DeRay Mckesson: The Voice Our Generation Desperately Needs
Article and Photos By: Katie Hovde
Many people know DeRay Mckesson from the podcast he hosts, Pod Save the People. He is an activist and organizer who is heavily involved with the Black Lives Matter movement and with social justice. He was speaking in Seattle as part of a book tour for his first book that just came out called On the Other Side of Freedom: The Case for Hope. His involvement in policy and the public sector, Charleston, Black Lives Matter is impressive enough, but hearing the issues discussed and debated was a completely different experience. It is without hesitation that DeRay will go down in history with the likes of James Baldwin and Gloria Steinem.
DeRay was joined by Mozart Guerrier, the Executive Director at Seattle-based 21 Progress. Between the two, the talk was insightful, funny, and memorable. The conversation started light and then led to a discussion about some of the topics raised in DeRay’s book; things like racial inequity, police brutality, and what it means to be an activist in this day and age. Something that is incredibly captivating about DeRay Mckesson is his quiet conviction. Every time he opens his mouth to speak to the issues, each word is placed with such intention and assuredness that it’s almost impossible to not hear to his message. Systemic racism is probably the most, or one of the most immediate systems we need to dismantle in order for everything else to begin falling into place. The idea of white supremacy as a smog that we all were living in and we can either breathe it all in or we can build masks for ourselves that maybe keep it out – the point being that it’s everywhere and no one is immune from it. Hence the masks and where activism comes in and how it can take various sizes and forms (he told me later in the meet-and-greet that this is actually an idea he got from his podcast co-host Brittany Packnett).
DeRay also took questions from the audience. One person asked him the question he always asks his podcast guests at the end of the show: “What is a piece of advice you have gotten over the years that has stuck with you?” He used his estranged mother as an example. She was a drug addict and left when DeRay was very young. He recently reconnected with her as an adult. Page 148 of his book explains it perfectly: “I wonder sometimes if in the way I can remember Joan [his mother] without sadness there will come a day that I can look back on this America without the pain and trauma we’ve endured being so present. I too am often seduced by the false distance of history. I want to believe in a progress so sweeping that I can ignore how present the trauma still is. And sometimes the false distance keeps me sane. In the way that I had to re-remember Joan, I have had to re-remember my relationship with America. I’d like to think I created a space for Joan and me to reconnect, and that we did reconnect because she was making a space for me too in whatever way made the most sense to her, and that our spaces finally overlapped. What we remember and how we re-remember it shapes our future, shapes the way we move in the world. And memory is always a choice.” To me this is describing the intersection of pain and progress. From pain, comes progress; and although that pain is really painful, progress is sure to come from this process of experiencing complex hurt. Use your pain wisely.
On the back cover of the book, there is a review from Alphonse Fletcher University Professor at Harvard University, Henry Louis Gates, Jr. that is not only the book, but DeRay Mckesson in summation: “By turns lyrical reflection and practical handbook, On the Other Side of Freedom reveals the mind and motivations of a young man who has risen to the fore of millennial activism through study, discipline, and conviction. His belief in a world that can be made better, one act at a time, powers his narratives and opens up a view on the costs, consequences, and rewards of leading a movement.” DeRay and the other front-line activists he works with are exactly what this generation needs right now – strong leaders who have a thirst for a better world and the ability to get it done.