DeRay Mckesson, a 2007 Bowdoin College graduate and arguably the most recognizable face of the nationwide “Black Lives Matter” movement, is entering the Baltimore mayoral race, the New York Times reported.
Mckesson, who left his job as a Minneapolis school administrator and ultimately traveled the country chronicling protests against police violence and racial injustice on social media, became something of a celebrity.
He has met with both of the top Democratic candidates for president — Vermont U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton — as well as one of current President Barack Obama’s top advisers.
Mckesson, 30, appeared last month on an episode of “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert,” who pointed out that the activist was both named to Fortune magazine’s 2015 Greatest World Leaders list and is one of only 10 people followed on Twitter by famous singer Beyonce Knowles.
The Baltimore Sun reported that Mckesson is one of 13 people seeking the Democratic nomination for mayor, a nod that has traditionally decided the winner of the general election as well in a city where voters lean hard left. Also in the party primary mix are former Mayor Sheila Dixon, state Sen. Catherine E. Pugh and city councilmen Carl Stokes and Nick J. Mosby, among others, the Sun reported.
“It is true that I am a non-traditional candidate – I am not a former mayor, city councilman, state legislator, philanthropist or the son of a well-connected family. I am an activist, organizer, former teacher, and district administrator that intimately understands how interwoven our challenges and our solutions are,” Mckesson, a Baltimore native, wrote in an announcement of his candidacy posted to the website Medium.
“I have come to realize that the traditional pathway to politics, and the traditional politicians who follow these well-worn paths, will not lead us to the transformational change our city needs,” he wrote. “Many have accepted that our current political reality is fixed and irreversible — that we must resign ourselves to accept the way that City Hall functions, or the role of money and connections in dictating who runs and wins elections. They have bought into the notion that there is only one road that leads to serve as an elected leader.”
The Black Lives Matter movement sprouted in response to a series of incidents in which black individuals died during interactions with police or other law enforcement. The social media hashtag picked up momentum after neighborhood watchman George Zimmerman was acquitted of charges in the shooting death of black teen Trayvon Martin in Florida, and as subsequent protests in Ferguson, Missouri, and Baltimore took place in response to the deaths of Michael Brown and Freddie Gray, among many other incidents.
Mckesson helped launch the websites WeTheProtesters.org and MappingPoliceViolence.org, and has more recently been involved with the formation of Campaign Zero, a group seeking to “end police violence in America.”
He returned to his alma mater Bowdoin College in Brunswick in late September to meet with new President Clayton Rose and speak to students.
Mckesson told the Bowdoin students at the time that “change requires work.”
“I can name white privilege, I can see white privilege, and I can see its impact. [But] somebody who has it has to use it to disrupt it,” he said during his appearance at Bowdoin. “I don’t think I’m angry anymore. I don’t think I’m afraid anymore. I’m trying to be focused … on ending the crisis.”
Both the New York Times and Baltimore Sun described Mckesson’s pathway to victory in the Maryland city’s mayoral race as an uphill battle.
While Mckesson is well-known to young, politically active social media users nationwide, he still lacks name recognition among the older, more reliable voters in Baltimore, the newspapers reported. Sixty-two-year-old former mayor Dixon, the Democratic frontrunner despite losing her office due to fraud charges in 2010, told the Sun she’d never heard of Mckesson, for instance.
“If the electorate consisted of celebrities who were politically conscious, then maybe he would have a chance,” Sean Yoes, host of a local Morgan State University radio show, told the Sun. “I suspect the vast majority of the most prolific voting bloc in Baltimore city do not know who he is. That’s going to be problematic for him.”
Former firefighter Brian Charles Vaeth and former radio host Alan Walden are among the five candidates seeking the Republican nomination, while three candidates are seeking the Green Party nomination.