Genius awards highlight recipients’ work around food, place and justice

The foundation’s prestigious “genius grants” were awarded to 24 people around the country, including a painter, a playwright, a mathematician, a social justice organizer, an immunologist and an urban planner. Recipients of the $625,000 awards, which come with no strings attached, are selected based on “exceptional creativity” and the promise and potential for important advances in subsequent work. Since the grant program started in 1981, 965 people have been named MacArthur Fellows.

• Greg Asbed co-founded the Coalition of Immokalee Workers in 1993 to combat injustices in the tomato-growing industry and in 2011 launched the coalition’s Fair Food Program, which uses the purchasing power of brands to compel growers to improve farm workers’ working conditions. The Florida Tomato Growers Exchange and over a dozen purchasers, including Walmart and major fast-food chains (except Wendy’s), have signed on to the Fair Food Program, which is monitored by the independent Fair Foods Standards Council.

• Inner-City Muslim Action Network (IMAN) Executive Director Rami Nashashibi a Palestinian American Muslim lauded for helping build partnerships across racial, religious and socioeconomic divides in Chicago’s most impoverished neighborhoods, said there is a “fierce urgency” to the current political climate. One of their projects is The Corner Store Campaign which addresses the long history of injurious business practices, ingrained racial tensions, and unhealthy food options that typifies many inner-city corner stores. Since its launch, the Campaign has focused on four critical goals:

  • Developing alternative business models for corner stores on Chicago’s South Side.
  • Using public policy to promote lasting change toward food justice.
  • Launching an education campaign that stresses the benefits of healthier lifestyles.
  • Healing racial tensions between Muslim and/or Arab store owners and their mostly Black patrons.

•Kate Orff is a landscape architect envisioning new forms of public space that reveal and revive the hidden ecological systems underlying our built environments and encourage urban residents to become active stewards of their natural surroundings. Orff is the founder of SCAPE, a landscape architecture firm with a focus on redesigning landscapes to deal with climate change, especially sea-level rise and flooding. Last year, SCAPE won the Buckminster Fuller Challenge for Living Breakwaters, a plan to improve coastal resiliency around Staten Island through oyster habitats. (The project was designed as part of the post-Sandy Rebuild by Design initiative from the federal government.)

• In 1997, Rich founded the Center for Urban Pedagogy (CUP) and, in collaboration with a group of other educators, advocates, artists, and architects, developed a roster of programs to engage community-based organizations and public school students in explorations of such topics as tenant rights, affordable housing, and infrastructure design. Rich’s focus on place, policy, and design has broadened to include development of more democratic urban planning mechanisms and design and construction of permanent physical spaces. He served as chief urban designer and director of planning (2008–2015) for Newark, New Jersey, a city marked by decades of disinvestment and sustained by traditions of political activism. There he worked with long-standing advocates like Ironbound Community Corporation to begin transforming Newark’s waterfront along the Passaic River with public parks, trails, and environmental installations. He also engaged a citywide coalition of neighborhood-based organizations in replacing Newark’s unwieldy and outdated zoning and land-use regulations with a user-friendly version (the first revision in over fifty years) based upon goals of environmental justice and accountable development.

All 2017 MacArthur Grant Recipients

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