Brittany Packnett

individual

Brittany N. Packnett (also known as Brittany N. Packnett Cunningham, her married name) was born November 12, 1984 in St. Louis, Missouri.

Packnett graduated in 2006 from Washington University in St. Louis, with a bachelor’s degree in African and African-American Studies. She subsequently worked as a third-grade teacher at Martin Luther King Elementary School in the District of Columbia from June 2007 through August 2009.

In 2009, Packnett earned a master’s degree in elementary education from American University.

From August 2009 through August 2010, she served as a legislative assistant in the congressional office of Democrat Rep. William Lacy Clay Jr.

Beginning in 2010, Packnett launched a nearly ten-year stint in the employ of Teach For America, where she served variously as TFA’s director of government affairs, St. Louis executive director, vice president of national community alliances, and vice president of national engagement. Her tenure with TFA ended in January 2020.

Amid the protests and riots that followed the August 2014 police shooting of a black teenager named Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, Packnett emerged as a leading figure in the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement. Indeed, she was one of the key “Hands up, don’t shoot” propagandists who in 2014 promoted the lie that Brown had been shot in cold blood while trying to surrender peacefully. Packnett’s anti-white attitudes are wholly consistent with those of BLM:

  • “The more you benefit from [white] supremacy, the more responsible you have to be to dismantle it,” Packnett told the Unitarian Universalist Association in June 2018.
  • “I never use the word ‘minority,’ because people of color are the global majority,” Packnett said on the February 18, 2020 Awesomely Luvvie “It is a Western idea that we measure everything up against Whiteness, even though Whiteness is not the default around the world.”
  • America’s “systemic racism” is a pandemic, Packnett stated in an interview in 2020: “And I think that the dual pandemics of systemic racism and coronavirus are pushing people to realize that just because this is the way things are, does not mean this is the way things need to be. People are taking power in their own hands to create the world they want.”
  • In the same 2020 interview, Packnett said that black women have a special role to play in combating the white supremacy that she claims infects American society: “I think what’s most important is realizing that representation is only the first step—that unless people experience true equity and inclusion in the workplace and liberation more broadly, then we haven’t done all the work. It is not enough simply to bring Black women to the table if they are not leading the table, if we are not being resourced to build our own, and if we are not respected for the leaders that we are, instead of being made to fit into other people’s molds.”
  • The idea of leaving the populace vulnerable to criminals by cutting police budgets has to be sold carefully to the American public to avoid frightening them, Packnett said in that same interview: “So conversations about defunding the police should not be had in ways that scare people; they should be had in ways that are honest to the fact that what we are talking about is re-imagining public safety, not creating Gotham without Batman.”

Packnett was an appointed member of the Ferguson Commission, created in November 2014, three months after the death of Michael Brown, by then-Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon, a Democrat. Nixon asked the commission to undertake an “unflinching study” of the conditions surrounding Brown’s shooting, describing the work as “not for the faint of heart.”

In December 2014 Packnett was appointed to then-President Barack Obama’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing. Claiming that “the role of policing in past and present injustice and discrimination … is a hurdle to the promotion of community trust,” this Task Force opposed the “criminalization of nonviolent offenses” like drug crimes. It also mandated that police departments nationwide report to the Justice Department their race and gender composition.  Packnett served on this Task Force for one year.

Packnett visited the Obama White House more than a dozen times as a representative of BLM, including at least five occasions when she met personally with the president. On December 1, 2014, for instance, Packnett and several Ferguson activists shared with Mr. Obama a list of demands that included the following:

  • “The federal government using its power to prosecute police officers that kill or abuse people”
  • “Removing local district attorneys from the job of holding police accountable, and instead having independent prosecutors at the local level charged with prosecuting officers”
  • “The establishment of community review boards that can make recommendations for police misconduct, instead of allowing police departments to police themselves”
  • “Defunding local police departments that use excessive force or racially profile”
  • “The demilitarization of local police departments”
  • “Investing in programs that provide alternatives to incarceration, such as community-led restorative justice programs and community groups that educate people about their rights”

After the December 1 meeting with Obama, Packnett told reporters: “In our meeting, we explained that most violence in our community is coming from the police department, and something needs to be done about it.”

