Activist, historian, writer among the recipients of the “genius grant”


DON BABWIN, Associated Press

A historian dedicated to keeping alive the stories of long-deceased victims of racial violence along the Texas-Mexico border and a civil rights activist whose mission is to ensure that those released from prison are free to enter the voting booth are part of this year’s MacArthurs. fellows and recipients of “engineering grants”.

The Chicago-based John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation announced the 25 recipients on Tuesday, who will each receive $ 625,000.

The historian and activist are part of an eclectic group that includes scientists, economists, poets and filmmakers. As in previous years, the work of several recipients covers topics that have dominated the news – from the right to vote to how history is taught in schools.

Race features prominently in the work of about half of them, including that of Ibram X. Kendi, author of “How to be an Anti-Racist” and “Stamped from the Beginning,” which won the National Book. Award for non-fiction.

There is a generation of older and younger writers, thinkers and creators who are able to recognize the “complexity of racism” and “clarify it for ordinary people to see, understand and be outraged”, Kendi said.

“These generations were hugely inspired by the previous generations,” added Kendi, who will contribute an essay to the forthcoming book “The 1619 Project: A New Origin Story” based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning “1619 Project” which centers on the history of the United States. around slavery. “I think we’ve built this movement to a point where it is indeed a juggernaut with no way to stop.”

The selection process for MacArthur scholarships is shrouded in secrecy. Instead of nominations, anonymous groups make nominations and recommendations to the foundation’s board of directors.

Kendi, 39, said he did not know he was named.

“My first words were, ‘Are you serious?’ Kendi said Tuesday. “This is one of the greatest, if not the greatest, honor I have ever received.”

COVID-19 was also clearly on the minds of the foundation’s board of directors. This is the work of no less than four recipients, including a computer biologist building tools to track and predict viruses and a medical economist working to better communicate the need for the COVID-19 vaccine to communities wary of medical institutions. .

“As we emerge from the shadows of the past two years, this class of 25 fellows helps us reimagine what is possible,” said Cecilia Conrad, executive director of the foundation’s fellows.

Much of what is happening, from the COVID-19 pandemic to efforts in the United States to change the way elections are conducted and the way students are taught in school, added a sense of emergency at this year’s awards, some of the recipients said.

“This award is so timely for me, personally… to remain committed to ensuring that the public has access to the truth, to the real story, even when it is troubling (and) especially when that story can help us build a better future, ”Monica Muñoz Martinez, historian at the University of Texas, Austin, highlighting efforts in some states to limit the way teachers discuss racism.

Martinez was recognized, in part because of her book “The Injustice Never Leaves You: Anti-Mexican Violence in Texas,” about a century ago, when hundreds of Mexicans and Americans of Mexican descent were slaughtered. by vigilantes as well as by the Texas Rangers.

Desmond Meade, who led a campaign that led to the passage of a measure in Florida that restored the right to vote for felons who have served their sentences, said that the recognition – and the money – l ‘will help to continue his work to help ex-detainees. Meade’s effort suffered a setback last year when a federal appeals court upheld Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis and the GOP-led legislature that Florida criminals must pay all fines before to recover their right to vote.

Meade noted that he struggles with drug addiction and homelessness and has served time in prison himself.

“The country needs to see stories of triumph and ordinary people impacting their communities,” he said. “This (genius grant) means that everyone in this country has the capacity to do something great. “

Associated Press reporter Corey Williams contributed from West Bloomfield, Michigan.

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