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Rev. William Barber II, Duke Divinity alum, wins MacArthur Foundation 'Genius Grant'

Already a pastor and social justice advocate, William Barber II now adds a new title to his biography—a recipient of the “Genius Grant.”

Barber, M.Div. ’89, is one of the 25 winners of the 2018 MacArthur Fellowship–a prize awarded annually to individuals who have shown extraordinary creativity and dedication in their own fields of pursuit. Each winner will receive $625,000, paid over five years, to continue with their endeavor to benefit the society at large.

“I would say that my work grows out of a deep religious and spiritual foundation to help people look at public policy through the lens of our deepest moral values, both constitutionally and religiously,” Barber said in a video featuring him winning the award.  

Barber currently serves as a co-director the Poor People’s Campaign—a nationwide campaign that aims to inspire all Americans to embrace an encompassing agenda to help poor people—for which he was included in Politico Magazine’s list of 50 ideas driving politics and the people behind them. 

Since 1993, Barber has been pastor at Greenleaf Christian Church in Goldsboro, North Carolina. He served as president of the North Carolina conference of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People from 2005 to 2017. He earned his undergraduate degree from North Carolina Central University and his doctorate from Drew University.

Barber also founded a non-profit organization called Repairers of the Breach in 2014, which seeks to build a moral agenda by organizing, training and working with people across the United States. 

According to a report by Religion News Service, Barber was unavailable for comment on the award Tuesday because he was arrested during a protest in Chicago for the Fight for $15.

At an event earlier this year in Duke Chapel named "The Enduring Challenge of a Moral Economy,"  Barber said racism is not only about policy, but also the distribution of power among different social groups.  

Barber also noted that the United States fails to care for the less fortunate despite its celebration of human rights in the constitution and its claim to hold deeply religious values. 

“We have to change our domestic policy agenda or stop lying,” Barber said. “We can’t have it both ways.”

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