Spotlighting MacArthur Fellows This Black History Month

MacArthur Foundation
4 min readFeb 21, 2022


Black History Month is an opportunity to celebrate the culture, legacy, and impact of the African diaspora in the United States. Black Americans have greatly contributed to the country’s history and cultural heritage, and we give special attention to many generations who have strived, and continue to strive, to overcome adversity and achieve full citizenship in society.

MacArthur Fellows of African heritage are also tackling major issues in a wide range of fields, and making an impact. Here are ten quotes from some of them about their work and personal experiences.

Let us know in the comments which ones resonate with you, and explore their work:

man seated in front of red door

After completing my high school in the West African country of Niger, without my siblings and family nearby, I was armed with a simple dream: learn to speak English like Jay-Z and Will Smith…but also work hard in a school in the United States of America where I knew that talent and hard work pays off.” — Ibrahim Cissé, Biological Physicist

I’m going to paint Black men as I see and know them. As my twin brother, as my older brother, as people that I love. I wanted to find a way to get other people to see them in their humanity.” — Jordan Casteel, Painter

It took me making the choice to go and educate myself about what African-Americans have gone through for me to identify as Black. So now I’m very politically Black in America in a way that I wasn’t before, because I had to learn it.” — Chimamanda Adichie, Fiction Writer

Point is, often the literary establishment, Black or White, doesn’t seem to move well across class and race. And my struggles to make sure my poems speak to my folks is more bewilderingly difficult than figuring out whether I navigate the White literary establishment well.” — Reginald Dwayne Betts, Poet and Lawyer

woman in leather jacket seated at table with mac laptop

There are many technologies that surveil us, collect data about us to manipulate us or to kind of steer us in particular ways or really to foreclose opportunities from us. We think of it as some of the most important public interest civil rights work there is when it comes to the Internet.” — Safiya Noble, Internet Studies and Digital Media Scholar

man seated at table in colorful science lab

I will say people are usually surprised when they hear the topics we work on. On a more unfortunate note, the reality is I do get that I don’t ‘look like’ a scientist, but hopefully, that will change with the next generation!” — John Dabiri, Biophysicist

woman in yellow shirt in the middle of street in NYC

Maybe because I am a Black woman, there is an automatic assumption that I am somewhere in the margins of science fiction, in the margins of fantasy, and therefore people from outside of the genre’s margins are a little bit more willing to take a look at me, even though I’m writing solidly science-fiction stuff.” — N. K. Jemisin, Speculative Fiction Writer

woman with black top in front of black and white painting

What is a ‘positive Black image’? Is a positive image one that is honest? And if so, to whom or what? I think that images, these hand-drawn characters I make, have the ambiguous duty of being both part of the real world (which is cruel and nasty) and the world of other images (which sometimes pretend to be noble, but are often concealing disgusting intentions).” — Kara E. Walker, Installation Artist

I’m drawn to the idea of miracle because I think I’ve seen a miracle manifest itself up close. I’ve seen the survival of Black folks who I know and love that can be only considered a miracle. My survival is sometimes miraculous to me.” — Hanif Abdurraqib, Music Critic, Essayist, and Poet



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