New York Times reporter Nikole Hannah-Jones was among two dozen creative individuals honored with a MacArthur Foundation “genius” grant this week for her extensive and personal reporting on the ongoing segregation of the American public school system.

New York Times Magazine reporter Nikole Hannah-Jones. (Photo Credit: John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation)

Hannah-Jones, 41, was singled out for her featured work in the Times’ magazine section. Among the pieces highlighted by the foundation was a June 2016 feature, “Choosing a School for My Daughter in a Segregated City,” which detailed her own struggles with New York City public schools.

Last month, Hannah-Jones drew national attention for her feature entitled “The Resegregation of Jefferson County,” about an Alabama town’s efforts to break away from its local school system and establish its own, racially-exclusive schools.

In announcing Hannah-Jones’ grant, The MacArthur Foundation noted that her work “combines analyses of historical, academic, and policy research with moving personal narratives to bring into sharp relief a problem that many are unwilling to acknowledge still exists and its tragic consequences for African American individuals, families, and communities.”

The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation fellowships are bestowed upon “talented individuals who have shown extraordinary originality and dedication in their creative pursuits and a marked capacity for self-direction.”

The fellowship, otherwise known as the “genius grant,” comes with a $625,000 stipend paid out in quarterly installments over a period of five years.

She was previously named Journalist of the Year in 2015 by the National Association of Black Journalists.

“I don’t think you can ever predict that someone is gonna win a MacArthur fellowship, but, you could have predicted that she was gonna go on to big things,” said John Drescher, executive editor of The Raleigh News and Observer.

“You just had the sense that she was gonna do really good things,” Drescher added. “She’s a very thoughtful journalist and somebody who was eager to learn, eager to put in practice what she had learned in the classroom at Carolina.”

The News and Observer was Hannah-Jones’ first professional reporting post after graduating with a master’s degree in journalism from the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill from the School of Journalism and Communication in 2003.

Hannah-Jones was a Roy H. Park fellow at Chapel Hill, which she attended on a full scholarship according to Susan King, the John Thomas Kerr Distinguished Professor in the School of Journalism and Communication.

“I was so impressed by Nikole because of her sense of who she was, her sense of her place in history and her sense of her role in journalism,” King said.

Hannah-Jones delivered UNC Chapel Hill’s commencement speech in May, and has been invited back for a celebration of the 20th anniversary of the Park fellowship.

“What she did here that others have not done is she emphasized the role of research in a journalist’s life,” King added. “Yes, she improved her skills of writing and being able to tell a story. But for her, the big issue was the time and support to do deep research, sometimes historic research, sometimes subject matter-research like education in children’s lives.”

Before joining the Times, Hannah-Jones covered education in Durham, N.C., Raul Castro’s Cuba and ongoing efforts to diminish racial desegregation nationwide.

“There’s an old saying that journalists should strive to afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted. And that really baked into Nikole’s DNA,” said Richard G. Jones, Annenberg Director of the Gallivan Program in Journalism, Ethics and Democracy at the University of Notre Dame. “What she’s writing about, these are not easy topics to write about. And sometimes they’re difficult things to read. But it is essential. As a journalist, as a journalism educator, you just applaud her for her commitment to these issues and for the care, and grace and sensitivity that she shows when writing and reporting about them.”

Richard Jones is a former colleague of Hannah-Jones at the Times.

Jones said “Dean Baquet, the executive editor, said that bringing Nikole aboard was one of his proudest accomplishments as editor”. “That says a lot about how we all felt about her arrival. She has really energized the Times’ pages and energized the staff and from what I’ve heard from colleagues in Manhattan, there’s a tremendous amount of excitement there as well about this honor.”