Community Conversation with Civil Rights Activist DeRay Mckesson Addresses National Protests

On May 31, a special Community Conversation,"Let's Talk About George Floyd, Police Brutality, and Protest," was held on Zoom with civil rights activist DeRay Mckesson. View replay below.

The invitation to the community, which was extended to current students, faculty and staff, noted that “this is an extremely difficult and challenging period in our society. From the beginning, Hotchkiss has played an important role in educating future leadership of this society, and that remains central to our purpose. The need for well-educated, ethically-minded, compassionate, and inclusive leaders has never been greater.” 

Civil Rights Activist DeRay Mckesson

As a leading voice in the Black Lives Matter Movement and a co-founder of Campaign Zero, Mckesson works to connect individuals with knowledge and tools and to support policy makers in developing common sense policies that ensure equity. Spurred by the death of Michael Brown and the subsequent protests in Ferguson, Missouri, in 2014, he has become a key player in the work to confront the systems and structures that have led to mass incarceration and murder by police of black and other minority people.

During the session, which was facilitated by Dr. Rachel Myers, director of diversity and inclusion, Myers posed questions related to the death of George Floyd, police brutality, and protest in the United States, including what led up to the recent national protests. In responding, Mckesson offered eye-opening statistics.

“2019 was the first year that more black people were afraid of being killed by a police officer than of being killed by community violence, and one third of all people killed by a stranger in the United States are actually killed by a police officer,” he said. “Black people are three times more likely to be killed by police and 1.3 times more likely to be unarmed when encountered by police officers…. In every way we cut the data, this is an issue of race.” 

“The unrest we’re seeing today is because of the promise [following the national outcry in 2014 over the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson] that we would get some kind of fix, and there wasn’t,” McKesson explained. “Minneapolis is a great example. Blacks are 13 times more likely to be killed through police violence, the single biggest disparity of race in police killings in the country.” 

In terms of student involvement, Myers asked, “What are good forms of activism?” 

“[The definition of] organizing is whether [an activist activity] ends in transforming something that is oppressing people,” said Mckesson.

“My advice around activism is, you have to know the content well…. If you care about an issue, you need to know it well enough to be in the room, to offer ideas…. Read.... Immerse yourself in the thinkers…. And try to put ideas out in the world.” 

Kayo Wiggins '21 and C.J. Mitchell '21 partake in a peaceful protest in Salisbury on May 31. Photo/Jay Thornhill

He added, “My advice to all students, and especially kids of color, is to leave [your] institution more skilled than you came in. You need to come out a better reader, writer, and thinker…. You’ve got to make the institution show up for you, because we still live in a world where inequity is real.” 

In total, nearly 300 people attended the event. Following the Q and A with Mckesson, Myers kept the conversation going with student participation.

“I was really pleased that even after Mr. Mckesson departed our virtual space, more than half of the people who tuned in for the first hour remained on the Zoom call for continued conversation,” she said.

“Questions were sent directly to me in the chat, and I read them aloud. Audience members then took turns responding to the questions posed. While Mr. Mckesson's focus was largely on what is plaguing us at the national level, why it's important and how we can help, the second conversation that was held last night focused on Hotchkiss specifically,” Myers said.

“Pain, anxiety, hope, empathy, and love were present in the virtual space we held and it's opportunities like last night's conversation that help to keep us a true community even when we are apart. Last night, I was once again reminded of how eager and willing our community is to learn and grow outside of the classroom to live our motto: Guided by each other, Let us seek better paths."


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