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Blazing Her Path on Freedom’s Legs

- July 29, 2022

Type: Artist News, Events

MacDowell Madam Chairman of the Board Nell Painter pauses during her welcome to the Medal Day crowd to acknowledge Medalist Sonia Sanchez from the podium under the Medal Day tent.

Madam Chairman of the Board Nell Painter pauses during her welcome to the Medal Day crowd to acknowledge Medalist Sonia Sanchez.

Transcript: Nell Painter Welcomes the Crowd Gathered to Honor 2022 MacDowell Medal Winner Sonia Sanchez.

Hello everyone.

First, I'd like to give the land acknowledgement:

MacDowell's staff and board acknowledges that our Residency program takes place in Wabanaki, the Dawnland, on the traditional, unceded homelands of the Western Abenaki people, on the Pegontagok River, and recognize the hardships they still endure as a result of the loss of their un-ceded land. We also acknowledge that our New York office is located on Lenape land. We lament the devastation of centuries of warfare and colonialism, and join voices within our field of artistic communities calling for a necessary illumination of the history of and investment in the future of the Indigenous peoples of North America. We acknowledge the continued presence and sovereignty of Indigenous communities and nations today, and thank our Indigenous colleagues and Fellows for their goodwill in our ongoing efforts to collaborate in the challenges of decolonizing the Arts. MacDowell has begun our own work with efforts to understand the history of the Indigenous people of our region through outreach to local and national Indigenous communities, and by evaluating and adjusting our residency programming to be safe and welcoming to all Indigenous artists. Art is a powerful tool for imagination, reckoning, and change, and MacDowell is committed to offering a place for such art to be made.

Fellows should be aware of the existence of native artists here and native peoples.


Thank you to our MacDowell staff and guests and welcome to all of you to the awarding of the 62nd Edward MacDowell Medal to the internationally renowned poet Sonia Sanchez.

A year ago in Peterborough, we gathered cautiously, limitedly, to recognize the composer, songwriter and musician Rosanne Cash. We still had then, and still have now, COVID-19 on our minds, though gratefully, we return to our regular programming to recognize with enormous pleasure the eloquent engaged, and heartfelt poet, Sonia Sanchez. This woman with razor blades between her teeth.


At any point in the last 50 years I would have felt honored to open a program starring Sonia Sanchez, an inventor of new ways of writing, speaking, and singing poetry, for she has been speaking her truth. A truth rooted in Black identity, self-awareness, and self-esteem. But at this moment in the summer of 2022 Sonia Sanchez speaks to all Americans. In this frightening moment, who’s politics slam us back into the mid-20th century. Into the years when the meanness of American apartheid penalized all of us who were not White, not male, not straight. Speaking to Black audiences early on and publishing in Black and non-mainstream publishing houses, Sonia Sanchez taught us to speak truth to power and to love ourselves. She walks on freedom’s legs and bids us follow in her path.

Sonia Sanchez has blazed her path for more than 50 years. A shining example of the 20th century artists I asked you to remember last year. Let me remind us all today, in 2022, that Sonia Sanchez has much to teach us about life in hard times, about keeping in mind and fostering the better parts of American society. Now in the times when once again our country can frighten us with its meanness – we have been in places like this before – Sonia Sanchez, the ‘real thing,’ has remained true to her gifts, lights the way out, and tells us how to grow our own Freedom legs.


Watch the full speech on YouTube

Read the transcripts of each Medal Day 2022 speaker:
Executive Director Philip Himberg’s remarks to the Medal Day crowd

Novelist Walter Mosley Introduced Sonia Sanchez as a Poet, Playwright, Songstress, Titan, Warrior, and Mother to Hope

Poet Sonia Sanchez Accepts the 2022 MacDowell Medal Before 1,000 Fans