Black History Month: James Mackey

Black History Month: James Mackey

Community organizer James Mackey is not afraid to challenge the system that he felt failed him when he was young.

"Back in the mid-'80s, early '90s, when the crack epidemic hit, my father had got incarcerated," Mackey said. "He was trying to provide for my mom and for my older brother, sister, and me while I was in my mom’s stomach."

Mackey's mother raised the family alone on the South Side of Chicago. When he was a teen, his brother suffered a broken neck in gang violence, and his mom moved the family to Columbus, Ohio to escape.

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"The way that society, the way that the media portrays black men is nothing but negative," Mackey said. "They’re angry, vicious, and a whole bunch of other things, and so me, seeing that as a six-year-old, not really understanding but internalizing that, I became that. I was kicked out of every public school system that I ever attended."

It wasn't until he lost one of his brothers that he made a change.

"I lost my little brother to the prison system, and I felt like it was my fault because of the lifestyle I was living that led him down to that path," Mackey said. "And then I had lost a step-brother due to gang violence, and I also felt like my action played a major role in that. It really affected me tremendously.”

A teacher took a chance on Mackey and helped him get into the Americorps program with placement in Boston.

Mackey found his stride as a motivational speaker, using his story to inspire others while using his connections in his neighborhood to organize young people around issues of gun violence. 
Mackey recalled being invited to the State House for a discussion with lawmakers on prison reform.

"Everyone on the panel was white,” Mackey explained.  “And that made me extremely upset because, I’m like, most of the young people in Massachusetts who are incarcerated are black and brown young people, but you have people who do not look like them or represent them at all in this space.”

Mackey has collaborated with the Center for Teen Empowerment, and worked with national nonprofit Youthbuild and Boston's My Brother's Keeper.

He started "Stuck on Replay," a series of community events to talk about the issues affecting communities of color. He also recently received the Roy Wilkins Next Generation Leadership Award by the Boston branch of the NAACP.

"A lot of millennials, I would say, are definitely revolutionary and are not backing down," Mackey said. "We got a lot of energy. We got a lot of passion. We have social media now. You can be a social media guru and start movements just with a hashtag."

Mackey is currently working with a group of 300 men from neighborhood groups to respond to violence in the city of Boston.

Read more Black History Month stories
Read more Black History Month stories