John D. MacArthur Professor Barbara Ransby, director of the University of Illinois Chicago’s Social Justice Initiative, has convened a formidable roster of social justice scholars and writers as the inaugural cohort of Marielle Franco fellows, named after the assassinated Brazilian human rights leader. They are: Angela Y. Davis, Robin D. G. Kelley, Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor and Naomi Klein.

Angela Davis is an American political activist, philosopher, academic and author of 10 books who has lectured throughout the United States, Europe, Africa, Asia, Australia and South America. Robin D.G. Kelley is an award-winning author, essayist and scholar whose work focuses on labor and on the ways people have struggled to survive. Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor is a scholar of racial inequality in public policy, whose 2019 book, “Race for Profit,” was longlisted for a National Book Award and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in History. Naomi Klein is a renowned author and journalist who has covered climate justice, activism, inequality, policy and politics.

The four Franco fellows will participate in curated discussions and public events over the next two years with some of the most influential organizers in the country and scholars whose research wrestles with social and racial justice themes.

The Portal Project was inspired by the words of the acclaimed Indian writer Arundhati Roy, who reminds us that historically “pandemics are portals,” and opportunities to embrace new ways of thinking and being. What often inhibits us from identifying the most creative and transformative solutions is that we operate in many stifling siloes based on disciplines, differences and areas of work. The Portal Project seeks to break down those silos and collectively map visions for transformative change.

“I know many brilliant scholars and researchers and many equally brilliant and committed activists. What I am constantly reminded of is the fact that they are rarely in conversation with one another. The Portal Project seeks to change that,” said Ransby, who is also professor of Black studies, gender and women’s studies, and history; and College of Liberal Arts and Sciences distinguished professor.

Over 100 activists, scholars, artists and activists have been invited to join the two-year project, which will collaborate with similar centers and research institutes around the country. Together this cohort constitutes a powerful ecosystem of creative and committed leaders and intellectuals. The Margaret Burroughs Community Fellowship, named after the poet, artist, activist and educator who was co-founder of the DuSable Museum and served as a prison educator before passing away in 2010. Fellows include an influential group of community leaders and organizers.

The project, launched last month, will focus on three topic areas: abolition, economic democracy and climate justice. It will continue through the spring of 2023, culminating in a national conference and book publication.

Angela Davis
Robin D.G Kelley
Keeanga-Yamahtta-Taylor
Naomi Klein

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