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A Black Activist Group in Florida Aims to Inspire Black Voters With Incredibly Chilling Ad

The Dream Defenders, a Florida-based student activist group, has launched a chilling and provocative ad campaign, called #VestorVote, that calls the public’s attention to the specter of violence and police brutality that Black and brown young people face if more communities of color don’t vote on Nov. 4 and engage in the political process.

The campaign features a short, moving black-and-white video and also a website and billboards with a common theme: a bulletproof vest for youth that parents can purchase for their children to wear when they leave the house. At the website for the Dream Defenders, the Dream Vest for Youth appears to be on sale for $149, with an ad featuring a gorgeous young boy modeling a black bulletproof vest and wearing a happy smile with his arms outstretched.

“No one wants to live in a world where bulletproof vests are the norm,” the website says in words that accompany the ad. “Vote on November 4th (and earlier, in Florida and most states), and let’s together take a stand on laws, like Stand Your Ground, that create fear and insecurity in our communities. Show your support by sharing the video using the hashtag #VestOrVote.”

In the black-and-white commercial, a mother persuades her reluctant son to wear the bulletproof vest to school with the plea: “I need to know that when I’m at work, you’re going to be safe,” she says to him, as he looks at her skeptically. “Do it for me.”

“Alright Mom, I’ll do it for you,” he finally says.

After she snaps the vest into place and kisses him on the foreword, voiceovers start playing the audio from TV reports of recent shootings of young Black men, such as Trayvon Martin and Oscar Grant. These words then appear on a black screen: “Every 28 hours an African-American is killed by a police officer, security guard or vigilante. No parent in America should have to put their child in a bulletproof vest.”

Ciara Taylor, the political director for the Dream Defenders, said the ads are meant to immediately grab the public’s attention.

“Our campaign is meant to be provocative, meant to be chilling, meant to wake people up,” she said in an interview with “Although it seems like a big exaggeration about the importance of voting, it really isn’t. It’s a warning about what can happen in the future if the Black community doesn’t pay attention to politics and the way it affects our lives. It’s not the end all or the be all, it won’t solve all the conflicts in our community, but it’s a great start. It’s an important action we can take as citizens to be politically engaged in this process.”

The Dream Defenders was started two years ago by about 40 African-American college students and recent alumni from colleges across Florida after Trayvon Martin was killed and George Zimmerman still hadn’t been arrested. The group says it is dedicated to fighting against systemic racism and the oppression of Black and brown people.

The group recently got a big boost in its national exposure when a video went viral of the Dream Defenders Executive Director Phillip Agnew brilliantly schooling a white man during a PBS special about the insidiousness of systemic racism.

Taylor said that after the Defenders’ communications director Steven J. Pargett came up with the idea for the bulletproof vest commercial, Agnew created the #VestorVote hashtag, paying homage to Malcolm X’s “ballot or bullet” speech.

“It’s definitely satire — there isn’t an actual vest we’re selling,” Taylor said, though she pointed out that she has already seen tweets from parents saying they would buy one for their children. “That’s the extent parents in our communities are willing to go to protect their children. This is intended for communities of color living in fear in their own neighborhoods. It’s a campaign about voting, but it’s also about the desire for our communities to protect our future, which is our kids — who are being targeted, physically and mentally, with stand your ground, police brutality, the school to prison pipeline. We wanted to send a shock to the public that we have to really take charge this year. We have to go to the ballot box.”

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dream defenders vest or vote billboard

What people are saying

10 thoughts on “A Black Activist Group in Florida Aims to Inspire Black Voters With Incredibly Chilling Ad

  1. Who is in charge of this project, blacks or white? Folks come on now, give me a break, I hope there is something I am missing. On the billboard, the child looks like a girl with blond hair, the picture does not look like a black boy. Here we go again, people laughing at us. I would rather be wrong, but what point are they making of a child with blond hair and obviously the child should be a boy.

  2. Kevin Schmidt says:

    "It was put together by one volunteer researcher and details 313 deaths based on news clips and police reports. It arrives at one death "every 28 hours" by dividing the number of hours in a year, 8,760, by the number of deaths, 313."

    "CDC data supports the claim. Out of all causes of death, homicide claimed about 40 percent of black lives between 15 and 34 years. This was significantly higher than the national average for males of that age group, and all other racial groups."

    Too bad you didn't read the article to the link you posted. Then you would not have made such a fool out of yourself by making a fake claim. Obviously, it is you who is doing the race bating.

  3. Umm, hair can be dyed, and boys can wear it long. But more to the point, did you watch the video?

  4. Brad Bergstrom No I did not, I was turned off by the picture on the billboard. This is about black men getting shot down, not little kids like this, you are going to traumatize the children. It has not gotten this bad yet, and I hope not. Sorry about my opinion, but please take it as constructive criticism. I am going to be here to support blacks project to help the cause, but I believe the billboard is over the top.

  5. Kevin Schmidt If you click the name of the person you are responding to, the person will know you are responding to them, I assumed you are responding to me, and I would like to know, how would reading the article would have changed my opinion? What fake claim have I made? I believe we can or should be civilized, and discuss our differences without the name calling. Hey look, this is my opinion, if it is not worth anything throw it out, move on, we have many more problems we can spend the energy on, instead of name calling. I am done with it.

  6. Shawn Jay says:

    So… It makes a difference in your mind whether its a black man, or a black child…there are plenty of black children that have died from the actions spoken about. a 16 year old may seem like a black adult to you, but, trust me, they are children and teenagers, and the billboard, from the eyes of a black person, is as true as can be.

  7. Kevin Schmidt says:

    Nzingha Shabaka I know how to reply (not respond) correctly, and I was not replying to your comment. Did you even bother to read Washington Open Carry Whatcom County's comment? If you had, then you would have seen my reply was in context with that comment.

  8. Kevin Schmidt says:

    Nzingha Shabaka If you did not watch the video, then you are jumping to conclusions and commenting in ignorance. You did that with my comment too. When will you learn everything in the universe is not what you expect it to be? The world does not revolve around you.

  9. Kevin Schmidt Why don't you keep working on you project, and stop concentrating on an opinion I have. What makes you think, I think the world revolves around me? Do not answer, because you have nothing to use to answer the question, your response will be utter nonsense. Seriously, I cannot believe you folks are attacking me because of an opinion I have. You attacked a few days ago, and now you are back at it. Please stop wasting my time. Last response.

  10. Francis Hurley says:

    Kevin Schmidt maybe you should check cdc facts 95% of black murders are committed by other black people. Guess that tells about them.

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