September 28th was a big day. The MacArthur Foundation selected me as a 2021 Fellow and recipient of a “genius grant.” This is an amazing honor that I didn’t see coming, but now that it’s here, I hope that this recognition serves as an example of what can happen when one is committed to making our society better. Being named among a group of amazing people engaged in extraordinary work is an honor that I don’t take lightly. That’s why I am encouraged to continue to seek ways to strengthen those of us who have been most weakened by systems that devalue and marginalize segments of our population.
As I thought about my journey from homelessness, addiction and incarceration, to civil rights leader, Executive Director of the Florida Rights Restoration (FRRC), and now MacArthur Fellow, I could not help but think about the millions of people across our country impacted by the criminal justice system. Hopefully this award will help to encourage and empower others to see the kind of change that is possible when people with past convictions reclaim their voices.
The MacArthur Fellowship is a prestigious honor given in recognition of a person’s originality, creativity, self-direction, and capacity to contribute importantly to society. Recipients may be writers, scientists, artists, social scientists, humanists, teachers, or entrepreneurs, and are selected through a stringent selection process. I am humbled to be among this group of 25 inspiring individuals.
My work seeks to increase access to democracy, create greater participation in our economy, and create a new narrative that recognizes and honors the humanity in all of us. When this occurs, everyone benefits. This belief in second chances and human dignity is what you support when you support FRRC.
With you as our partner, we have celebrated milestones and powered through setbacks. The spirit of love, forgiveness and redemption have been our guides and given us the strength and resilience to press on. We have stood firm in our values in human decency, equality and democracy. This award honors our collective efforts to ensure that people — returning citizens — are not sidelined citizens with countless restrictions that bind them from living a full life.
This award is a statement of belief in what FRRC, a returning-citizen led movement, does, and trust in the courage, creativity and ingenuity we possess to achieve our vision.
From the start of the beautiful organic grassroots effort in which we started, we continue our work. I share every milestone and victory with you. We march on.
Desmond Meade, Executive Director
Committed to Ending the Disenfranchisement and Discrimination Against People with Convictions