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Why MacArthur Fellowships matter

We are so thrilled to see four social justice leaders we support honored as MacArthur Fellows this year. This is a recognition these tireless, creative people richly deserve, and the MacArthur Foundation’s acknowledgement sends an important message about their leadership and contribution to society.

So we honor John, Ai-jen, Jonathan and Mary and the movements they lead, along with the rest of this year’s extraordinary class of winners—and we also honor the MacArthur Foundation itself, for its vision and commitment to supporting people who are changing the world.

The MacArthur Fellows Program is a source of inspiration to its peers in philanthropy as well as to the public, as we eagerly anticipate the announcement of each class of fellows who remind us of the value of creativity and its potential for transformation. The MacArthur Foundation has shown unwavering dedication to this important program over the years, investing in generations of innovators whose work touches all of our lives. This kind of long-term investment matters, and MacArthur’s leadership and board should be applauded for their sense of purpose.

The work of social change is complex and collaborative. None of us can do this alone. We at the Ford Foundation are proud to call MacArthur and this year’s honorees our partners.

Read on for more information about the fellows, with reflections from Ford program officers who have worked closely with them.

Mary L. Bonauto is a civil rights lawyer who has served as director of the Civil Rights Project at Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders (GLAD) since 1990. Her powerful arguments and long-term legal strategies have led to historic strides in the effort to achieve marriage equality for same-sex couples across the United States. “Mary’s vision, innovative and bold advocacy—and above all her genuinely collaborative spirit—are singular and respected throughout the LGBT and gender justice movements,” says Luna Yasui, Ford’s program officer for Advancing LGBT Rights. “It is wonderful to see her leadership and brilliance recognized with a MacArthur Fellowship.”

Co-founder of the Texas Low Income Housing Information Service, John Henneberger is an advocate for fair and affordable housing who has created a new paradigm for post-disaster rebuilding. “John and his partners were the architects of a conciliation agreement on disaster recovery funds from hurricanes Ike and Dolly that has transformed the disaster recovery field nationally,” explains Lisa Davis, program officer in Ford’s Metropolitan Opportunity program. “Their work transformed the way Texas and its local governments address affordable housing, community development and fair housing and inspired new rule-making at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.”

Labor organizer Ai-jen Poo is director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance and also co-directs the Caring Across Generations campaign. “Ai-jen is a fierce yet humble leader,” says Laine Romero-Alston, program officer for the foundation's Promoting the Next-Generation Workforce Strategies initiative. “Domestic workers are essentially invisible in our society and economy, yet they do the work that makes all work possible. They care for the people who are dearest to us. And they do that caregiving work, otherwise undervalued and unrecognized, with great love and an understanding of interconnectedness. Ai-jen’s is a new kind of labor leadership, one that is building power and winning incredible victories once considered impossible, not only for hundreds of thousands of domestic workers across the country and globally, but for workers, women and immigrants broadly—toward a more just and caring economy for all.”

Lawyer and legal defense advocate Jonathan Rapping is founder of Gideon’s Promise, an organization that’s revolutionizing criminal defense by mentoring and supporting those who represent the people society would rather not think about. “Rap has devoted his life to the men and women society has forgotten—poor people accused of a crime,” says Kirsten Levingston, program officer for Reforming Civil and Criminal Justice Systems. “He won’t rest until all people charged with a crime have their own David doing battle against the justice system Goliath.”

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