Deryl McKissack: A Trailblazing Engineer Carrying on the Family Trade

Rattle off some of the most iconic monuments to African American heritage and history and there’s a good chance DC-based firm McKissack & McKissack had a hand in the design and construction.

It is among the largest African American-owned architecture and design firms in the country, with impressive accomplishments, from the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture to the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial, the Obama Presidential Center in Chicago and a new addition to the George H.W. Bush Library in College Station, TX. In June 2019, McKissack & McKissack (DC) was selected by Engineering News-Record as a Top 50 Program Management and a Top 100 Construction Management-for-Fee firm.

Behind it all is the firm’s founder and owner (and FC2 Trustee) Deryl McKissack. She is the fifth generation in her family to carry on the trade. Her grandfather Moses McKissack was an iconic builder in his own right, designing and building much of the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama.

Deryl moved to Washington, DC for college. She attended Howard University, largely at the request of her father who refused to pay tuition at any other school. And it was Howard University that gave Deryl her fist major gig, hiring her to run the school’s facilities and capital projects in the late 1980s.

But Deryl had larger ambitions to strike it out on her own and start a business. This was in the early 1990s, when firms were going under across the city. “I had $1,000 and an OK business plan, but a strong passion to make it work,” she says. “The firm had one employee (myself) and I had nowhere to go but up.”

Up she went. She started marketing herself to other local universities and got her first contracts with Georgetown, Catholic and GW. Her firm landed the complete renovation of the US Treasury building and then the new ATF headquarters. It then added local municipal jobs to its portfolio in the late 1990s, managing the DC Convention Center, the National’s Ballpark and DC Public School buildings. By the 2000s, her firm was officially in the big leagues, securing a long list of iconic projects.

She’s done her forebears and her city proud. McKissack & McKissack now has offices in cities across the country and $10 billion in projects nationwide.

Deryl has been a trailblazer at the Federal City Council, too. She was among the first African American women to become a Trustee, joining in 1999. She’s been an integral member ever since. She’s lent her know-how to FC2 transportation initiatives and serves on the Executive Committee. She will soon be joining FC2’s new School Facilities Advisory Board.

As a long-time member of the Federal City Council, she’s watched the organization evolve. “It’s become more open and more diverse,” she says. “It has to—it needs to reflect our city and its increasingly diverse business community.”