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DeRay Mckesson at UH: White People Didn’t Work for Their Wealth

Openly gay Black Lives Matter leader visits Graduate College of Social Work.

By Lourdes Zavaleta

By 2053, the median wealth of black Americans will fall to zero if current trends continue, according to Black Lives Matter activist DeRay Mckesson.

“Racial welfare is a structural problem and it is one of the root causes of inequity,” Mckesson said, citing a recent study from Prosperity Now and the Institute for Policy Studies. 

“We didn’t get to this problem because a couple of black people made bad choices,” Mckesson added. “White people didn’t get all of their wealth because they were really hardworking. The government gave white people homes, money, and college educations for free.”

The openly gay Mckesson, a leading voice in the national BLM movement, spoke Wednesday, November 29 at the University of Houston as part of the Graduate College of Social Work’s (GCSW) second annual Social Justice Solutions Series.

During a Q&A moderated by GCSW faculty member Aabha Brown, Mckesson discussed police brutality, the injustices in government policy, activism, and other topics.

“People often think that the Black Lives Matter movement is anti-police, but we say that we are pro- safety and justice,” Mckesson said. “There will always be rules, people who break the rules, and consequences that go with breaking rules. We believe that communities should decide what the consequences are and who is enforcing them.”

Beginning with the death of Mike Brown on August 9, 2014, and the subsequent protests in Ferguson, Missouri, Mckesson emerged as a key player in confronting the systems that have led to mass incarceration, and police killings of African-Americans and other minority populations.

Mckesson, known for his Twitter and Instagram activism, is also the cofounder of several organizations designed to make government policies more accessible and less intimidating to the general public. They include Campaign Zero, an online police reform campaign that consists of ten proposals aimed at reducing police violence; Mapping People Violence, a site that shows the data of people killed by the police since 2003; and OurStates, a website that connects users to information and tools to reject the GOP agenda in every state. Mckesson is also the host of Pod Save the People, a podcast that examines culture, social justice, and politics.

“It is time for all of us to get engaged, whether we think we can or not,” Mckesson said. “All of this is accessible, and learning about it is how we can deal with structural injustices.”

After 30 minutes of discussion, Brown opened the floor to audience member questions. Mckesson was asked about white privilege, racial inequality, and gentrification. The conversation shifted to LGBTQ issues when black transgender activist Monica Roberts, publisher of TransGriot, asked Mckesson to speak about the dynamic between the black and queer communities.

“Knowing someone who belongs to a marginalized community changes the way that people think about the world,” Mckesson said. “The U.S. won its marriage equality fight not because of philosophical preachings, but because we reminded people that they knew gay people.”

Mckesson said he’s noticed in recent years that more people are open to talking about LGBTQ issues. He believes this will lead to more civil rights victories.

“Public conversation is what creates change,” Mckesson said. “Today we’re talking about the trans community more than we ever have before. Understanding the issues that LGBTQ people face is necessary to making improvements.”

Brown told Mckesson about an event that the GCSW would host on Friday, November 30, called Take a Knee, where students planned to kneel in front of UH’s M.D. Anderson Library to raise awareness of racial justice, abuse of power, and freedom of speech. Mckesson responded by promising to share the event with football player and activist Colin Kaepernick, who has sparked controversy for kneeling during the national anthem in protest of police brutality.

“I’m going to text Colin right after this, he’s going to love it,” Mckesson said.

The GCSW’s next major event is set for April 11, 2018, when Emmy Award-winning actress and LGBTQ advocate Laverne Cox hosts the college’s 2018 Spring Scholarship Luncheon. For more information about the event, go here.



Lourdes Zavaleta

Lourdes Zavaleta is the managing editor of OutSmart magazine.
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