#BlackLivesMatter Leader Has A Message For Millennials: Tell The Truth

by John Haltiwanger

If you've been following #BlackLivesMatter with any consistency over the past year, you're likely familiar with @deray, the Twitter handle of DeRay Mckesson.

He's emerged as one of the most prominent faces and voices of the movement, generating a Twitter following of 182,000 (and growing). But he doesn't care about things like that.

He explained,

I don't monitor why [my Twitter following] grows or how it grows as much as I try to stay focused on telling the truth, and using [Twitter] as a platform to tell the truth.

Mckesson is a busy man with little time for small talk, a seemingly restless individual and a habitual multi-tasker.

When Elite Daily first got him on the phone on Wednesday, he was distracted with another matter, a fact he willfully admitted before asking to call us back.

Once he did and our conversation began, it was clear he's somebody who focuses intently on the present and moving forward.

When asked to recount how he first got involved in the movement and online activism, he stated,

I've answered these sort of questions a million times. So I hope we don't get stuck on the, 'how did you do it?' Because we're so far past that now.

But just for the sake of context: Last August, Mckesson was sitting on his couch, eyeing Twitter, and found himself deeply distressed by what was going on in Ferguson. So he got into his car and drove to St. Louis to bear witness to the situation.

What he encountered there is ultimately what drove him toward protest:

I got teargassed and essentially was like, this is not the America I know; it was so far from what I thought America was like. In that moment, I became a protestor. And I was tweeting -- just like everyone else -- and I was trying to tell the story that I thought wasn't being told on mainstream media.
I want to go to Ferguson. Tomorrow, I will figure out to see if this is possible. — deray mckesson (@deray) August 16, 2014
Walking the street that Mike Brown was killed on. #heavyheart — deray mckesson (@deray) August 17, 2014
You can't see the batons, plastic face shields, or guns that the police have. Surreal. #... — deray mckesson (@deray) August 17, 2014
Just got caught between two canisters of tear gas. Wow. Face burns. #Ferguson — deray mckesson (@deray) August 18, 2014
Tucking myself into the car, under steering. Sort of in shock that I'm in America. Bright flash. #Ferguson — deray mckesson (@deray) August 19, 2014
This is real work, real protest. No onlookers needed. There are enough reporters already. Please do not travel just to watch. #Ferguson — deray mckesson (@deray) August 22, 2014

Mckesson seems adamant in making it clear he's not the only person active in the #BlackLivesMatter movement. He may have become one of the most recognizable leaders (a label he doesn't seem to promote) and activists, but as he puts it,

There's a strong community on Twitter, and I am fortunate to be a part of that.

He's correct in asserting he's not alone.

Over the past year, the issues of racism and police brutality have come to the forefront of the nation's attention.

"I can't breathe," "hands up, don't shoot" and "black lives matter" have become the rallying cries of a movement that has taken the country by storm, and @deray has been at the nucleus of all this.

As the New York Times recently contended,

We often think of online activism as a shallow bid for fleeting attention, but the movement that Mckesson is helping to lead has been able to sustain the country's focus and reach millions of people. For the nation as a whole, we have come to learn the names of the victims — Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Tony Robinson, Walter Scott, Freddie Gray — because the activists have linked their fates together in our minds, despite their separation by many weeks and thousands of miles.

Indeed, social media, particularly Twitter, has completely changed the nature of protest.

Simply utilizing a common hashtag (#BlackLivesMatter) can be as unifying, powerful and substantive as gathering thousands of people in a single location, if not more so.

As Mckesson contended,

If it wasn't for Twitter, they would've tried to erase us in Missouri.

Likewise, he argues the recent and controversial death of Sandra Bland would've been swept under the rug if it wasn't for activists on social media.

But it's not the only medium for change, which Mckesson is well aware of:

Remember, Twitter functions as a mechanism for truth-telling, exposure, & connecting. Twitter, alone, is not the answer. We know. — deray mckesson (@deray) July 22, 2015

With that said, not everyone is fond of this movement, nor has everyone fully understood it.

#BlackLivesMatter doesn't mean other lives don't. Like people who say "Save The Rainforests" aren't saying "Fuck All Other Types of Forests" — Matt McGorry (@MattMcGorry) July 18, 2015

None of this has deterred Mckesson's focus, however, or the general momentum of the movement, for that matter.

He's an individual who cares far more about the substance of what he's doing than whether the work is well received.

He said,

The work will always be more important than it is popular.

In the wake of tragedies like the one in Charleston, as well as the controversial and suspicious death of Sandra Bland in a Texas jailhouse, it's difficult not to feel the work he speaks of is America's collective responsibility.

We will never move forward as a society if we continue to allow hate and injustice to persist. This isn't just a moral imperative, it's a matter of common sense.

Millennials, especially, who are now emerging as a new generation of leaders and thinkers, are in the perfect position to spearhead this effort.

When asked how young people can be agents of change in America, Mckesson stated,

Telling the truth is a radical act.

In his view, this is our greatest responsibility as citizens and human beings.

Well, here's the truth:

Racism is alive and well in America. We have not escaped the legacies of slavery and Jim Crow.

White privilege is very real, but the sad truth is far too many are unwilling to acknowledge it.

Minorities face systemic racism, discrimination and oppression in American society.

The criminal justice system disproportionately impacts people of color, as blacks are imprisoned a rate nearly six times greater than whites.

Not to mention, whites are more likely to sell drugs, but blacks are arrested for distribution or possession at a much higher rate. And if you're driving while black, you're 23 percent more likely to be pulled over by police than your white peers.

This year, American police have used lethal force against over 600 people, and blacks have been killed at a rate almost four times greater than whites.

Statistically, if you're born black in America, you are decidedly more likely than whites to be arrested, pulled over, imprisoned and killed by police. Yet blacks only make up 13 percent of the US population.

This is not because blacks are predisposed to crime. It's because the system is innately discriminatory.

The truth, as Mckesson aptly characterized it, is extreme and hard to stomach. But it must be told, in brutal and raw terms, or nothing will change.

Citations: Our Demand Is Simple Stop Killing Us (NYT), (The Guardian ), Criminal Justice Fact Sheet (NAACP), White people are more likely to deal drugs, but black people are more likely to get arrested for it (Washington Post ), Chris Rock is taking a selfie every time a cop pulls him over (Washington Post ), QuickFacts USA (Census Bureau )