Deshawn McKinney is a lot of things. UW-Madison fourth-year creative writing major, organizer, activist, First Wave Scholar and a 2017 Marshall Scholarship recipient. Above all, he’s determined.
“There are people who are chasing greatness, and I think I have a bit of that in me.” McKinney says. “And there are other people who are just doing the work and fighting, and I have that side of me, too.”
Growing up on the north side of Milwaukee, McKinney faced harsh realities early on. Poverty, family addiction and exposure to abusive relationships plagued his early life.
“It was a turbulent time. But I think it — through that fire I was forged into something really strong,” says McKinney.
Through his experiences with First Wave, a UW-Madison hip hop arts scholarship program, McKinney developed the confidence to express his beliefs and be a leader.
“I think a lot of the reason that I’m comfortable in the public eye in my convictions is because of my training as a performer,” says McKinney. “All of that stuff is wrapped up in First Wave, so it was crucial for me.”
In 2016, McKinney became the president of the Wisconsin Union. Through his leadership, he hopes to continue to work toward making the Union a more diverse space for the entire student body to come together.
“It’s been a lot of work but I think it’s been rewarding,” says McKinney.
McKinney was a recipient of the 2017 Marshall Scholarship, a graduate level scholarship program that grants students the opportunity to study at an academic institution of their choice in the U.K. McKinney plans to work toward a master’s degree in policy and administration as well as a master’s degree in social policy.
McKinney isn’t without his reservations about studying abroad. He faces the dilemma of continuing to advocate for the progression of social and political causes he believes in, while living abroad.
“The country isn’t going to save my community. I have to do it. So I need to push through. Like the world didn’t stop. I still have responsibilities,” says McKinney.
As for the future, McKinney plans to continue to serve the public good while also creating and performing art. Through his experiences as a UW-Madison campus leader, McKinney hopes to inspire others.
“I hope that people can look at me and know that it’s possible, and know that it’s okay to dream and to strive and fight for something more,” McKinney says. “I think that’s just the consequence of a life well lived.”