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MSCS board member Michelle McKissack makes it official: She’s running for Memphis mayor

Pledges to continue advocating for teachers and public schools

Michelle Robinson McKissack

Former MSCS board Chair Michelle McKissack announced she’s running for Memphis mayor. She led the board during a turbulent period from 2021 to 2022.

Courtesy of Michelle Robinson McKissack

In 2018, after she and Joyce Dorse-Coleman ousted two incumbent men to propel women to a six-seat majority on the Memphis-Shelby County School Board in an election dubbed the “pink wave,” Michelle McKissack saw possibilities.

“We’ve been out here, doing the do for so long, and there’s no reason why we cannot run for office and win,” McKissack told The Commercial Appeal.

McKissack ultimately became chair of the board. And on Thursday, she officially announced she was pursuing another possibility: Becoming Memphis’ first woman mayor.

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In a social media post announcing her candidacy, McKissack touted her leadership of the school board during the pandemic and pledged to continue her advocacy for youth, teachers and public schools.

“This moment calls for investment in our youth, solutions for crime and public safety, economic and community development, housing affordability, clean and attractive neighborhoods, support for our LGBTQ+ community, and so much more,” she wrote on LinkedIn.

The announcement came the same day that five Memphis police officers were charged with murder in the beating death of a man named Tyre Nichols after a traffic stop, an incident that has sparked anger in Memphis.

“It is clear we have to do something different to change the way police interact with members of our community,” McKissack tweeted last week in response to the incident.

McKissack, a native Memphian and former broadcast journalist, joins a packed field aiming to replace Mayor Jim Strickland, who is barred from running a third time because of term limits. 

Those contenders include Shelby County Sheriff Floyd Bonner, Downtown Memphis Commission CEO Paul Young, former Shelby County Commissioner Van Turner, state Rep. Karen Camper and businessman J.W. Gibson II.

McKissack made her public announcement at Downtown Elementary School, the school all four of her children attended, and where she got involved in schools as a parent volunteer.

McKissack, who won reelection in August to her District 1 school board seat, said volunteering at Downtown Elementary was among the experiences that led her to run for the school board. 

But she recently told Chalkbeat that her time on the board also made her realize that the city could play a bigger role in supporting the school system, in particular through workforce training and direct funding.

As chair during 2021-22, McKissack guided the board through a tumultuous period, as the schools struggled to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic and its scandal-plagued superintendent, Joris Ray, resigned.

The Memphis municipal election is Oct. 5, 2023.

Bureau Chief Tonyaa Weathersbee oversees Chalkbeat Tennessee’s education coverage. Contact her at tweathersbee@chalkbeat.org.

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