Florida voting rights advocate Desmond Meade named MacArthur 'genius grant' winner

Gov. Ron DeSantis has refused to grant Meade a full pardon.

Florida voting rights advocate Desmond Meade named MacArthur 'genius grant' winner

Desmond Meade, a former drug dealer who has received international accolades after leading the drive to pass a 2018 Florida constitutional amendment to restore voting rights for felons, has been awarded a MacArthur Foundation fellowship, the program announced on Tuesday.

Meade is one of this year’s 25 fellows selected for “originality, insight and potential,” according to the program’s website.

They receive $625,000 grants, paid out over five years.

The fellowship is a “no strings attached award” designed to “enable recipients to exercise their own creative instincts for the benefit of human society,” according to the site.

Meade, who has a law degree from Florida International University, is “pushing the nation closer to democracy that represents the full extent of its citizens,” according to the foundation. Meade, executive director of the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition, continues to work on criminal justice initiatives, such as bail reform and expanding housing and employment opportunities for “returning citizens.”

Meade has received numerous recognitions for his voting-rights advocacy, including being included on Time magazine’s 2019 list of the 100 most influential people, but Gov. Ron DeSantis has refused to grant Meade a full pardon.

“Despite setbacks, his bold vision for empowering returning citizens through mobilization and education serves as a blueprint for other states to follow,” the MacArthur Foundation website said in Tuesday’s announcement. 

Another Florida recipient of what are known as MacArthur Foundation “genius grants” is Jawole Willa Jo Zollar, a professor at Florida State University’s School of Dance.

Zollar, the founder of Urban Bush Women, was recognized for “using the power of dance and artistic expression to celebrate the voices of Black women and promote civic engagement and community organizing,” the foundation’s website said.

Zollar is the first FSU faculty member to receive one of the prestigious fellowships, according to the university.

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