On September 16, 2015, Packnett and fellow BLM leaders DeRay McKesson and Johnetta Elzie had another White House meeting with President Obama – and with senior advisor Valerie Jarrett and other administration officials. Afterward, Packnett told reporters: “He [Obama] offered us a lot of encouragement with his background as a community organizer, and told us that even incremental changes were progress. He didn’t want us to get discouraged. He said, ‘Keep speaking truth to power.’”

At a Black History Month event at the White House in February 2016, President Obama again welcomed Packnett and McKesson as well as such notables as activist Al Sharpton, Color of Change executive director Rashad Robinson, and NAACP Legal Defense Fund president Sherrilyn Ifill. In the course of his remarks that day, Obama said: “But we’ve also got some young people here who are making history as we speak. People like Brittany [Packnett], who served on our Police Task Force in the wake of Ferguson, and has led many of the protests that took place there and shined a light on the injustice that was happening. People like DeRay Mckesson, who has done some outstanding work mobilizing in Baltimore around these issues. And to see generations continuing to work on behalf of justice and equality and economic opportunity is greatly encouraging to me…. They are much better organizers than I was at their age. I am confident they are going to take America to new heights.”

On July 13, 2016 — six days after a BLM supporter in Dallas had shot and killed five police officers and wounded seven others — President Obama hosted Packnett and Mckesson at a four-and-a-half-hour meeting at the White House. Also invited were Al Sharpton, Attorney General Loretta Lynch, Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards (D), St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman (D), and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti (D).

President Obama’s multiple meetings with Packnett left the president with a high opinion of her. In a 2016 interview with Ta-Nehsi Coates, Obama said, “I thought Brittany Packnett, who was one of the Ferguson activists, really interesting, smart young lady, really impressive—you might want to talk with her.”

In 2015 Packnett was a co-founder of Campaign Zero (CZ), which she describes as “[a] policy platform to end police violence in America — because we believe we can live in a world where the police don’t kill people.” She worked for CZ until June 2020.

In March 2016, Packnett described the prospect of Donald Trump winning the presidency as the potential for “racism, fascism and hate to sit so openly and supported in the White House.” When Trump defeated fellow Republican Marco Rubio in the Florida presidential primary, Packnett tweeted that “white supremacy is doing quite well in America.”

Days after Trump was elected U.S. President in November 2016, Packnett seethed with racial resentment, blaming white Americans for the election result in an essay at Vox.com where she wrote:

“On the day after the election, I reached out to my white friends. Through a series of text messages and posts, I asked them a simple question: ‘White people: What is your plan?’ … I was tired of continuously being assaulted by my country … It was very clear: White people handed us Donald Trump. White people did this…. As I’ve publicly expressed this truth, the predictably problematic refrain of ‘not all white people…’ returned again and again.”

In the same essay, Packnett smeared Trump as the preferred candidate of the KKK: “Of course, not everyone who voted for him is actively racist, sexist, or xenophobic. Most people who voted for him were not active Klan members or neo-Nazis, though, lest we forget, the Klan did find their candidate in Donald.”

In late 2016, Packnett was awarded a Pahara-Aspen Institute Fellowship for “change agents.” Aa partnership between the Pahara and Aspen Institutes, this fellowship is described as “a two-year, cohort-based program that identifies exceptional leaders in the educational excellence and equity movement, facilitates their dynamic growth, and strengthens their collective efforts to dramatically improve public schools, especially those serving low-income children and communities.”

In December 2016, Packnett wrote a piece for Sojourners magazine titled “Resistance is Holy Work.” The “resistance” which she referenced was opposition to President-elect Trump. Some excerpts from Packnett’s article:

“What truths must we tell? We must tell the truth that the entire world is not white, straight, Christian, cis-gendered, American-born, male, or able-bodied, and that those of us who aren’t matter just as much as those of us who are. We must tell the truth that rhetoric and policies that encourage violence against those same people is not of God and not of the freedom we espouse. We must tell the truth that if all of us were truly created equal, then the cancer of xenophobia makes all of us sick—and that none of us are truly free until we are all free.

