Student activist receives prestigious Truman Scholarship

April 20, 2016 By Will Hoverman
Photo: Deshawn McKinney

Deshawn McKinney speaks during a public roundtable discussion titled “Ferguson in Context: Trauma, Violence, and Citizenship” held on campus in December 2014. Photo: Bryce Richter

Deshawn McKinney, a UW–Madison English-creative writing student, activist and artist, has been selected to receive the Truman Scholarship.

The Harry S. Truman Scholarship Foundation was created by Congress in 1975 to be the nation’s living memorial to President Harry S. Truman. The foundation has a mission to select and support the next generation of public service leaders. The Truman award has become one of the most prestigious national scholarships in the United States.

Annually, candidates for the Truman Scholarship go through a rigorous, multi-stage selection process. In 2016 there were 775 candidates for the award nominated by 305 colleges and universities, a record number of applications and institutions. The 200 finalists for the award were interviewed in March and early April at one of sixteen regional selection panels. Fifty-four new Truman Scholars were selected in 2016. They will receive their awards in a ceremony at the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library and Museum on Sunday, May 29.

“This scholarship is about showing how far I’ve come and getting closer to being the man I need to be for my family. But much more so it’s about placing value on black lives and validating the work being done towards achieving liberation.”

Deshawn McKinney

Recipients of the Truman Scholarship receive $30,000 toward graduate school and the opportunity to participate in professional development programming to help prepare them for careers in public service leadership.

McKinney, a junior from Milwaukee, has been a vocal leader for the Black Lives Matter movement on campus and strives for social justice and racial equity. He is also a member of First Wave and a PEOPLE scholar, and is currently studying abroad in Tokyo.

“(McKinney) is easily hands-down the best undergraduate thinker I’ve ever encountered,” says English professor and poet Amy Quan Barry.

Photo: Wilder Deitz

Wilder Deitz

Photo: Jake Roble

Jake Roble

McKinney earned the award after being selected as one of four Wisconsin nominees, three of whom attend UW–Madison. He represented Wisconsin on the national stage alongside fellow Badgers Wilder Deitz of Madison and Jake Roble, who is originally from Palatine, Illinois, but now resides in Madison.

Receiving the Truman scholarship means a great deal, McKinney says.

“I knew that receiving this scholarship would open doors for so many people to come after me, it would mean so much to the various communities that have molded me, and it would further the work we all were already engaged in,” he says. “This scholarship is about showing how far I’ve come and getting closer to being the man I need to be for my family. But much more so it’s about placing value on black lives and validating the work being done towards achieving liberation.

“It’s about further validating First Wave and its activism pillar. It’s about uplifting the PEOPLE program and the good they do for thousands of students across the state. It’s about never forgetting Rufus King International School and always loving the city of Milwaukee — the actual city where you and the streets share a heartbeat. And it’s about how possible it is for those of us from the bottom to claw our way out and carve out a place in society.”

Related: Q&A with Deshawn McKinney