Tommie Lindsey believes in the power of language and the art of argument. And he has passed his passion for words and debate on to thousands of students.
Mr. Lindsey, who teaches forensics at the 4,250-student James Logan High School in Union City, Calif., was one of 23 individuals named last week as MacArthur fellows by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. The 23 people—working in fields ranging from molecular biology to novel writing to marine robotics—receive $500,000 cash awards, which they can use as they wish.
“I was truly honored,” said Mr. Lindsey, 53, who plans to use the grant from the Chicago-based foundation to put his children through college, pay off debts, and possibly take a vacation. “It shows that hard work pays off.”
He said he also plans to use some of the money for his school forensics program, which teaches the skills of public speaking and debating as well as effective writing and researching.
Under his guidance, Logan High has sent at least six students to national forensics competitions every year, and Mr. Lindsey has often used his own money to help students buy the proper attire for competitions and to cover transportation costs. His commitment to the program has won him numerous awards, including recognition from “The Oprah Winfrey Show,” which gave him $100,000 to support the school program.
“He does whatever it takes to help the kids be successful,” said Jesus Varela, one of the school’s assistant principals. “He’s demanding, but demanding through love, and the kids respond because they know he cares.”
‘Break the Mold’
John MacArthur, a businessman who owned the Chicago-based Bankers Life and Casualty Co., established the MacArthur Foundation in 1970. When he died in 1978, the board he had appointed decided to take a new approach to philanthropy—one that would be open to a wide range of intellectual disciplines and pursuits. For instance, this year’s winners of the prestigious fellowships also include a ragtime pianist, a folk artist, and a glass technologist.
The foundation, which awards about $175 million annually in grants for a variety of purposes, has about $4 billion in assets.
Nominations for the fellows program are solicited from hundreds of experts nationwide and then reviewed by an 11- to 15-member selection committee, which considers staff research on each nominee before making final recommendations to the foundation’s board of directors.
The board then selects recipients based on their creativity, their records of accomplishment, and the likelihood that the grants will enable the winners to expand their work.
“We’re looking for people who break the mold,” said Daniel J. Socolow, the director of the MacArthur fellows program. “We’re investing in the future.”