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DeRay Mckesson

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DeRay Mckesson
Mckesson in 2024
Born (1985-07-09) July 9, 1985 (age 38)
Alma materBowdoin College
Occupation(s)Activist, podcaster
AwardsPeter Jennings Award, Howard Zinn Freedom to Write Award
  • Fortune's World's Greatest Leader's List
  • Foreign Policy Magazine 100 Global Thinkers List
  • The Root 100
  • Out 100
  • Honorary doctorate from the New School

DeRay Mckesson (born July 9, 1985) is an American civil rights activist, podcaster, and former school administrator.[1][2][3] An early supporter of the Black Lives Matter movement, he has been active in the protests in Ferguson, Missouri, and Baltimore, Maryland and on social media outlets such as Twitter and Instagram.[2] He has also written for HuffPost[4] and The Guardian.[5] Along with Johnetta Elzie, Brittany Packnett, and Samuel Sinyangwe, Mckesson launched Campaign Zero, a policy platform to end police violence.[6] He is currently part of Crooked Media and hosts Pod Save the People.[7]

On February 3, 2016, Mckesson announced his candidacy in the 2016 Baltimore mayoral election. He finished with 3,445 votes (2.6%), placing sixth in the Democratic Party primary on April 26.[8]

Mckesson is the author of On the Other Side of Freedom: The Case for Hope, a memoir about his life and time as a Black Lives Matter organizer.[9]

Early life, education, and career[edit]

Mckesson was an organizer in Baltimore City as a teenager, notably as the Chairman of Youth As Resources, Baltimore's youth-led grant-making organization.[10] He graduated from Catonsville High School in 2003. He then went on to Bowdoin College, where he was president of the student government. Mckesson graduated in 2007 with a degree in government and legal studies.[11]

After graduation, Mckesson began his education career by working for Teach for America for two years in a New York City elementary school.[11] He later worked as special assistant in the office of human capital with the Baltimore City Public Schools, for the Harlem's Children's Zone, and as a human resources official at Minneapolis Public Schools.[12][13] In June 2016, he was appointed Baltimore City Schools' interim chief human capital officer by district CEO Sonja Santelises.[14]

He has been criticized by some public education advocates for his involvement in Teach for America and for his support for charter schools.[15][16]

Activism and politics[edit]

Mckesson first drove from Minneapolis to Ferguson on August 16, 2014.[17][18] He began spending all his weekends and vacations in St. Louis.[19] On March 4, 2015, Mckesson announced via Twitter that he had quit his job at Minneapolis Public Schools and had moved to St. Louis.[20]

In April 2015, Mckesson and fellow activists Johnetta Elzie, Samuel Sinyangwe, and Brittany Packnett launched "Mapping Police Violence", which collected data on people killed by police during 2014.[21] In August 2015, the same group launched Campaign Zero, a ten-point policy plan for police reform. Key points included the decriminalization of trespassing, marijuana possession, loitering, public disturbance, and consuming alcohol in public as these crimes do not threaten public safety, but are often used to target African Americans.[6] Mckesson and Elzie were awarded the Howard Zinn Freedom to Write Award in 2015 for their activism.[22]

Mckesson in 2019

In June 2015, Mckesson was the focus of a Twitter campaign while he was in Charleston, South Carolina to protest the Charleston church shooting.[23] The campaign featured the hashtag "#GoHomeDeray", which was accompanied by statements demanding that Mckesson leave the city.[23][24] Mckesson responded to the hashtag, stating that he was there as a sign of solidarity for the nine deaths and that the hashtag was proof that "[r]acism is alive and well in places like South Carolina, and in towns across America."[25]

In late 2015, he was a guest lecturer at Yale Divinity School.[26] In November of the same year, Mckesson spoke at the GLAAD Gala, where he discussed his life as a gay man and asked LGBT people to "come out of the quiet."[27][28]

In February 2016, Mckesson announced his candidacy for Mayor of Baltimore just before the filing deadline.[8] He placed 6th in the city's Democratic primary in April, with 2.5% of the vote.[29] In June 2016, he was named as interim chief human capital officer of the Baltimore City Public School System.[1]

On July 9, 2016, in the aftermath of the shooting of Alton Sterling, Mckesson took part in a protest in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. While live streaming, he was arrested.[30] He was released the next day after being charged with obstruction of a roadway, and charges were later dropped.[31][32] On July 13, he and other Black Lives Matter activists, along with police officials, politicians, and other activists, met with President Obama at the White House to discuss relations between black communities and law enforcement officials.[33][34][35]

In 2016, Mckesson appeared on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert to have a dialogue about race and education.[36]

Mckesson voted for Bernie Sanders in the primary of the 2016 election,[37] and voted for Hillary Clinton in the general election.[38]

In 2017, Mckesson launched the Pod Save the People podcast, discussing news, culture, social justice, and politics with co-hosts Brittany Packnett Cunningham, Samuel Sinyangwe, Dr. Clint Smith, and guests.[39]

