Ta-Nehisi Coates, Black Leaders Are Among the Winners of MacArthur Foundation ‘Genius’ Grants

MacArthur Foundation recipients Patrick Awuah, LaToya Ruby Frazier and Ta-Nehisi Coates

The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation has announced its diverse roster of recipients for its 2015 “genius” grants.  The fellowships are awarded to talented and creative individuals who show promise for important future advances based on their track record of achievement. Each of the 24 recipients receives a stipend of $625,000 over five years, with no strings attached, to use as he or she wishes, and to pursue one’s creative, intellectual and professional pursuits.

“These 24 delightfully diverse MacArthur Fellows are shedding light and making progress on critical issues, pushing the boundaries of their fields, and improving our world in imaginative, unexpected ways,” said MacArthur President Julia Stasch. “Their work, their commitment, and their creativity inspire us all.”

“We try to reach people who have shown evidence of exceptional creativity but show the potential for more in the future,” Cecilia A. Conrad, the foundation’s managing director, told the New York Times, “to give individuals the freedom to take some risks, to enable them to do new and exciting things.” Conrad also noted the foundation is “interested in finding people on their way up and enabling them to take the next step.”

Among this year’s winners are a number of Black recipients, including LaToya Ruby Frazier. Frazier, 33, is a photographer and video artist who, through the use of visual autobiographies, focuses on social inequality and postindustrial decay. An assistant professor in the department of photography at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Frazier uses images of her hometown of Braddock, Pennsylvania, once a thriving steel town, to explore economic decline and its impact on those who live there. Frazier received a B.F.A. from Edinboro University of Pennsylvania and an M.F.A. from Syracuse University. In addition, she was a resident at the Lower Manhattan Culture Council and the Whitney Museum of American Art Independent Study Program, and was the Guna S. Mundheim Fellow at the American Academy in Berlin.

Another winner is Patrick Awuah, 50, who is an educational entrepreneur and the founder and president of Ashesi University College in Accra, Ghana. Awuah, a native of Ghana who was educated in the U.S. before becoming a Microsoft engineer, wanted to transform his country’s education with a focus on liberal arts and skills to address today’s African realities, and ethical leadership as a means of combating corruption. As a result, Awuah has turned Ashesi into one of the nation’s top universities since its founding in 2002, and is helping to foster a new generation of leaders and entrepreneurs. A graduate of Swarthmore College and the University of California at Berkeley, where he received his MBA, Awuah is he also a member of the U.S. Council on Foreign Relations, and a fellow of the African Leadership Initiative of the Aspen Global Leadership Network.

Ta-Nehisi Coates, 39, the Washington-based journalist and national correspondent for The Atlantic, is known for his thoughtful, insightful and extensive analyses on race, racial discrimination and policing. His 2014 cover story for The Atlantic, “The Case for Reparations” is a prime example of how the Coates is able to use historical research to shine light on the problems facing Black people today, and draw a straight line connecting slavery to the discriminatory practices of today’s America. In his latest book addressed to his teenage son, Between the World and Me (2015), Coates discusses his evolution of the issue of race, and articulates what it means to be a Black man in America.

A graduate of Howard University, Coates is having a significant impact on contemporary discussions on race, and is helping to lead the way for a new generation of tech-savvy, media-savvy race thinkers and intellectuals in an era of #BlackLivesMatter. A former Martin Luther King Jr. Visiting Scholar at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and journalist-in-residence at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism, Coates has appeared in various publications, including the Village Voice, the Washington City Paper, the Washington Post, the New York Times Magazine, Time Magazine and The New Yorker.

Among the diverse group of MacArthur recipients are also Juan Salgado and Lin-Manuel Miranda. Salgado, 46, is a community leader and president and CEO of Instituto del Progreso Latino in Chicago. He works with low income Latino immigrant communities, using an innovative education program in which participants complete an adult basic education, improve language abilities, and acquire job skills, equipping them for higher-paying jobs in health care and manufacturing.

Further, Miranda, 35, is a composer, lyricist, and performer whose previous show, In the Heights, won a 2008 Tony Award for best musical. Miranda’s current Broadway show, Hamilton, is a seamless marriage with hip-hop whose casts album was executive produced by Questlove and Black Thought of the Roots.  The Guardian notes that Miranda is known for “expanding the conventions of musical theater with a popular culture sensibility and musical styles and voices that reflect the diverse cultural panorama of the American urban experience.” Miranda told the New York Times he would donate some of his MacArthur award to “organizations that I have fallen in love with,” including the Mariposa Center, which helps girls in the Dominican Republic, and Graham Windham, which serves needy children and families.

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