On Tuesday, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation in Chicago announced 25 recipients who will each receive $625,000.
Scientists, economists and poets are all part of the eclectic group that includes activists and historians. The work of many recipients includes topics that are currently dominating the news, such as voting rights and how history is taught at schools. About half of the recipients are concerned with race.
There are also overlooked populations -- from the art historian, who shines light on visual art created behind bars, to the blind researcher who develops devices to assist the visually impaired with digital information and access technologies.
The secretive process of selecting MacArthur grants for recipients is kept under wraps. Anonymous groups submit nominations and recommendations to MacArthur Foundation's board of Directors, instead of submitting applications.
COVID-19 was on their minds. It was mentioned in the work of four recipients. These include a computational biologist who builds tools to forecast and track viruses, and a physician-economist who works to communicate the importance of the COVID-19 vaccination to distrustful communities.
Some recipients stated that much of the current events, including the COVID-19 pandemic and efforts by the U.S. in order to change the way elections are held, as well as the way students learn in schools, have added urgency to this year’s awards.
Monica Munoz Martinez (a University of Texas historian) said that there is an organized effort to prevent history from being learned. She pointed to the efforts made in some states to restrict how racist teachers are discussed. Martinez was honored partly because of her book, "The Injustice Never leaves You: Anti-Mexican violence in Texas," which focuses on a time in history when vigilantes and the Texas Rangers killed hundreds of Mexican Americans.
She said, "This award is so timely to me personally...to remain committed to ensure the public has access the truth, true history even when it's troubling (and especially when that history can help build a better tomorrow")
Desmond Meade led a campaign that saw Florida pass a bill that would restore voting rights to felons who had served their sentences. He said that the recognition and the money will allow him to continue his efforts in helping ex-prison inmates. Meade's efforts were thwarted by a federal appeals court last year, which upheld the Republican governor's position. Ron DeSantis and his GOP-led Legislature have stated that felons in Florida must pay all fines in order to regain their right of vote.
Meade stated that he was a drug addict and experienced homelessness. He has also served time in prison.
He stated that the country needed to hear stories of success and ordinary people making a difference in their communities. "This grant (genius grant), means that everyone in the country can do great things.