Head Of The Class: Nearly Half Of The 2021 MacArthur “Genius” Grant Winners Are Black
MacArthur Foundation

The MacArthur Foundation announced its class of 2021 Tuesday, and many of the award-winners are purveyors in Black Excellence.

Colloquially known as the “genius grant,” MacArthur Fellows are awarded a $625,000, the no-strings-attached grant paid out over five years. Since 1981, less than 1,100 people have been named MacArthur Fellows, according to the foundation’s website. There are no restrictions on how the money is spent, the foundation added.

This year’s class of 25 Fellows includes a historian, an anti-racist author, and a hip-hop scribe, among others.

“[The MacArthur Fellows] demonstrate that creativity has no boundaries,” said Cecilia Conrad, managing director of the 40-year-old program.

Headlining the grant recipients are Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, Ibram X. Kendi, Hanif Abdurraqib, and Jacqueline Stewart.

Kendi, the author of 2019’s How to Be an Antiracist, and named one of Time magazine’s 100 Most Influential People in 2020, tweeted Tuesday, “It is the honor of a lifetime to join this illustrious community.”

Historian and Princeton professor Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor authored the Race for Profit: How Banks and the Real Estate Industry Undermined Black Homeownership after she organized for Chicago tenants’ rights in the wake of the 2008 housing crisis.

Hanif Abdurraqib, poet and author of They Can’t Kill Us Until They Kill Us, said he’s full of gratitude with numerous praises, phone calls, and messages coming into his inbox. And since being notified of his selection, he’s looking to philanthropically impact his native home of Columbus, Ohio.

“A big portion of this and a big portion of anything I stumble into, the thought is always how can I continue to enhance and uplift the work of people, particularly in the city of Columbus, other than myself,” he said. “I’m going to be fine and my work is going to be fine with or without this. Although, of course, I’m grateful, I work with a city of folks who are working to make the place we live in more equitable and generous for people beyond myself.

Mirroring his sentiments, Jacqueline Stewart also says her work on the history of Black cinema was influenced by her hometown as a South Side Chicago native. “I always felt very immersed in a dynamic, historically rich Black community,” Stewart said. “A lot of my research has looked at the great migration of African Americans from the South to Chicago, and Chicago was significant to me because it was seen as this site of freedom and possibility. Even when people got here, they found that there were still struggles and they developed ways to continue to achieve all of their aspirations.”

Stewart directs the South Side Home Movie Project, which preserves amateur films shot by Chicago residents, and serves as chief artistic and programming officer at The Academy Museum of Motion Pictures in Los Angeles, set to open Thursday.

Additional Black recipients include Jordan Casteel, Nicole Fleetwood, Daniel Lind-Ramos, Ibrahim Cissé, Reginald Dwayne Betts, Desmond Meade, Safiya Noble, and Jawole Willa Jo Zolla.

Congratulations to all the recipients and below is the full list of 2021 winners:

  • Hanif Abdurraqib, music critic, essayist, and poet
  • Daniel Alarcón, writer and radio producer
  • Marcella Alsan, physician-economist
  • Trevor Bedford, computational virologist
  • Reginald Dwayne Betts, poet and lawyer
  • Jordan Casteel, painter
  • Don Mee Choi, poet and translator
  • Ibrahim Cissé, biological physicist
  • Nicole Fleetwood, art historian and curator
  • Cristina Ibarra, documentary filmmaker
  • Ibram X. Kendi, American historian and writer
  • Daniel Lind-Ramos, sculptor and painter
  • Monica Muñoz Martinez, public historian
  • Desmond Meade, civil rights activist
  • Joshua Miele, adaptive technology designer
  • Michelle Monje, neuroscientist and neuro-oncologist
  • Safiya Noble, internet studies and digital media scholar
  • Taylor Perron, geomorphologist
  • Alex Rivera, filmmaker and media artist
  • Lisa Schulte Moore, landscape ecologist
  • Jesse Shapiro, applied microeconomist
  • Jacqueline Stewart, film scholar, archivist, and curator
  • Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, historian and writer
  • Victor J. Torres, microbiologist
  • Jawole Willa Jo Zollar, choreographer and dance entrepreneur