“We did not lose an election as much as we validated and normalized a way of life that is beneath our humanity—and, therefore, which requires our resistance…. [I]n eras like this one, inaction is a sin. Inaction perpetuates this latest wave of hate just as much as if you painted a swastika yourself…. It is holy to resist such things. Holy resistance means calling out that hate by name and casting it out of where you are.”

In January 2017, Packnett and other activists affiliated with Black Lives Matter released a “Resistance Manual” detailing how to foil the agendas of President Trump. “The Resistance Manual is rooted in the basic principle that the power belongs to the people,” said Packnett. “We wanted to create a clear tool that people can use for targeted resistance for the next four years.”

In January 2017 as well, Packnett founded the public relations firm Love & Power Works (LPW), which describes itself as “the home of transformative change” that “stand[s] at the intersection of culture and justice, using every lever we have to shift society.”

From April 2017 through June 2020, Packnett was a co-host of “Pod Save the People,” a podcast production of Crooked Media, the latter of which is a political media company founded in 2017 by three former staffers in the Barack Obama administration.

On August 9, 2017, Packnett was one of six radical activists who met with then-presidential candidate Bernie Sanders.

In August 2018, Packnett appeared on a pro-abortion panel with Senator Kirsten Gillibrand to oppose President Trump’s nomination of Judge Brett Kavanuagh to the Supreme Court. The panel was organized by Planned Parenthood, NARAL Pro-Choice America, and the Demand Justice Initiative, the latter of which was a recently formed organization with close ties to George Soros.

Packnett was a Fellow at Harvard’s Institute of Politics in Fall 2018 and Fall 2020.

Packnett married her husband, a fellow activist named Reginald Cunningham, in New Orleans in 2019, in a “woke” wedding that an Essence magazine puff piece described as “unapologetically black and undeniably excellent.” “Reggie and I met at a protest in St. Louis, our hometown, in 2014 during the Ferguson uprising,” Packnett told the magazine. “We were friends for two years, forging a bond on the street, organizing, protesting, and finding community along with the hundreds who made immense sacrifices for our freedom that year.”

In April 2019, Packnett objected to an ad for the DNA testing company Ancestry.com which showed a mixed-race couple discussing the possibility of escaping to the North during the Civil War era. “I used this [Ancestry.com] service a few years ago,” Packnett tweeted. “And when I realized I was more than 10% European, I wept. Not from shame for who I am, but from anger from the trauma of how it may have come to be. This commercial spits on the trauma in our veins and the fight of our ancestors.”

In 2019 as well, Packnett, who is represented by the Collective Speakers bureau, delivered a TED talk titled “It’s about time to value Women of Color in Leadership.”

Packnett has been an on-air contributor at NBC News and MSNBC News since January 2020.

In November 2020, Packnett said that voters who supported President Trump’s re-election bid were “a sobering reminder … that white supremacy is still incredibly appealing.”

Additional Information

  • Packnett appeared on the April 2017 cover of Essence and the September 2020 cover of British Vogue.
  • She was named one of Time magazine’s “12 New Faces of Black Leadership” in 2015.
  • She was honored at the 2018 BET (Black Entertainment Television) Awards as “one of the fiercest activists of our time.”
  • She was named one of Marie Claire‘s 50 Most Influential Women in 2017 and in 2018, and as one of LinkedIn’s “Next Wave” in 2016.
  • She received the Peter Jennings Award for Civic Leadership from Teach For America in 2015.
  • She appeared on Politico’s 2016 50 Most Influential list.

According to her talent agent, Madison House, Packnett “is a proud member of the Gucci Changemakers Council and Sephora Equity Advisors, and a former advisory board member of the National Voter Protection Action Fund, Rise To Run, and Erase The Hate, NBC Universal’s Emmy-Winning initiative to rid the world of discrimination.”

Packnett’s autobiographical book, We Are Like Those Who Dream: Black Women Speak, is expected to be published by One World in January 2022.

Further Reading:Brittany Packnett” (Linkedin.com)

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