Youth Speakers Snubbed at King Program

Speakers from Dream Defenders and United We Dream were told that they could not address the crowd.

Sophia Campos (YouTube); Phillip Agnew (
Sophia Campos (YouTube); Phillip Agnew (

(The Root) — At least on ceremony, the elders fumbled the passing of the civil rights torch to a new generation as two emergent young leaders were bumped from Wednesday’s program at the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington.

Phil Agnew, of Dream Defenders, and Sofia Campos, of United We Dream, separately were cut from the lineup just moments before each was scheduled to address the tens of thousands gathered at the Lincoln Memorial. Their supporters reacted quickly by taking to Twitter, under #OurMarch, and angrily calling the move a snub, which further strains their efforts to gain the recognition and support of established leaders.

A tweet by Alim Gaines said, “It’s obvious, more than ever, that young people have to create their own platform.”

Occupy Wall Street in a tweet blamed “the political ruling elite” for the decision, encouraging followers to follow #OurMarch for “genuine voices of reason.”

Agnew told The Root he’d been standing offstage on the side steps of the Lincoln Memorial when his name appeared on the jumbo screen as the next speaker. He was about to walk to the lectern when a producer for the program told him that his speech had been scratched. He was skipped in favor of the Rev. Al Sharpton.

“It was a timing issue,” Agnew said. “That’s what the lady told me. People had talked too long.”

He said he was invited by the King Foundation, the nonprofit operated and largely controlled by children of Martin Luther King Jr., which was a principal organizer of the event.

Agnew declined to characterize it as a snub: “It’s definitely a disappointment. It was a little moment of panic there, trying to figure out what was going on. But I’m fine. I’m fine. This is a moment I’ll never forget. I still got to speak at a march on Washington. Not too many people can say they had two opportunities.”

Both Agnew and Campos spoke at the March on Washington commemoration at the Lincoln Memorial last Saturday.

So to get his message out despite being removed from the program, Agnew filmed a recitation of his speech and posted in on YouTube.

Both groups had arrived in Washington with great excitement at the prospect of participating in a program that included speeches by President Barack Obama, two former presidents, Oprah Winfrey and civil rights legends. Agnew, 28, and Campos, 23, likely would have been among the youngest speakers.

Campos’ speech was added to the program “a few weeks ago,” she said.

“To be honest, the planning was well-done. The person I was in contact with was great. Today, there were just a lot of logistical issues, I guess,” she told The Root. “They gave us the excuse of time, but I see it as really intentional that the three young people who were supposed to speak did not speak. I do not see why so many of the young people were cut off when so many of those who did speak addressed the importance of young people.”

The youth activists were scheduled to speak for about two minutes each, beginning around 1:14 p.m., said Campos.

For the Miami-based Dream Defenders, the invitation delivered swift affirmation for its most ambitious action since forming last year. Dream Defenders recently occupied the Florida State Capitol and Gov. Rick Scott’s office for 31 consecutive days in a fight to repeal or amend the state’s “Stand your ground” self-defense law. The protest came in response to the acquittal of Florida neighborhood-watch volunteer George Zimmerman in the shooting death of unarmed teen Trayvon Martin.

United We Dream, based in Los Angeles, has established itself as the leading network of youth-led organizations advocating for immigrants, particularly so-called Dreamers, young people brought to the U.S. illegally who have lived here most of their lives.

Corey Dade, an award-winning journalist based in Washington, D.C., is a former national correspondent at NPR and political reporter at the Wall Street Journal, the Boston Globe and other news organizations. Follow him on Twitter.