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Rachel Gilmer

Co-Director

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

Membership and Education Director

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.  

 


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Phillip Agnew

Co-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.