"The arts and humanities are in many ways reflective of our national soul. They’re central to who we are as Americans, dreamers and storytellers and innovators and visionaries," Obama said at the ceremony honoring winners of The National Medals of the Arts and Humanities. "They’re what helps us make sense of the past, the good and the bad, they’re how we chart a course for the future while leaving something of ourselves for the next generation to learn from."
Both medals are conferred by the federal government in recognition of artistic and humanities achievement or empowerment by individuals and organizations.
The National Medal of Arts winners of color include actor Morgan Freeman ("Million Dollar Baby"), Motown founder Barry Gordy, writer Sandra Cisneros ("The House on Mango Street"), "conjunto" musician Santiago Jiménez Jr., playwright Moisés Kaufman ("The Laramie Project"), choreographer Ralph Lemon, Broadway performer Audra McDonald ("Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill"), playwright and director Luis Valdez ("Zoot Suit") and painter Jack Whitten.
The National Humanities Medal honorees of color include author Rudolfo Anaya ("Bless Me, Ultima"), jazz composer Wynton Marsalis, writer James McBride ("The Good Lord Bird"), physician and writer Abraham Verghese ("Cutting for Stone") and writer Isabel Wilkerson ("The Warmth of Other Suns"). The Prison University Project, a pioneering associates degree program at California’s San Quentin State Prison, also won a National Humanities Medal.
Check out the full list of winners here.