Rev. William Barber Receives Genius Grant

Rev. Dr. William Barber
By Martha Waggoner –

North Carolina civil rights leader will receive $625,000 over five years.

The Rev. William Barber, one of the newest recipients of the honor known as the genius grant, said that becoming a 2018 MacArthur fellow means he has more work ahead of him, not less.

So, appropriately, he was participating in—and getting arrested at—a “Fight for $15” protest outside McDonald’s headquarters in Chicago on Thursday, October 4, 2018, the day the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation announced this year’s 25 MacArthur fellows.

Each recipient will receive $625,000 over five years to use as they please.

“They don’t share these grants so that you sit down,” Barber said in a telephone interview. “They hope and believe you will do more things.”

The foundation noted that Barber “is effective at building unusually inclusive fusion coalitions that are multiracial and interfaith, reach across gender, age, and class lines, and are dedicated to addressing poverty, inequality, and systemic racism.”

The 55-year-old Barber, minister of Greenleaf Christian Church in Goldsboro, first came to the public eye when he was elected president of the state chapter of the NAACP in 2005. He began the “Moral Monday” movement in North Carolina in 2013 and led frequent protests over issues such as voting rights, gerrymandering, LGBTQ rights and unions.

Barber is now co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign, a revival of the movement begun by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. just before the assassination of the civil rights leader in April 1968.

“The message of an award like this is to keep on, keep fighting, don’t despair, somebody sees you,” said Barber, who’s been arrested at least 15 times.

Barber hasn’t decided specifically how he will use the money, although he does have tentative plans. “One of the things I always wanted to is go places where people don’t have the resources to bring you and help empower communities,” he said.

Among those congratulating Barber was former Vice President Al Gore, who attended events with him in August in North Carolina. One of the platforms of the Poor People’s Campaign is ecological devastation, a prime interest of Gore, who shared the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007 for his campaign to protect the environment.

“Nobody is more deserving,” Gore tweeted.

Barber described his work as “a long struggle. It’s going to continue to be a struggle.”

Added Barber, “I do it because it’s not about what you have to suffer but how you help others who suffer, who don’t need you to do things for them but need you to stand alongside them.”

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