- Voting for most valuable organizing awards is now closed.
Nominee for Most Valuable Organizer
Gabriel Pendas Follow GabeDeLaMancha
Organization: Dream Defenders
How the nominee exhibited innovation
In the aftermath of the Trayvon Martin tragedy, Gabriel Pendas knew something had to be done to change the racial dynamics at play in the state of Florida and across the country. He, along with students from across the state, put together a three day march from Daytona Beach to Sanford, Florida. Upon getting to Sanford, Gabe realized the power dynamics had to be changed. The youth who had marched locked arms, in solidarity, in front of the Sanford Police Department in an act of civil disobedience. The "Dream Defenders" had a list of demands including the arrest of George Zimmerman, Sanford Police Chief Bill Lee's resignation, and the creation of a community board to oversee the SPD. In response, the Sanford police station shut down for the day and police leaders immediately went into negotiation. The Justice Department phoned the "Dream Defenders" and informed them Zimmerman was to be arrested in 48 hours. Additionally, Police chief Lee stepped down and now Sanford has put in place a community controlled board overseeing police actions.
How the nominee exhibited respect
Gabriel helped foster an inclusive and diverse environment in Dream Defenders in which students from different backgrounds can come together and move forward a program of empowerment for our respective communities.
How the nominee exhibited courage
Gabriel put his job as a union organizer on the line to organize the Dream march. After organizing around the Martin Lee Anderson tragedy as a student at FSU, Gabriel immensely felt the impact of the Trayvon shooting, as it illustrated the continued tense state of racial dynamics in the state. Risking termination, Gabriel left Miami to organize the march and civil disobedience. Ultimately his risk paid off, a new youth movement called Dream Defenders was formed in the aftermath of the incident. His union realized the importance of an organization uniting communities of color across the state and kickstarted the organization. Since it's inception in March, Dream Defenders has grown and now has active chapters at FSU, FAMU, UF, FIU, UCF, USF, MDC, and Polk County, actively organizing against the criminalization of youth, fighting the prison-industrial complex, and advocating for education as a universal right.
How the nominee exhibited excellence
Gabriel's story of self stands as an inspiration to many joining the organization. He has inspired youth, who have never been activists or even politically inclined, to come into the organization and fight on the issues relevant to our communities. He has agitated many Dream Defenders in challenging us to be better organizers. When 15 Dream Defenders were arrested at the Presidential Debates in an action designed to change the debate in our political and media discourse, Gabriel was right there with the other arrestees.
Without Gabriel Pendas, there would be no Dream Defenders. With his leadership, within months, a sprawling organization uniting black and brown youth across the state was formed. We have now built the structure necessary to develop youth leadership while also directly challenging racial injustice, the prison-industrial complex, and the criminalization of minority communities.
Nominee's Personal Statement
- We're working every day to build long term power for our communities in Florida. Our vision is to unite and develop youth and students of color to lead the way in the fight against the criminilization and mass incarceration of many of us, of entire generations of our families, and of so many of our neighborhoods. Like Martin Luther King Jr. did, and millions of undocumented youth in this country do, we're ready to defend our dreams. Proud to be a Dream Defender, and blessed to be surrounded by such a powerful group of world changers.
Submitted By Curtis Hierro
- Relationship to Nominee: I organized with him
- Follow CurtisHierro