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Kimmerer joins AWTT’s gallery of MacArthur Fellows

AWTT has just learned that Robin Wall Kimmerer has been named as a 2022 MacArthur Foundation Fellow. Upon hearing the news Kimmerer said,

“I’m deeply honored by this recognition as a MacArthur Fellow,” said Dr. Kimmerer. “I’m so grateful for the privilege of doing work that I love and for the people who have supported me along the way. This feels like an affirmation of the important contributions of generations of indigenous knowledge holders to how we care for the Earth. . . . I think of the award as both a gift and a responsibility. I plan to continue my writing and teaching on behalf of land justice. The award will give me the time and creative space to finish writing a book that has been impatiently waiting for me and to deepen my commitment to the urgent work of climate activism.”

View AWTT’s 2021 Speaking Truth to Youth video interview with Kimmerer

More AWTT / MacArthur Intersections

This celebratory moment led us back into our gallery, to visit with other AWTT portrait subjects who have shared this coveted award. As Kimmerer brings a critical Native perspective to the study of environmental biology, she joins 1,000+ Fellows recognized over the past forty years – including some of the same people whose portraits artist Robert Shetterly was drawn to paint. We never tire of reflecting on their stories.

Bob Moses Awtt Portrait

Bob (Robert Parris) Moses holds the distinction of being named to the second class of MacArthur honorees, in 1982. In recognizing him, the Foundation emphasized Moses’ commitment “to the promotion and understanding of philosophical ideals and their integration with the processes of social change.” Moses was honored in the same year that he founded the Algebra Project – which continued to be a major focus in his later years. Though still mourning the loss of Moses in 2021, the Algebra Project continues its important work. Most recently, Algebra Project, Inc. and We the People-Math Literacy for All Alliance (WTP-ML4A) co-sponsored a July 2022 gathering: “[a] virtual planning and working conference celebrating and seeking to steward Bob Moses’ vision.” The annual Bob Moses Speakers Conference is being planned for January 2023.

Marian Wright Edelman Awtt Portrait

Moving on to 1985, Marian Wright Edelman was named to the fifth class of Fellows. Only forty-six years old at the time, Edelman had already founded the Children’s Defense Fund (CDF) and authored two influential books: Children Out of School in America (1974), and Portrait of Inequality: Black and White Children in America (1980). Due to Edelman’s visionary founding influence, since its transition to new leadership in 2018, CDF continues to be a leading advocate for children and families in Washington and throughout the nation.

Majora Carer Awtt Portrait

Skip to 2005, when a new generation of ground-breakers was being honored. AWTT portrait subject Majora Carter, at age 38, was “profoundly transforming the quality of life for South Bronx residents.” Although the Foundation could not have predicted her exact trajectory, they sensed that she was onto something big. Now, as head of the Majora Carter Group, she has published a blue print for her vision: Reclaiming Your Community: You Don’t Have to Move Out of Your Neighborhood to Live in a Better One. Promoting the book, Lin Manuel Miranda wrote: “My musical, In the Heights, explores issues of community, gentrification, identity and home, and the question: Are happy endings only ones that involve getting out of your neighborhood to achieve your dreams? In her refreshing new book, Majora Carter writes about these issues with great insight and clarity, asking us to re-examine our notions of what community development is and how we invest in the futures of our hometowns. This is an exciting conversation worth joining.”

What is “genius?”

Over the years, we have heard this award referred to as “the genius award.” Some quick research uncovered this interesting comment, by Cecilia A. Conrad, of the MacArthur Fellows program:

“The foundation does not use the name ‘genius grant’; the news media coined that nickname in 1981, when we named our first class of Fellows, and it stuck.

“Yet, ‘genius’ is both too narrow and too broad to describe MacArthur Fellows. It’s too narrow because the word connotes someone with great academic success or a high score on a standardized test. The Fellows exhibit more than intellectual prowess. They include people like Ruth Lubic (a 1993 Fellow), a nurse-midwife who helped establish birth centers delivering personalized care for low-income women, and Rueben Martinez (2004), who used his barbershop to promote literature in Latino communities.

“’Genius’ is also too broad because creativity is only one manifestation of genius. It may be expressed through a range of abilities, such as virtuoso artistic performance or athleticism. We admire prodigies and great athletes, but those are not the attributes we are seeking when we make the award. We are looking for individuals who are engaged in the process of making or finding something new, or in connecting the seemingly unconnected in significant ways. . . . “

This message resonates with our vision at AWTT. A participant in a recent AWTT event at Bridgewater State University, in Bridgewater, Massachusetts, reflected: “My biggest takeaway is that it is important to see the work that is being done at the local level and recognize that anyone can do social justice work – you do not have to be a big name to do something.” Another attendee echoed this message: “Everyday people can make huge changes in the world.” We agree. Draw strength and insight from people in your own community and be inspired to do what needs to be done.

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