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Mckesson: Activist Turned Candidate Wants to Lead a New Baltimore

Undeterred by calls for snow and rain showers, volunteers filed into the Exit the Apple Art

Space in Baltimore’s Barclay neighborhood.

Inside Ashanti’s “Foolish” pumped through the stereo, as the crowd killed time observing an

assortment of artwork. There were photos of significant figures in the African-American

diaspora like Jean-Michel Basquiat and Marcus Garvey on display. There were various cartoons

of black women adorning full lips and natural hairstyles. And there was a painting of two men


The artwork and atmosphere represented Deray Mckesson – the young, rebellious, hipster,

activist candidate for Baltimore mayor.

He’s surrounded by his people. There is no judging, regardless of race, gender, religion or

sexuality. Volunteers are white, others black or Asian. They are gathered to help the man they

feel should be the next Mayor of Charm City.

In the center of the room, Onyeka Obiocha, shared a laugh with Mckesson. An entrepreneur

and business owner, Obiocha has traveled from Hartford, Connecticut to be apart of

Mckesson’s campaign.

“He’s super chill,” he said. “I met him this morning, I dapped him up and we just started talking

about everything.”

Obiocha’s testament seemed to fit the consensus on Mckesson – a natural communicator who

makes a first encounter seem like two old friends reminiscing on old times.

“Seeing Deray go from an activist to hopefully a government figure will be amazing, not only for

Baltimore but for a lot of young men of color like myself who look for that inspiration,” Obiocha


Shahonda Bossier is the Campaign Manager for the Deray for Mayor campaign. She is a partner

for Education Cities, a non-profit organization that works to improve public schools across the


Mckesson wants to make better education available to everyone in Baltimore, regardless of

their economic status. In Mckesson’s campaign layout, he expresses his ideal education system.

“I believe that every student in the city of Baltimore should have access to a dynamic, high

quality education that prepares each child for college or a career,” he said in an interview.

He’s convinced a small gaggle of supporters like those on hand at this event.

“For me it was the chance to support someone who I thought was a visionary, someone who I

thought would use his institutional power on behalf of marginalized people,” Bossier said.

She describes Mckesson as “deeply reflective.” He has been a vocal member of the Black Lives

Matter movement.

After the deaths of unarmed black males like Trayvon Martin, the Black Lives Matter movement

was formed by Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors and Opal Tometi in 2013. From a hashtag on

Twitter to a focal point for political candidates, the Black Lives Matter movement has grown


Over the past three years, Mckesson has established himself as a dedicated activist in the fight

for equality and ending of police brutality.

Looked at as a voice for people of color, Mckesson was recently selected by TIME Magazine as

one of the 30 most influential people on the internet. When he hopped into the 2016 Baltimore

Mayoral Race, it came as a surprise, as media reports reflected negatively against his decision.

Still, Mckesson is the most “popular” of all candidates, bringing in large contributions to his

campaign through social media.

He carries himself as such, jovial and free-spirited, though immensely conscience of his role.

“Very much aware that he bares the weight of a movement on his shoulders,” Bossier said.

Mckesson navigated the room and greeted volunteers. He wore his signature blue Patagonia


“Hello, I’m Deray,” he said, smiling at everyone.

With all eyes on him, Mckesson delivered a motivational speech detailing both campaign

strategy and gratitude.

“I think there are a lot of misconceptions about the campaign that we can clear up as soon as

we get out there, I think the people want to hear from us,” he said.

He has focused his campaign on the next generation of Baltimore and creating more

opportunities for the youth.

For what he lacks in experience, he makes up for in his use of technology. On this day, he

instructed volunteers to access campaign information from MiniVan app.

He encouraged his 330,000 Twitter followers to join along with the Canvassing group via

Periscope. Mckesson answered questions concerning his campaign.

Mckesson said his social media influence has changed political campaigns for the future.

“It is a model for how this can happen in cities across the country,” he said. “People can learn

concrete things they can do that can be applicable in campaigns across the country.”

He has received unexpected publicity since joining the campaign trail. There have been features

in the New Yorker and New York Times, as well as online journals like National Review. He has

been praised, but has dealt with plenty of criticism.

One of his biggest criticisms has been his lack of experience in politics, causing many to

question if he may have ulterior motives.

Mckesson has received a lot of flack for his time with Teach For America, an organization many

claim to have a “privatization agenda.”

“Teach For America is just one of many experiences I have had in education,” Mckesson said.

He maneuvered around the question, giving a safe response.

The 2016 Baltimore Mayoral Campaign has been filled with excitement, as several candidates

receive endorsements from high-profile celebrities. Mckesson made a splash in the news when

Baltimore actor, director and screenwriter John Waters made a video publicly endorsing him.

“I’m not sure what I can do to help Baltimore with it’s problems these days, so why not let

somebody younger and more radical have a crack at it?” Waters said in the video.

“I was excited about [Waters’ endorsement], he is a good guy who knows the Baltimore well,

and knows the spirit of the city” Mckesson said.

Mckesson has an extensive background in education and arts and culture, working with both

Baltimore and Minneapolis Public Schools systems. He has a degree in government and legal

studies from Bowdoin College.

He hopes to expand the Arts and Culture scene in Baltimore if elected Mayor, creating an eight-

point plan for the Arts in his campaign strategy.

“Where do people go to experience joy?” he questioned. “They go to Towson, they go to D.C.,

we need to invest in and amplify the cultural gifts that our city has in new ways.”

As popular as Mckesson has been, he has barely made a mark in polls, receiving less than 1

percent of votes. With just three weeks before the Democratic primary on April 26, Mckesson

said he has plenty of work to do.

Despite polls, Mckesson displays an aura of confidence in his campaign going forward.

“It’s about contacting as many voters as possible, we’re using digital tools and canvassing to do

that, that’s really powerful,” he said.

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