In July 2017, Mckesson, Black Lives Matter, and other BLM leaders were sued by a Baton Rouge policeman who sustained life-altering injuries in an ambush attack, claiming that Black Lives Matter "incited the violence against police in retaliation for the death (sic) of black men shot by police".[40] The suit was dismissed in October 2017; U.S. District Judge Brian Jackson's ruling would be upheld in August 2018 by the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in an unpublished (that is, not precedential) opinion.[41]

Mckesson and Black Lives Matter were also sued by another Baton Rouge police officer who was injured by a thrown rock during a protest on July 9, 2016, when Mckesson had been present. Jackson also dismissed that case in September 2017, ruling that the officer "utterly failed to state a plausible claim" and instead launched a "confused attack" against Black Lives Matter and others.[42][43] On the same day U.S. District Judge John W. deGravelles approved a settlement awarding up to $1,000 to protesters, including Mckesson, who claim police used excessive force in arresting them.[43]

However on April 24, 2019 the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed Jackson's ruling against the officer injured by the rock, allowing that suit to go forward. The ruling stated that: "Given the intentional lawlessness of this aspect of the demonstration, Mckesson should have known that leading the demonstrators onto a busy highway was most nearly certain to provoke a confrontation between police and the mass of demonstrators, and not withstanding, did so anyway. By ignoring the foreseeable risk of violence that his actions created, Mckesson failed to exercise reasonable care in conducting his demonstration."[44] The Supreme Court, in a per curiam order, vacated the Fifth Circuit's decision on November 2, 2020, ruling that the Fifth Circuit failed to review Louisiana state law prior to determining the constitutional aspects, and remanded the case back to the Fifth Circuit for review.[45]

In 2018, a portrait of Mckesson was created for the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery.[46]

In April 2020, he tested positive for COVID-19.[47] He has since recovered and resumed his activism.

In May 2021, McKesson was awarded an honorary doctorate in humane letters from his alma mater, Bowdoin College.[48]

In January 2024, McKesson demanded the firing of a Baltimore high school principal after an AI-generated forgery of the principal's voice purportedly showed him making racist comments.[49]


