Mckesson, best known for his prolific voice on race and black liberation on Twitter and his work as an outspoken activist, is not Yale’s newest professor. He’s a guest speaker as part of the Yale Divinity School’s lecture series on “transformational leadership.”
The Root spoke with Mckesson Thursday, and he clarifies that despite what Fox News says, he didn’t land a teaching gig, and despite the rumors going around on Twitter, he’s not getting paid anything near $40,000 for it.
Calling the $40,000 rumor “absurd,” Mckesson says, “People are thinking I’m like a tenured professor. I'm not.”
Instead, Mckesson will be giving two lectures as part of a two-day course, worth one course credit, about the styles of leadership he has seen emerge in the larger social-justice movement.
“I’ve stood with protesters in almost 20 cities; I’ve been to, at this point, hundreds of protests and seen such incredible styles of leading and organizing emerge in so many communities,” Mckesson says. “I’ll talk about the different styles of leading and organizing that has emerged. And also the space around digital organizing that has opened in the movement.
“The very notion of community is being redefined in this moment,” he adds. “The public space is getting broader, and as the public space gets broader, the discourse changes. And when the discourse changes, we also see people lead in those spaces differently. So I’ll be talking about those things as well.”
Mckesson, who is currently in Washington, D.C., for the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation’s Annual Legislative Conference, was chosen by the divinity school on the suggestion of “a variety of black church leaders as one of several able people who share in some aspect of the leadership of the Black Lives Matter movement, which we believe is of central importance to the future pastors, theologians and social-change leaders who study at YDS,” Yale Divinity School director of communications Tom Krattenmaker said in an email to The Root. “Not surprisingly, the response from our students [has] been enthusiastic and positive.”
The lecture series is funded by a $120,000 grant meant to cover 20 or more speakers throughout the three years of the program. While Krattenmaker couldn’t say specifically how much individual speakers would be paid, he called what honoraria they would receive “modest.”
“All the guests … will receive identical, very modest honoraria, not nearly enough to make their speaking role worthwhile from a purely financial standpoint,” Krattenmaker said. “The speakers are coming because they appreciate the opportunity to engage divinity-school students around consequential questions of leadership.”
Despite the controversy surrounding his guest-lecture spot at Yale, a lot positive is going on in Mckesson’s life at the moment as he works with Campaign Zero, a law-enforcement-reform platform tackling issues on the local, state and federal level surrounding policing and decriminalization. As part of Campaign Zero, Mckesson recently met with presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders and his campaign to discuss the platform.
“We talked about community policing, some dangers of what that means to some people, body cameras, we talked about decriminalizing marijuana … a host of things,” Mckesson says.
He was also recently at the White House, where he, along with other activists, met with President Barack Obama’s senior adviser, Valerie Jarrett, and Deputy Assistant for Urban Affairs Roy Austin. Mckesson says that Jarrett and Austin had read Campaign Zero’s platform and were versed in it, but he couldn’t divulge what was discussed during the meeting, which included Dream Defenders’ Umi Selah, Campaign Zero’s Johnetta Elzie and Brittany Packnett, and Baltimore United for Change’s Jamye Wooten.
Still, as his spotlight grows, so does the number of his detractors. Mckesson has become a target of late, on both sides, with conservatives, like Tucker Carlson, calling him a “race hustler” (most recently during a segment of Fox & Friends), while anonymous people claiming to be Black Lives Matter activists openly questioned his tactics and Campaign Zero’s accountability in a recent story by BuzzFeed.
Mckesson took to Twitter to address the article, saying, “I’m not sure I would join an organization that holds anonymous public criticism in the press as a model of ‘accountability.’”
The BuzzFeed post has proved to be controversial on both sides. Those with Black Lives Matter, the organization, say they don’t believe anyone involved in their network would say such things about Mckesson or Campaign Zero. The Root spoke with Patrisse Cullors, one of the co-founders of Black Lives Matter, who said, “Black Lives Matter founders have no knowledge of anyone who would give an anonymous quote. Whoever did, that’s unfortunate. And what we should be doing at this moment is to collaborate and figure out how to work together.”
The story also comes on the heels of a backlash against Black Lives Matter as a movement. Beyond Mckesson, many with any affiliation with BLM are being attacked. Bree Newsome, who took down the Confederate flag on the South Carolina Statehouse grounds, and fellow Campaign Zero member Packnett have been attacked over social media for their activism. Various reporters who have covered BLM and policing issues have faced accusations regarding their race. And most recently, Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly went after Black Lives Matter as a whole, charging that BLM should be labeled a hate group.
When asked, Mckesson says he doesn’t know why he’s become such a lightning rod for criticism. He seemed disheartened by some of the critiques in the BuzzFeed story, where anonymous sources accused him of being recalcitrant to working with others and one activist was quoted saying that Mckesson has “gone into places and countered the organizing on the ground, and tweeted out information he wasn’t supposed to, perpetuated bad narratives and not offer support.”
“I’ve been to all the places that I’ve been to, and worked with local organizers before, with local protesters before, in my time in community service. That was an untrue statement,” Mckesson says.
He later pushes back against the idea that he is against joining a larger organization or established group.
“It’s never been that I’ve chosen not to be in any organization; it’s that I’ve not chosen to be in any so far,” he says. “[Johnetta Elzie] and I have been working for the past two years, and we believe that there are ways to organize and work with others that aren’t necessarily centered on a membership model, and that is no indictment of other ways of organizing. Just as there is no monolithic blackness, there is no monolithic way of organizing.”