Stories I’d Like To See: The Rise & Evolution of DeRay McKesson

It’s not like DeRay McKesson (@deray) needs any more publicity. He’s a one-man social media machine with 134,000 followers. He’s maxed out on Facebook but you can still follow him there. He’s been on cable news, been named one of Fortune’s top 50 influencers, etc. He and Johnetta Elzie were featured prominently in the May 10th NYT Sunday Magazine feature story, Our Demand Is Simple: Stop Killing Us. He’s been featured on MediaLite for his CNN interview about mainstream coverage of violence. Watch video above. See partial transcript here. The LA Times recently named him as one of the “new civil rights leaders” of the 21st century.

His current focus is social justice (in particular violence against people of color). But I’m surprised that McKesson (known for his blue down vest) hasn’t gotten more attention from education writers, given that he comes from an education background. He’s a TFA alum. He was until March a Senior Director of Human Capital for Minneapolis Public Schools, according to his Wikipedia page. According to his LinkedIn, he also worked in Baltimore public schools, and for the TFA spinoff organization TNTP (formerly known as The New Teacher Project) and Geoff Canada’s Harlem Children’s Zone.

Lots has already been covered, but the education angles are still out there: How did McKesson’s education background lead him to social justice activism? Where does he stand on current issues like standardized testing, Common Core standards, TFA, charter schooling, and teacher evaluation? How has his thinking changed? What role can educators take as social justice activists? Who are the other social justice activists who come from schools and education who are out there these days?

McKesson is arguably the most prominent young education activist out there right now. He comes from school reform background but has left education and taken on a set of issues that’s associated as much or more with progressives and organized labor as anyone else. It’s fascinating stuff, his trajectory and his rise. If nobody else takes it on anytime soon, I might have to do it myself.

Alexander Russo

Alexander Russo is a freelance education writer who has created several long-running blogs such as the national news site This Week In Education, District 299 (about Chicago schools), and LA School Report. He can be reached on Twitter at @alexanderrusso, on Facebook, or directly at alexanderrusso@gmail.com.