Three Geographers Honored for Diversity and Inclusion


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WASHINGTON, D.C….The American Association of Geographers has announced the recipients of its 2021 AAG Diversity and Inclusion Awards, which honor geographers who have pioneered or actively participated in efforts to encourage a more diverse discipline over the course of several years.

This year, the Diversity and Inclusion Awards were awarded to Raynah Kamau and Whitney Kotlewski, creators of Black Girls M.A.P.P. and the People for the People (P4TP) initiative, and Dr. Jovan Lewis, an economic geographer who is assistant professor in both the Department of African American Studies and the Department of Geography at the University of California Berkeley.

Raynah Kamau and Whitney Kotlewski are both employees at Esri and grassroots activists whose collaborative work has increased visibility for community-engaged geography and greater inclusion within GIS professional culture. As founders and co-creators of Black Girls M.A.P.P., a community-focused group that connects and empowers women of color in the field of GIS, they are enabling marginalized communities to visualize various social issues and empowering these communities with information to help them make more informed decisions using GIS. Through public outreach and powerful storytelling visualizations, Black Girls M.A.P.P. supports Black Lives Matter and other social justice causes, most recently through the People for the People initiative, focused on educating and empowering people toward greater civic engagement during the 2020 election season, and on centering the issues of the Black community and other marginalized communities. Together, Kamau and Kotlewski have helped change GIS and tech culture at Esri in just a few short years, amplifying the voices of women, and specifically women of color, and the LBG2TQIA+ community. Their efforts demonstrate the transformative potential of geography for racial and social equity and justice.

“We are so humbled and honored to be esteemed in this regard,” said Ms. Kamau. “Black Girls M.A.P.P. is a grassroot initiative that Whitney and I started simply because we shared the same conviction for better representation in the GIS field. From that we evolved to a community that seeks to use GIS to visualize social issues and this is just a confirmation that we are on the right track. Thank you once again and YES!!!! WE DID THAT!”

“Everything we have done so far was inspired by one goal, to empower others,” said Ms. Kotlewski. “Receiving this honor is a monumental achievement for us both, being that we are two Black women who aim daily to push the boundaries of our field to inspire the representation that we want to see.

Thank you for recognizing us in this way.”

Dr. Jovan Lewis is assistant professor of Geography at the University of California, Berkeley, where he co-leads the Economic Disparities research cluster in Berkeley’s Othering and Belonging Institute. Lewis’s efforts in research, teaching, mentorship, and service are bringing Black geographies (and Black geographers) to the forefront of the discipline, changing UC Berkeley Geography’s intellectual culture in emphasizing Black studies and Black geographies. He has worked across departments and programs on his campus and beyond, to engage public groups. Lewis integrates this work into his teaching and mentoring, through symposiums on campus and active recruitment of Black students to his program. Co-editor, with Dr. Camilla Hawthorne, of an influential volume, The Black Geographic, Lewis is also the author of Scammer’s Yard: The Crime of Black Repair in Jamaica. His forthcoming second book, Violent Utopia, examines the experience and articulation of Black sovereignty and freedom in Tulsa, Oklahoma, from the settlement of the Indian Territory through the centenary of the 1921 Tulsa race massacre.

Within the AAG, Lewis is a key leader leveraging and amplifying Black Geographies, helping to lead the Black Geographies Specialty Group and successfully advocating for the inclusion of Black Geographies as a theme of the 2018 AAG Annual Meeting. Notably, Dr. Lewis is still only in the first decade of his career as a professor. His dedication to his students and to the larger community indicate a promising future of further leadership.

“I am honored to be a recipient of the 2021 AAG Diversity and Inclusion award and I thank my friends and colleagues for nominating me and the award committee for selecting me. The AAG has long counted among its members individuals and groups devoted to equity and justice as both political and intellectual concerns. I have sought to continue in that tradition and to advance it alongside my brilliant colleagues in the Black Geographies Specialty Group and through Berkeley Black Geographies.”

The Diversity and Inclusion Awards (formerly the Enhancing Diversity Awards) have been given since 2005. Past recipients have included such groundbreaking geographers as Laura Pulido, the late Clyde Woods, Joe Darden, and many other scholars and mentors. Find out more about the awards:

For more than 100 years, The American Association of Geographers (AAG) has contributed to the advancement of geography. Our members from nearly 100 countries share interests in the theory, methods, and practice of geography, which they cultivate through the AAG's Annual Meeting, scholarly journals (Annals of the American Association of Geographers, The Professional Geographer, the AAG Review of Books and GeoHumanities), and the online AAG Newsletter. The AAG is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization founded in 1904.

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