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'Genius Grant' Recipient to Speak in Norfolk

Updated: April 12, 2013 - 10:40 am

Posted: April 5, 2013

By Bill Cresenzo

In 2005, Majora Carter got a phone call that literally changed her life.

She had just emerged from a New York City subway station, and saw that she had a message on her cellphone - a message that was very cryptic.

"Please call the president's office," the caller said in a soft, British accent. She left a Chicago-based phone number

"The president of what?" Carter thought.

When she got to her office, she returned the call and was immediately put through to the "president," who asked her if she was alone, if she would close her door and if she would sit down.

He then introduced himself: He was Jonathan Fanton, the then-president of the MacArthur Foundation, which, each year, awards "Genius Grants" to people who have displayed - well, genius - in their respective fields.

Carter, in Fanton's estimation, was a genius in her quest to turn the South Bronx green.

And she would get $500,000 - to spend however she pleased.

Carter was the head of Sustainable South Bronx, which worked to improve the impoverished area through green development. She helped transform a waste dump into Hunt's Point Riverside Park with a $3.2 million grant from the federal government that is now part of the South Bronx Greenway, an 11-mile oasis of parks and biking trails that weave through one of the country's toughest neighborhoods.

Seven years later, Carter, who grew up in the South Bronx, is now the head of the Majora Carter Group, a Bronx-based group that concentrates on the redevelopment of blighted neighborhoods through real estate.

She will be in Norfolk on April 16, when she will be the keynote speak at ODU's annual ECOnference, and she will also speak the next day at the university's Friends of Women's Studies Dinner.

"You can use real estate as a platform for social, environmental and economic development," she said. "Poor communities are considered the repository for the environmental burdensome things that wealthier communities can afford to avoid."

Carter's mission is to help municipalities understand that poor neighborhoods have shouldered much of the burden when it comes to waste disposal and other environmentally dicey facilities such as bus depots, trucking garages and power plants.

These types of places degrade the quality of life for the poor communities, she said.

"There needs to be a shared responsibility for the environmental issues that we are all dealing with, and the bottom line is that if we are honest with ourselves, if we built waste facilities and power plants in rich communities as quickly as we do in poor ones, we would have had a green economy a long time ago," she said. "We can build to that standard everywhere and everyone needs to handle the responsibility.

"My goal is to help poor communities become less poor. When communities are less poor, they are better advocates for their own well-being."

For more information about the conference, visit and see the special section in this issue.

For more information about ODU's Friends of Women's Studies Annual Fundraising Dinner, email Stacey Parks at or call 683-3823. nib