Following an unsuccessful run in the 2016 Baltimore mayoral election, Black Lives Matter activist and We the Protesters founder DeRay Mckesson has been named Interim Head of Human Capital for Baltimore City Public Schools.
Incoming Chief Executive Officer Sonja Santelises, who will begin her tenure on July 1, appointed the openly gay activist to her cabinet on Tuesday. Mckesson has already served the Human Capital Office as a strategist and special assistant for over two years. In that time, he advised top district officials, managed budgetary operations, and helped create a pay-for-performance contract.
In Minneapolis, he worked as a human resources official at Special School District Number 1. For fifteen months, he focused on creating professional development and orientation programs for new teachers, reforming the selection and recruitment process, and restructuring the office.
Mckesson has also taught sixth-graders in New York City through Teach for America, a non-profit organization whose mission is to “enlist, develop, and mobilize as many as possible of our nation’s most promising future leaders to grow and strengthen the movement for educational equity and excellence.” DeRay was a teacher for two years in one of the fifty-two low-income communities served by TFA.
“He has the depth of knowledge of the system, and he has proved that he can lift the work in a short amount of time,” said Santelises. “And he has proven his dedication to the children of Baltimore.”
Outside of education, DeRay Mckesson is a much bigger name. He is a prominent figure in the Black Lives Matter movement and has been a vocal civil rights activist and speaker since 2014, following the killings of unarmed black men Michael Brown and Eric Garner by white policemen. After visiting Missouri during the Ferguson riots, he quit his job at Minneapolis Public Schools and moved to St. Louis to become a full-time activist.
Mckesson helped launch Mapping Police Violence, a website keeping track of black people killed by police officers. In 2015, he received the Howard Zinn Freedom to Write Award in 2015, was invited to lecture at the Yale Divinity School, and spoke at the GLAAD Gala about his experiences as a gay black man.
He also founded We the Protestors, a project meant to provide “a space for protestors nationwide to access the tools and resources to mobilize and organize.” Through WTP, Mckesson has launched Campaign Zero, a proposal for police reform aimed at decreasing police violence “by limiting police interventions, improving community interactions, and ensuring accountability.”
Much of DeRay’s story was featured in the recent BET documentary Stay Woke: The Black Lives Matter Movement, including the announcement of his Baltimore mayoral campaign. He came in sixth in the Democratic primary, largely due to his late entry on February 3, the day of the deadline. However, he still found significant momentum through his hundreds of thousands of social media followers, television appearances, and big-name endorsements from people like actress Susan Sarandon. He was praised by Hillary Clinton and President Barack Obama, who called him a “social media emperor.”
“He called for expanding full-day pre-K to enroll all low-income 3- and 4-year-olds, the public release of all internal audits of the city school system, and reforming state funding formulas to prevent tax deals for developers from hurting school funding.”
Despite his investment in and experience with the education system, his new job as Interim Head of Human Capital comes with many challenges. The office is well-known for severely inadequate staffing, late paychecks, unreliable data, and poorly processed paperwork.
Though it will be difficult, Sonja Santelises has no doubt that Mckesson will serve the schools of Baltimore well. “We have no time to waste,” she said. “Every day in class is precious for our students, and every school must be ready to go when the opening bell rings. Mr. Mckesson has the hand-on experience, leadership skills, and energy to help us make that happen.”
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