Stay Woke 101: DeRay Mckesson Teaching #BlackLivesMatter Seminar In Chicago

Black Lives Matter activist DeRay Mckesson talks to the media after his release from the Baton Rouge jail in Baton Rouge, La. on Sunday, July 10, 2016. Mckesson, three journalists and more than 120 other people have been taken into custody in Louisiana over the past two days, authorities said Sunday, after protests over the fatal shooting of an African-American man by two white police officers in Baton Rouge.
Black Lives Matter activist DeRay Mckesson talks to the media after his release from the Baton Rouge jail in Baton Rouge, La. in July. McKesson Max Becherer / AP Photo
Black Lives Matter activist DeRay Mckesson talks to the media after his release from the Baton Rouge jail in Baton Rouge, La. on Sunday, July 10, 2016. Mckesson, three journalists and more than 120 other people have been taken into custody in Louisiana over the past two days, authorities said Sunday, after protests over the fatal shooting of an African-American man by two white police officers in Baton Rouge.
Black Lives Matter activist DeRay Mckesson talks to the media after his release from the Baton Rouge jail in Baton Rouge, La. in July. McKesson Max Becherer / AP Photo

Stay Woke 101: DeRay Mckesson Teaching #BlackLivesMatter Seminar In Chicago

Activist DeRay Mckesson will teach a seven-week Black Lives Matter seminar at the University of Chicago, where he is a fellow at the school’s Institute of Politics.

Mckesson joined Morning Shift to talk about the seminar and the evolution of digital organizing in Chicago. Here is some of what he had to say:

Q: What can your students expect in this seminar?

A: I’m excited to see the students at the University of Chicago challenge conceptions of organizing in the digital space. One of the beauties about the classroom is that it’s the last place in this America where the idea is still be important, where people can fight about ideas and not about personalities.

Q: What about those who argue that notions like trigger warnings compromise free speech in the classroom?

A: People politicize trigger warnings to suggest that we shouldn’t talk about complex things, and that’s not what it means. All across the country, I’ve seen people have really robust and complex conversations about race and identity and organizing. I’m hopeful the course I teach will also be one of those spaces.

Q: How can movements move from grassroots protests to creating institutional change?

A: People forget that slavery was really imaginative. It took a lot of imagination to say white people are just worth more, and we’re going to sell people as commodities. People aren’t as imaginative about solutions in this moment.

You say, ‘we could give every kid born in Chicago a library when they’re born, we could do home visits.’ And people are like, ‘That’s so wild, we could never do that.’

What do you mean we could never do that? We’ve done so much in this country that is wild in a negative sense, that we could actually do incredible things at scale that are positive.

Q: What does shape should police accountability reform take in Chicago?

A: The focus has to be on how do we think about systemic solutions -- the police oversight commission, Kim Foxx’s nomination, or the clause in the police union contract that destroys discipline records after five years. I think people are pressing the right levers to pick at these pieces that will eventually, hopefully lead to some real structural change.

This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.