2 Chicagoans Awarded MacArthur Genius Grants

The Chicago-based John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation announced this year’s so-called “genius” grant recipients on Wednesday, including two Chicagoans among the 24 fellows.

The organization awards a grant of $625,000 paid out over five years for each recipient to use as they choose – no strings attached.

The foundation said it chooses “extraordinarily talented and creative individuals as an investment in their potential.”

Dawoud Bey was one of two Chicagoans chosen. Bey is a photographer and educator who said his mission is to focus his lens on underrepresented groups.

The foundation said he zooms in on the experience of African-Americans and young people.

Bey said he tries to show what the human experience is like for groups he believes are not always included in the larger social conversation.

One of his works is "The Birmingham Project," about the four young black girls who were killed in a church bombing in Alabama in 1963,

"History has a way of becoming kind of fuzzy and abstract, so I wanted to make a photograph of African-American girls in Birmingham who were the exact same ages as the four girls who were killed, to make tangible something that can be abstract and to deal with the question, ‘How do you make the past resonate in the contemporary moment?'" Bey said.

Bey's work has been shown at the "Art Institute of Chicago" and he is a photography professor at Columbia College.

The second Chicagoan chosen was Rami Nashashibi, who leads the Inner-City Muslim Action Network, known as IMAN.

The organization is based in the city's Marquette Park neighborhood, and Nashashibi said it provides a community clinic and job training initiative to address the challenges in low-income areas.

The community organizer said his goal is to build bridges along racial, religious and socioeconomic divides.

“We’re in this together, Muslims and Jews and Christians and black folks and brown folks and white folks of different backgrounds,” Nashashibi said. “We have a collective shared interest. We believe we have the possibility of being a catalytic force of igniting that passion to do this type of work in urban centers across the country.”

The MacArthur Foundation awarded 24 people grants this year. Their fields include computer science, theater and history.

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