Q&A: BSA President Henry Washington discusses upcoming events with DeRay Mckesson

At two events Thursday, activist DeRay Mckesson will dissect the fight for social equality. Mckesson's activism started following the launch of the #BlackLivesMatter campaign as he documented the aftermath of last year’s events in Ferguson, Mo. He then went on to co-found the activist group We The Protesters. The first event—sponsored by the Black Student Alliance at 1:30 p.m. in White Lecture Hall—is a conversation between Mckesson and Charlie Cobb, Duke’s activist-in-residence from the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee Legacy Project, an initiative to document the historic struggle for equality. The second event is part of BSA’s Real Talk series and will begin at 6:30 p.m. in McClendon 5.

The Chronicle’s Carleigh Stiehm sat down with BSA President Henry Washington, a junior, to talk about what Mckesson can bring to the Duke community. All students are encouraged to attend these talks, as well as all events that BSA hosts, Washington said.

The Chronicle: Why did you want DeRay Mckesson to come speak on campus?

Henry Washington: To start off with, DeRay is an educator who graduated from Bowdoin College, a predominately white institution in Maine. Much of his intellectual disposition, which will especially inform the dialogue at the night event, is interested in how students at predominantly white institutions—whether they be black students or not—come to understand their responsibility in social justice work. We are also interested in this idea and wanted to further our discussion on it.

We also wanted someone who has been seen as radical and controversial because we were interested in what it looks like to implement one’s values even in the face of pushback from people both within and outside of one's cause. Within social justice work itself, DeRay has some strong supporters but also others who disagree with how he goes about carrying out his work.

TC: The first event on Thursday is a discussion with Charlie Cobb. Why did you choose these two activists to speak together?

HW: Charlie Cobb was an instrumental figure in SNCC's fight for equality. So we wanted to have a discussion that explored the differences and tensions between the activism of the civil rights movement and the activism of millenials within Black Lives Matter.

TC: Given recent events that have sparked dialogue surrounding racism on campus, it seems DeRay's two events come at a very relevant time. How do you hope these events impact campus discussion?

HW: The defacement of the #BlackLivesMatter poster reminded us of the relevancy of the topic of social justice and eradicating racial inequality, as well as the importance of cultivating an inclusive campus climate united against the pervasive reality of anti-black racism. There are a lot of events happening on campus right now around the topic of Black Lives Matter, and there will continue to be. Because black lives do actually matter. It certainly won't get old in my tenure at Duke, because it isn’t just about the microaggressions we face on campus, but also the tangible inequalities that are experienced by black and brown people on campus, in Durham and throughout the world. So as long as there are inequalities that are contingent upon race, we will remain committed to these dialogues.

TC: Is there anything else you think we should know?

HW: The responsibility for cultivating a diverse and inclusive community falls on all Duke students. The Black Student Alliance is always committed to including people from all backgrounds of race, gender, sexuality, religion in our programming and work. This event, just as all of our events throughout the semester, will be open to all students.


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