Brittany Packnett and DeRay Mckesson Win Peter Jennings Award for Civic Leadership

Teach For America Alumni Honored for Their Contributions and Commitment to Systemic Change Stemming from Ferguson


Jacksonville, Fla., July 17, 2015—Teach For America announced today at its annual Educators Conference that alumni Brittany Packnett (D.C. Region ’07) and DeRay Mckesson (New York ’07) are the winners of the prestigious Peter Jennings Award for Civic Leadership. Established in 2007, the award—named in honor of the late journalist and ABC News anchor—is presented annually to Teach For America alumni who embody the organization’s core values and whose work in the last year has contributed to systemic change on a broad scale. Award winners are selected by a committee that includes Jennings’ wife, Kayce Freed Jennings, and his children. The award is underwritten by the Jennings family.

Packnett and Mckesson are part of a broad network of organizers, activists, and change agents who are working collaboratively for change. Packnett took action in the immediate wake of unrest in Ferguson. As the executive director of Teach For America–St. Louis, she worked with local parents and educators to support a substitute school at the Ferguson library, where more than 50 Teach For America alumni offered academic instruction and a safe place for students while their schools were closed during the unrest. In her personal time, Packnett has been an involved activist named by President Obama to the Presidential Task Force on 21st Century Policing, and by Missouri Governor Jay Nixon to the Ferguson Commission.

Mckesson’s deft use of social media provided Ferguson citizens with a viral voice. His Twitter following (@deray) has grown to more than 175,000, and Mckesson left his job as the senior director of human capital for Minneapolis Public Schools to pursue his activism full-time with We The Protesters—most recently in Charleston following the tragedy at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church. Packnett and Mckesson teamed up to facilitate “#FergusonFireside,” virtual discussions for young activists, and to release the online series “Open Letters from Ferguson,” which captures the protesters’ demands for justice and has been viewed more than 260,000 times. Most recently the pair, along with other activists, have launched, a site that aims to coordinate social action against racism. Nearly 6,000 subscribers have signed up worldwide.

“I’m proud to honor Brittany Packnett and DeRay Mckesson for their civic leadership,” said Kayce Freed Jennings. “Peter believed in the mission and values of Teach For America, and admired the corps members and alumni who work with extraordinary determination in service of a stronger America.  At this pivotal moment in our country, Brittany and DeRay have chosen to use their formidable talents to advance social and racial equality.  If education is to be the great equalizer, there must be equal access to an equal education and that only happens if there is equal justice.”

The award winners and three finalists are being celebrated in Jacksonville at Teach For America’s annual Educators Conference, July 16-17. In addition, the winners and finalists are invited to participate as ambassadors from the United States in the 2015 Teach For All Global Conference, to be held this October in New Zealand.

“Peter and Kayce Jennings’ shared commitment to expanding educational opportunity has aided the advancement of our mission significantly, and helped empower alumni to advocate for our communities through a multitude of avenues,” said Elisa Villanueva Beard (Phoenix ’98), co-CEO of Teach For America. “We’re thrilled to celebrate Brittany and DeRay, whose solutions-oriented work, in partnership with others, is helping break down systemic barriers specifically targeting low-income communities and communities of color. We’re grateful for the contributions and diverse perspectives of all of our alumni, including the three additional finalists for the Peter Jennings Award for Civic Leadership, working toward a world where all kids have equal access to great educational opportunities.”  

Award finalists are Evan Stone and Sydney Morris (both New York ’07) and Jeff Nelson (Chicago ’04). Stone and Morris founded Educators 4 Excellence (E4E), an organization that brings teachers together to learn about education news, research, and policy; network with like-minded colleagues and key education decision-makers; and take action to advocate for policy changes that will elevate the teaching profession and improve outcomes for students. Nelson is the co-founder and CEO of OneGoal, a teacher-led college-success organization that enlists and trains top educators to teach underserved high school students how to enroll in and complete college.

In the 2014-15 school year, 10,600 Teach For America corps members taught in 50 regions across the country. Eighty-four percent of Teach For America’s more than 37,000 alumni—going back to the first corps in 1990—continue to work in education or with low-income communities, and are bringing their diverse experiences and talents to tackle many systemic issues facing communities in need. Past winners of the Peter Jennings Award include former Tennessee Commissioner of Education Kevin Huffman (Houston ’92), D.C. Public Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson (D.C. Region ’92), Uncommon Chief Schools Officer Julie Jackson (New Jersey ’94), and Colorado State Senator Michael Johnston (Mississippi ’97).

About Teach For America
Teach For America works in partnership with communities to expand educational opportunity for children facing the challenges of poverty. Founded in 1990, Teach For America recruits and develops a diverse corps of outstanding college graduates and professionals to make an initial two-year commitment to teach in high-need schools and become lifelong leaders in the movement to end educational inequity. Today, 10,600 corps members are teaching in 50 urban and rural regions across the country while more than 37,000 alumni work across sectors to ensure that all children have access to an excellent education. Teach For America is a proud member of the AmeriCorps national service network. For more information, visit and follow us on Facebook and Twitter.