ABOVE PHOTO: The Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II (Photo credit: John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation)
(PSS) — The Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II, architect of the Moral Mondays movement in North Carolina and leader of the revived Poor People’s Campaign, has won a MacArthur “Genius” grant.
Barber, 55, pastor of Goldsboro, North Carolina’s Greenleaf Christian Church and former president of the state’s NAACP chapter, is recognized as an unfaltering figure in progressive activist circles.
At the 2016 Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, Barber is remembered for bringing the audience to its feet with a speech that held Republicans responsible for misusing faith for political purposes and espoused social justice concerns as essential to American democracy.
Earlier this year, Barber was credited with resurrecting the Poor People’s Campaign, first organized by the late Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., to address issues of poverty, racism and voter suppression through a series of rallies and demonstrations. The 40-day campaign culminated with a demonstration on the National Mall in Washington in June.
Barber was unavailable for comment on the award announcement, according to a spokesperson, because he was arrested in Chicago while participating in a “Fight for $15” rally convened by fast food and other workers demanding higher wages and the right to unionize.
“Merging moral and activist traditions, Barber is providing a faith-based framework for action that strengthens civic engagement and inspires the country to imagine a more humane society,” the MacArthur Foundation said of Barber.
As one of 25 recipients of the Genius award, Barber will receive a grant of $625,000 paid over five years. Barber was one of 25 Mac-Arthur Fellows announced on Thursday, October 4, 2018 by the Chicago-based foundation. The others included a composer, several artists, a poet, a mathematician, a psychologist, a computer programmer and a community organizer.
Barber is not the first clergy person to receive the MacArthur Fellowship award. The Foundation awarded its prestigious fellowship to the Rev. J. Bryan Hehir, a Roman Catholic priest and now a professor at Harvard’s Kennedy School, in 1984.
In a YouTube video prepared for the official announcement, Barber said: “My drive comes from a number of places. My father early on taught me that the only purpose of life is to make a difference in the lives of others and to stand up for what is right and just and full of love and full of compassion.”
In 2013, Barber began a series of demonstrations called “Moral Mondays” intended to challenge local Republican measures to cut unemployment benefits, health care funding and environmental regulations. Police estimated weekly attendance of more 2,500 on the lawn of the state legislative building. More than 900 demonstrators were arrested when they tried to enter the state Capitol.
The rallies, which became weekly events, were credited with helping defeat then Republican governor, Pat McCrory, and elect Democrat Roy Cooper.
Barber advanced the movement with demonstrations that began with prayer, and his speeches were peppered with biblical references to Pharaoh, Goliath, good and evil.
MacArthur’s criteria, as noted on its webpage, awards fellowships to “talented individuals who have shown extraordinary originality and dedication in their creative pursuits and a marked capacity for self-direction.”