  • On the Other Side of Freedom (2018) ISBN 978-0525560326

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Greene, Erica. "Civil rights activist DeRay Mckesson to join new city schools cabinet". Baltimoresun.com. Retrieved June 29, 2016.
  2. ^ a b Kang, Jay Caspian (May 4, 2015). "Our Demand Is Simple: Stop Killing Us". The New York Times Magazine. Retrieved February 23, 2016.
  3. ^ "DeRay Mckesson | CCJ Task Force on Policing". Task Force on Policing. November 12, 2020. Archived from the original on August 27, 2022. Retrieved August 27, 2022.
  4. ^ Mckesson, DeRay; Packnett, Brittany; Elzie, Johnetta (November 18, 2014). "An Open Letter From Ferguson Protesters and Allies". HuffPost. Retrieved February 23, 2016.
  5. ^ "Ferguson and beyond: how a new civil rights movement began – and won't end". The Guardian. August 9, 2015. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved February 25, 2016.
  6. ^ a b Rao, Sameer (August 24, 2015). "DeRay Mckesson, Johnetta Elzie and Co. Launch Campaign Zero To End Police Brutality". Colorlines. Retrieved February 25, 2016.
  7. ^ Sands, Darren (April 26, 2017). "DeRay Mckesson Is Going To Host A Crooked Media Podcast". BuzzFeed. Retrieved January 16, 2018.
  8. ^ a b Broadwater, Luke (February 3, 2016). "DeRay Mckesson files to run in Baltimore mayoral race". Baltimore Sun. Retrieved February 23, 2016.
  9. ^ "Deray Mckesson Official Website". Deray.com.
  10. ^ "Program grants teens a charitable role". Tribunedigital-baltimoresun.com. Archived from the original on March 6, 2016. Retrieved February 25, 2016.
  11. ^ a b Guerette, Bobby (May 4, 2007). "'This place exists for you': DeRay Mckesson looks back on four years at Bowdoin". Bowdoin Orient. Retrieved February 23, 2016.
  12. ^ Graham, David A. (May 2015). "Beyond Hashtag Activism". The Atlantic. Retrieved May 2, 2015.
  13. ^ "B-More Committed: 'Finding the Gift' in Your Work". Young Education Professionals. Retrieved February 25, 2016.
  14. ^ Green, Erica; Broadwater, Luke (June 28, 2016). "Civil rights activist DeRay Mckesson to join new city schools cabinet". The Baltimore Sun. Retrieved July 10, 2016.
  15. ^ AlterNet, Drew Franklin (February 22, 2016). "DeRay Mckesson's Baltimore Mayoral Run Has a Teach For America Problem". In These Times. ISSN 0160-5992. Retrieved March 17, 2019.
  16. ^ "An Open Letter to DeRay Mckesson". jacobinmag.com. Retrieved March 17, 2019.
  17. ^ Casey, Garrett (September 26, 2014). "DeRay McKesson '07 participates in 'principled protesting' in Ferguson". Bowdoin Orient. Retrieved May 13, 2015.
  18. ^ Browne, Rembert (November 23, 2015). "In Conversation With DeRay Mckesson". New York Magazine. Retrieved December 3, 2020.
  19. ^ Matos, Alejandra (November 21, 2014). "Minneapolis schools HR director is real-time reporting witness in Ferguson". StarTribune. Retrieved February 23, 2016.
  20. ^ Holleman, Joe. "Protester DeRay Mckesson has moved to STL". STL Today. Retrieved May 2, 2015.
  21. ^ Marusic, Kristina (April 4, 2015). "This Map Of Police Violence Aims To Create A Path To Justice". MTV. Retrieved February 23, 2016.
  22. ^ Pearce, Matt; Lee, Kurtis (March 5, 2015). "The new civil rights leaders: Emerging voices in the 21st century". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved February 23, 2016.
  23. ^ a b Walters, Joanna (June 21, 2015). "DeRay Mckesson at centre of #GoHomeDeray Twitter storm". The Guardian. Retrieved June 24, 2015.
  24. ^ Callahan, Yesha (June 22, 2015). "Social Media Hatemongers Create #GoHomeDeRay Directed Toward Activist DeRay McKesson During Visit to Charleston, SC". The Root. Archived from the original on February 24, 2016. Retrieved February 23, 2016.
  25. ^ Kaufman, Scott Eric (June 22, 2015). "#BlackLivesMatter activist DeRay Mckesson on #GoHomeDeRay hashtag: It's proof "racism is alive and well" in America". Salon. Retrieved June 24, 2015.
  26. ^ "#BLM Protester Deray McKesson to Teach at Yale University". BET. Retrieved August 27, 2022.
  27. ^ "#BlackLivesMatter Protester Deray McKesson to Teach at Yale". Mediaite.com. September 11, 2015. Retrieved February 7, 2016.
  28. ^ "DeRay Mckesson Wants You to Come Out of the Quiet". The Advocate. December 24, 2015. Retrieved February 8, 2016.
  29. ^ Sun, Baltimore. "DeRay Mckesson finishes 6th in Democratic primary for Baltimore mayor". Baltimoresun.com. Retrieved April 27, 2016.
  30. ^ Lowery, Wesley (July 10, 2016). "Black lives Matter activist DeRay Mckesson taken into custody by Baton Rouge police". The Washington Post.
  31. ^ Caplan, David; Knapp, Emily (July 10, 2016). "Black Lives Matter Activist Released From Jail After Being Arrested During Protest". ABC News. Retrieved July 11, 2016.
  32. ^ Lowery, Wesley (July 15, 2016). "DeRay Mckesson, others won't be prosecuted in Baton Rouge". The Washington Post.
  33. ^ Silva, Christina (July 13, 2016). "DeRay Mckesson meets with President Obama for Black Lives Matter Movement". International Business Times. Retrieved July 14, 2016.
  34. ^ "Activist And City Schools Exec. DeRay McKesson Meets With President". CBS Baltimore. July 13, 2016. Retrieved July 14, 2016.
  35. ^ "Obama: Still far from solving police, community issues". Associated Press. July 13, 2016. Archived from the original on July 14, 2016. Retrieved July 17, 2016.
  36. ^ The TFA Editorial Team (January 19, 2016). "DeRay McKesson Appears On Colbert To Talk White Privilege, Activism". Teach For America. Archived from the original on August 26, 2018. Retrieved August 26, 2018.
  37. ^ DeRay Mckesson [@deray] (November 24, 2016). "And I voted for Bernie in the primary. But the Bernie Bros continue to be one of the worst things about his entire campaign" (Tweet) – via Twitter.
  38. ^ Mckesson, DeRay (October 26, 2016). "DeRay Mckesson: Why I'm voting for Hillary Clinton". The Washington Post.
  39. ^ "Pod Save The People Archives". Crooked Media. Retrieved June 10, 2020.
  40. ^ Andone, Dakin (July 10, 2017). "Baton Rouge officer sues Black Lives Matter over 2016 ambush of cops". CNN.
  41. ^ Smith v. McKesson, Court of Appeals, 5th Circuit 2018
  42. ^ Doe v. McKesson, Dist. Court, MD Louisiana 2017
  43. ^ a b "Court rulings toss lawsuit against Black Lives Matter and Mckesson, allow class-action payments to protesters". The Baltimore Sun. Archived from the original on December 22, 2017. Retrieved December 20, 2017.
  44. ^ Doe vs. McKesson, No. 17-30864 (5th Cir. 2019).
  45. ^ de Vogue, Ariane (November 2, 2020). "Supreme Court rules in favor of Black Lives Matter organizer". CNN. Retrieved November 2, 2020.
  46. ^ "DeRay Mckesson - Quinn Russell Brown 2018". artsandculture.google.com. Retrieved December 3, 2020.
  47. ^ Mckesson, DeRay (April 17, 2020). "Baltimore activist DeRay Mckesson confirms that he tested positive for coronavirus". The Baltimore Sun.
  48. ^ "Bowdoin Announces 2021 Honorary Degree Recipients". Bowdoin College. Archived from the original on December 16, 2020. Retrieved May 29, 2021.
  49. ^ "Baltimore principal's racist rant was an AI fake. His colleague was arrested". The Washington Post. April 26, 2024.

External links[edit]