DeRay Mckesson is one of the 21st Century’s most prolific and renowned civil rights activists and educators. A key figure in the Black Lives Matter movement since its inception in 2013, Mckesson has worked tirelessly as an advocate for those who fall outside the cis straight white man spectrum.
Born in West Baltimore, Maryland, 35-year-old Mckesson’s activist actions began in his teenage years. Before graduating from Catonsville High School, he worked as Chairman of Youth As Resources, a youth-led organisation that aimed to reach out to vulnerable young people.
While working as an elementary school teacher after graduating college in 2007, Mckesson’s coverage of the protests in Ferguson, Missouri following the murder of Michael Brown at the hands of police in 2014 solidified his key-role in America’s Black Lives Matter movement. Mckesson was 29 at the time, and one of the first social media documenters to live report the civil unrest in Ferguson.
While Mckesson has worked to advance civil rights in America, he’s also a strong advocate for LGBTIQ rights and champions awareness of the intersections between sexuality and race. In November 2015, he spoke at the GLAAD Gala about his experiences living in America as a gay black man, urging LGBTIQ individuals to “come out of the quiet” and embrace their identities.
These calls to action in 2015, as well as his unsuccessful run in Baltimore’s 2016 mayoral election campaign, have been credited with fostering grassroots activism.
Always seen in a trademark blue vest, he discussed the origins of the garment with BuzzFeed News in 2018, saying the vest serves as a reminder to remain vigilant in the face of oppression.
“I’ve had this vest on when I was tear-gassed, when I was dragged out of the police department by my ankles, when I was shot at with bullets,” he said. “This is my grounding piece. I have been in so many places that I could forget about what happened, and I never want to forget how fragile freedom is and was in those moments.”
Now, McKesson is taking his activism to the digital age by hosting the Pod Save The People podcast and has published his first memoir, On The Other Side Of Freedom: The Case For Hope in 2018. The book unpacks how his activism encourages the public to see that genuine change begins from the ground-up, a philosophy that is now more urgent than ever in the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder, and the 2020 US presidential election.
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