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MacArthur Geniuses Focus On Race, Black Men’s Health

MacArthur Geniuses Focus On Race, Black Men’s Health

Dr. Jennifer Richeson of Northwestern University says that she’s no genius, despite being awarded a $500,000 John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation grant which has been dubbed the “genius” award.

The 34-year-old associate professor of psychology was among 25 scholars selected by a 12-member panel to receive the distinguished award for contributing creative excellence to their various fields.

“I’m happy that the work has been recognized, and I’m incredibly honored,” said Richeson, “but I don’t consider myself to be a genius at all…I’m just a regular person.”

Said the Chicago-based MacArthur Foundation, Richeson and the others were chosen because their work demonstrated an unmatched level of originality, dedication and creativity.

Richeson’s work has focused on inter-racial interactions.

“I find it all so interesting,” she says. “Thinking about how we navigate diverse environments; it’s so multifaceted.”

Through methodological techniques, Richeson evaluates the behavior of individuals during interracial conversations or interactions. An individual’s body language, direct eye gaze, tone of voice and speech patterns are all indicators of how comfortable that person may or may not be in a particular situation, she says. Richeson’s studies have shown that non-verbal behavior such as body language is often difficult to control.

“When you are talking about attitudes and concerns about race, nervousness will come through non-verbal analysis,” she says. Her work highlights the discomfort that some White individuals attempt to hide when speaking to a person of color.

Richeson, who is also a faculty fellow at Northwestern’s Institute for Policy Research and an affiliate professor of its African American studies department, says she mainly focuses on interactions between Whites and ethnic minorities. In the future, she says she may analyze interactions among minority groups.

Richeson remains unsure of how she will specifically use the funds, though the Baltimore native says her research interests are fueled by her own experience being raised as a Black female in a predominantly White environment.

Originally, Richeson wanted to pursue a career in political science, but she found her calling while majoring in psychology at Brown University. She then went on to pursue graduate studies in social psychology at Harvard University.

Dr. John A. Rich, chair of the Health Management and Policy program at Drexel University, has been addressing the health care needs of African-American men for more than a decade. A medical doctor, Rich’s research has centered on the link between violence and the lack of health care available to young Black men.

For his work, he received a John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation grant.

During the early 1990s, Rich noticed a decline in the number of patients of color who sought medical attention at primary care facilities. Additionally, while working in the AIDS Clinic of Boston Medical Center, he noticed that a disproportionate number of Black men were HIV positive. Alarmed by the trend, he established the Young Men’s Health Clinic, which provides long-term medical care and educational services for young Black men.

“We were trying to configure services that were meaningful for this group,” he says. “The goal was for us to see them for their medical problems and make sure there’s a strong network to refer them to in order to fulfill their other needs.”

Rich adds that an improved understanding of the lives of young Black men in the inner city will help to better assess their needs when they enter the health care system and will ultimately help to curtail violence.

Examining the impact of violence among Black men has been a central part of Rich’s work. He says he is interested in providing alternatives on how young Black men might be able to cope with the overall burden of growing up in inner cities rife with drugs, guns and poverty.

“It’s much more complicated than bad people doing bad things,” he says. “The cause of people getting injured has more to do with the hostile environment in which they live than an inherent flaw within their character.”

Rich, who holds a medical degree from Duke University and a master’s degree in public health from Harvard University, says he is unsure of how he will use his $500,000 stipend, but he is sure it will go toward his continued research on health and violence prevention in the African- American community.

“The wonderful thing about the award is that there’s no pressure to make a quick decision or to use the funds in any particular prescribed period of time,” he says. 

The MacArthur Foundation created its fellowship program in 1981. Fellows are identified as individuals, who through their professional work, demonstrate a great capacity for future success in their endeavors . 

– By Dana Forde

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