Deshawn Mckinney explores the complexities of intergenerational trauma and forgiveness in his debut chapbook, father forgive me.
Originally from the Northside of Milwaukee, the writer and poet published his first book earlier this year through Black Sunflowers Poetry Press. He recently won the 2021 River Heron Poetry Prize for his poem ”Anansi Me.”
“I wanted to grapple with generational trauma; the way that it manifests within the self and the way that it follows one throughout their journey in life, and then wrestling with forgiveness through that lens,” he said.
McKinney describes forgiveness as a messy and murky process. He explained we don’t often acknowledge how difficult it is to forgive.
He says people often tell others they should forgive or that forgiving is “cathartic” or “healthy.” Sometimes people say forgiveness is needed to move forward, which puts the impetus on the hurt, the targeted or survivor.
“I don’t agree with that perspective and I don’t think it’s always necessary to forgive,” McKinney said.
He doesn’t provide answers on how to or when to forgive either. Instead, Mckinney’s work examines the concept of forgiveness itself while placing an emphasis on authenticity.
“I think the inspiration behind all of my work really is truth. That’s kind of the point from which I create. I just want to be honest and tell honest stories,” he said.
McKinney also says writing for him is the most honest version of himself. He would like his work to speak to experiences and fall in step with experiences across the African diaspora. McKinney thinks of his experiences as an African American as part of a larger mosaic.
“I’m grateful because I’ve been fortunate enough to travel the world and one of my closest friends is Kenyan. He’s back in Nairobi right now and that man, I love to death. I would do anything for him. I would provide for him,” he said.
When McKinney thinks about his friends and family, he also thinks about his international family. He pursued a masters in social policy and planning from The London School of Economics and Political Science after graduating from UW-Madison in 2017.
“That was the first time I was able to just sit down and study poetry,” McKinney said.
He lived in the United Kingdom for two years before returning to the United States in the middle of a global pandemic. McKinney now serves as Special Assistant to the Vice President of Institutional Advancement at Bethune-Cookman University, a private historically black university in Daytona Beach, Florida. In this position, he has the capacity to support the work of an HBCU and mentor Black students.
“My focus is Black liberation and that is the unshackling of the mind, the physical self, spiritual self, and the emotional self. How can we move forward as a people where we’re not only living but we’re thriving,” he said.
McKinney looks for opportunities to give back to the community, including those that raised him. After participating in Still Waters Collective’s high school slam league, graduating from Rufus King High School and attending UW-Madison as both a PEOPLE Program and First Wave Hip Hop Arts, he has been immersed in the art world since.
McKinney also reps the Northside of Milwaukee everywhere he goes. Last month, he participated in a poemalogue with Dasha Kelly Hamilton, poet laureate for both the city of Milwaukee and state of Wisconsin.
Deshawn McKinney also shared one poem from his book, “On Forgiveness,” on Wisconsin Life, a co-production of Wisconsin Public Radio and PBS Wisconsin.