2 Oakland residents win prestigious MacArthur ‘Genius’ grants

Two Oakland residents are among the recipients of the 2019 MacArthur “Genius” grants, according to the MacArthur Foundation, which sponsors the award. Walter Hood, a landscape architect, and sujatha baliga, an attorney and restorative justice worker, each won the $625,000 prize to encourage them to continue their innovative work.

Genius grants are given to people in a variety of fields for their innovative work, creativity and their potential to contribute in important ways to society.

Hood is a professor at the University of California at Berkeley. He won the award for bringing ecological sustainability and social justice concerns to his field. “His work and teaching reflect the best of sustainably responsible environmental design that we promote through the college,” the College of Environmental Design’s acting dean Renee Chow said in a statement. Hood has taught at UC Berkeley for 27 years, specializing in landscape design, community development and citizen participation, especially with ethnic groups.

Sujatha baliga won for increasing access to restorative justice strategies that are survivor-centered. Her strategies aim to break the cycles of recidivism and violence. Baliga is the director of the restorative justice project at Impact Justice with offices in Oakland and Washington, D.C. In a statement, baliga said, “Restorative justice inspires me because I get to see families and communities achieve safety, accountability and healing through dialogue.”

MacArthur Fellows are selected for exceptional creativity, the potential for future advances based on their previous accomplishments and the possibility for the award to spur more creative work. Twenty-six people received the award this year. John Palfrey, president of the MacArthur Foundation, said in a statement, “They give us reason for hope, and they inspire us all to follow our own creative instincts.”


NEW YORK, NEW YORK – SEPTEMBER 13: Portrait of Becca Heller in Battery Park City in New York, NY on September 13, 2018. (Photo by John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.) 

Last year, Piedmont native Becca Heller was a recipient of the 2018 MacArthur Genius Grants. Heller is a human rights lawyer mobilizing the resources of law schools and law firms to defend the rights of refugees and improve protection outcomes for many of the world’s most at-risk populations. She is the director and co-founder of the International (originally Iraqi) Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP), which provides legal services to individual refugees as they navigate labyrinthine application, appeal, and resettlement processes under U.S. and international law. Heller is a graduate of PHS Class of 2001.


Photos courtesy of MacFound.org

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