Deshawn McKinney has been selected as one of the 54 students nationwide to receive the Truman Scholarship, which includes $30,000 toward graduate school and the opportunity to participate in professional development programming to help prepare him for a career in public service leadership.

McKinney, a junior from Milwaukee, is a UW-Madison English-creative writing student, activist and artist. He has been a vocal leader for the Black Lives Matter movement on campus where he strives for social justice and racial equity.

“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,” McKinney said in a statement. “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.”

Hailing from the north side of Milwaukee, McKinney’s work focuses on the liberation of all intersections of black people and their identities, and building coalition across peoples and movements to create sustainable, proactive, and effective bases of power. He currently sits on the board of directors for the United States Student Association, the country’s oldest, largest, and most inclusive national student-led organization, which focuses on mobilizing grassroots power to win concrete victories on student issues.

English professor and poet Amy Quan Barry said in a statement that McKinney is “easily hands-down the best undergraduate thinker I’ve ever encountered.”
The Harry S. Truman Scholarship Foundation was created by Congress in 1975 to be the nation’s living memorial to President Harry S. Truman and has a mission to select and support the next generation of public service leaders. 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.

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.

McKinney is also a member of First Wave and a PEOPLE scholar, and is currently studying abroad in Tokyo. PEOPLE (Pre–College Enrichment Opportunity Program for Learning Excellence) is a pre-college pipeline for students of color and low-income students, most of whom are the first in their families to potentially attend college. Administered by the Office of Multicultural Arts Initiatives (OMAI), the First Wave Learning Community is the first university program in the country centered on urban arts, spoken word and hip-hop culture.

“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,” McKinney said in a statement. “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.”

McKinney and the other winners will receive their awards in a ceremony at the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library and Museum on Sunday, May 29.