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A Conversation with DeRay Mckesson on Civil Rights 2.0 During Black History Month

Woke Wednesday

By Sahara Ali

Civil rights activist, author, and a leading voice in the Black Lives Matter Movement, DeRay Mckesson shares the evolution of pivotal social movements and how we can all continue to use our platforms to drive systemic change in our workplace and communities. 

February is Black History Month (BHM), where we honor all that has been done and must be done, as we strive for a more equal and just society. On February 3rd 2021, Salesforce kicked off BHM with a Woke Wednesday event on Civil Rights 2.0, moderated by BOLDforce Global President Lola Banjo and featured DeRay Mckesson (both seen above), a noted Civil rights activist, author, and a leading voice in the Black Lives Matter Movement. 

“As the global president of BOLDforce — our employee resource group (ERG) for our Black employees and allies — this month holds a deep significance to me. Coming off the heels of a crisis-laden 2020, there has never been a more urgent time to continue taking action for social good,” Banjo shares. 

Read on to hear their advice for driving  real, impactful systemic change in our workplace, communities, and beyond.

DeRay shared his thoughts on what he’s learned being on the frontlines of many pivotal social movements, and how they’ve evolved over the last decade:

“In some ways, seeing is believing. There are people who were on the fence, and there are people who didn’t stand with us in 2014 — and this was their moment. They said that if it ever happened again, I got you. So I think that more people now understand the problem.”

On the need for police reform and direct action:

“The number of people killed did not go down despite protests, COVID-19, quarantine, lockdown. The number of people that were killed by police actually went up. So when I step back, we got a lot of work to do. When you look at the news coverage, people really do think that led to some sort of structural change, and it necessarily didn’t. It doesn’t mean that all the energy that went into it is not important, but it means that we actually have to look and make sure that we are focusing on what the problem is.”

On how quickly we must act, and how the sentiment around civil rights has changed:

“If we don’t get [into the weeds], the rest of it is ‘window dressing’. I don’t want the legislative process after the protests to become window dressing. If there’s anything I’ve learned in the last round, the window does not stay open forever. The police kill 1,100 people a year and we don’t always get a window to make the change.”

On Campaign Zero, a campaign that encourages policymakers to focus on reducing police violence: 

“There are a set of guiding principles we follow. 1) We think that we can win in this lifetime, 2) we know that if the structures don’t change then the outcomes don’t change, and 3) We need to be taking it one bite at a time, and everyone biting at the same time.

On what the next phase of Civil Rights 2.0 looks like:

“It’s about how do we actually just do ‘the thing’ once and for all. We have more tools than people had in the past, such as talking to a million people at once. It wasn’t a thing that they had at their disposal — we do now. So the question becomes, can we use these things to finally deliver on that promise? In some ways, I’ve never been more confident that we can win and also never more worried that we might not.” 

On the best way for allies to get involved:

“You need to fight at the local level. Almost nobody is calling their state reps and council people. If you got ten friends to email their state representative about an issue, that is big.” 

“Systems are designed to make you think that you don’t have power. The more that you realize that you pressing really matters, and that you calling really matters, you emailing — that actually matters way more than you think! ” 

On continuing to push for action and change:

DeRay has famously shared in the past, “I know what you’re against, but how do I know what you’re for?” He elaborated on what this means today.

“The question becomes what do we do and how do we do it. […] I think people are afraid to put a stake in the ground, and we just need to figure out how to do it. […] I don’t need another reminder, I want to figure out how, what do we do [we to drive change].”

“We have to push people to put a stake in the ground.”



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