigner of color and works on the communications team at Dream Defenders. Liz is deeply invested in the communities that makeup this magic city and believes in the power of personal narratives to transform the world.

Ian Mann

Kairos Fellow - Communications 

 

Ian Mann is a Freelance Artist based in South Florida. He has been a violinist for over 20 years as well as a visual artist in the focus of film and graphic design for 5 years. His love for music and the arts is a central part of his work towards ending systemic oppression on Black Lives and humanity as a whole. While attending FAU, Ian helped charter Progressive Black Men, Inc., a national community service organization. He served as its first president and membership chair from 2012-2014. Since 2012, The FAU chapter has grown from 8 members to 45. Since chartering PBM FAU, Ian has provided mentorship, guidance and support to many of the men in the organization who have gone on to graduate, hold leadership positions at the university and in their professions, as well as create their own businesses. In the past two years, he has worked to use art as a means to lead a cultural shift that makes the current movement for Black Lives less of a phenomenon and more of a everyday conversation and part of our lives. Ian Mann directed a short film during the 48 Hour Film Festival in Miami and was also Director of Photography for a short film produced by The Creative Mind Group at the 2015 Toronto International Film Festival. He is currently a KAIROS Fellow, using his passion for the arts, music and Black Culture, mixed with digital marketing and strategy to further the movement and work with the Dream Defenders.