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Story December 21, 2021

2021: A Year in Stories


Above: Photographs by Victor Moriyama, Ana Gonzalez, Alexandra Radu, and Gavin McIntyre

In 2021, the Pulitzer Center’s vibrant and resilient global community of journalists, educators, and partners met challenge after challenge with courage, inventiveness, and compassion. Our grantees used the power of data, art, and collaboration to bring some of their most ambitious and transformative reporting to diverse audiences locally and globally.

The over 200 reporting projects supported by the Pulitzer Center this year struck down bad laws, helped end harmful government programs, and bore witness to events and atrocities that otherwise would be hidden from public scrutiny. We supported over 300 grantees reporting from 79 countries (and counting), publishing stories on a diverse range of urgent global issues impacting communities around the world.

Pulitzer Center staff have selected just 32 stories to highlight in our 2021 list, from exposing illegal deforestation by cattle ranchers in the Amazon, to chronicling the last days of America’s longest war in Afghanistan. These pieces tell the stories of our time, and for our journalism partners, the stakes have never been higher.

These challenging times underscore the importance of thoughtful engagement with deep, investigative journalism. These stories would not be possible without the support of readers like you.

Will you help us continue to support journalism and education for the public good in 2022?

Conflict and Peace Building

Assil Diab is a graffiti artist who tags as SudaLove. She is renowned for painting the faces of protesters who were killed near their family homes. Image by Matteo Lonardi/Al Jazeera. Sudan.

"Art on the Front Lines of a Changing Sudan"

Artists Medo Kagonka, Hajooj Kuka, Akon, Assil Diab, Elhassan Elmountasir, Reem Aljeally, and the others mentioned in this story are inspiring examples of how art can be a powerful tool in the ongoing fight for justice. They deserve to have their work seen by a global audience.
— Lucy Crelli, Design and Social Media Coordinator

Image courtesy of PBS NewsHour. Afghanistan, 2021.

"14 Million Afghans Need Food Assistance To Survive, but Most Foreign Aid Remains Frozen"

Jane Ferguson's reporting is critical to keeping attention on Afghanistan. Her work is deeply reported, alerting the world to the current crises for the civilian population and serving as an early warning for the impending humanitarian disasters if we turn away from the country of our decades-long military focus.
Ann Peters, Director of University / Community Outreach


Image courtesy of GK. 2021.

"Los Que No Aparecen (The Missing Ones)"

Published right as the world sees the light at the end of the pandemic, "The Missing Ones" recalls the reality that much of the world lived through during the worst waves of COVID-19. I lived in Ecuador during the pandemic, and felt an immense relief upon looking back with this documentary that the debilitating waves of hospitalizations are, hopefully, over. This production creates a solemn, safe space to remember what we survived as a society while reminding us to take care of those still deeply affected by tragedy. It also invites us to ponder how dependent we became on sometimes faulty government systems during the worst days of the pandemic.
Alexandra Waddell, Copy Editor Assistant

Norma, an undocumented immigrant from Honduras, and Antonela, one of her five children. Image courtesy of Emily Kassie and Ben C. Solomon. United States, 2020.

Undocumented in the Pandemic: Nowhere Else to Go

Emily Kassie (The Marshall Project) and Ben C. Solomon (PBS' Frontline) created a deeply personal and moving portrait of Norma, an immigrant from Honduras who fled due to gang violence and is now a mother in the United States navigating the interconnected systemic issues of immigration, criminal justice, and homelessness in the midst of COVID-19. It is ultimately a story about a mother trying to do what is best for her family, something infinitely relatable—while also exposing the injustices in the systems we have.
— Nathalie Applewhite, Strategic Director of Development

Antonella Bordon’s mother and sister helped care for and style her hair. Image by Irina Werning. Argentina, 2021.

No School, No Hair Cut: One Girl’s Journey Through One of the World’s Longest COVID Lockdowns

This heartwarming story of Antonella Bordon, who had her first haircut at the age of 12 when her school in Buenos Aires finally reopened after lockdown, highlights the beauty seen during the pandemic by exploring cultural and familial traditions and the importance of oral history. It also chronicles the education crisis and inequality gap exposed by the pandemic in Argentina during one of the longest government-enforced lockdowns in the world.
— Sarah Swan, Director of Communications and Audience Engagement

The New Authoritarians

A wall painting reads “Stability is a blessing, instability is a calamity,” in Yarkand, Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. Image by Eric Lafforgue. China, 2012.

China Can Lock Up a Million Muslims in Xinjiang at Once

This story received a Pulitzer Prize, and there is no doubt about the reasons for such recognition: It reports about one of the most worrying human rights violations taking place in our days. It is a full investigation with courageous interviews blended with rigorous data collection and analysis. A multidisciplinary team that looks at the issue using skills from architecture, journalism, and geography.
— Gustavo Faleiros, Environment Investigations Editor

Criminal Justice

Illustration by Steve Edwards. 2013.

Legal Roadblocks to Police Accountability

This Gateway Journalism Review project is the most comprehensive account of our failures, nationwide, to hold police accountable for abuses they commit. It also reflects full use of the Pulitzer Center model, from its reliance on professional and student journalists to deep data analysis and a commitment to giving a traumatic issue the full historical context it requires. The project was masterfully led by long-time Pulitzer Center partner William H. Freivogel.
– Jon Sawyer, Executive Director

Image courtesy of Gloria Browne-Marshall and Bobby Field. 2021.

SHOT: Caught a Soul

Gloria Browne-Marshall uses her skills as a journalist, educator, and playwright to bring a kind of quiet wisdom to one of America’s enduring tragedies—the violence that African Americans have for too long endured at the hands of law enforcement.
— Tom Hundley, Senior Editor

Image by Natalie Keyssar. United States, 2021.

Prisoners and the Pandemic

Despite hearing on the news that the elderly, who have multiple risk factors, are the most vulnerable to COVID, we do not often see stories of older incarcerated people. Through her portraiture, Natalie Keyssar elevates real voices to highlight injustices in health and criminal justice. I've also been honored to hear Keyssar share her work with students and see its impact firsthand.
– Hayle Wesolowski, K-12 Educational Coordinator

Image by Wil Sands. United States, 2021.

My Neighbor the Tear Gas Factory

This was a deeply personal story documenting a couple's experience living next to a tear gas factory. It painted a nuanced picture of many Americans’ changing relationship with state violence. I thought for a long time about how David Laurie's worldview fundamentally shifted due to his family's home proximity to the violence that came in the form of noise, smells, and weapons.
– Katherine Jossi, Intern

Michael Williams sits for an interview in his South Side Chicago home on July 27, 2021. Image by Charles Rex Arbogast. United States.

How AI-Powered Tech Landed Man In Jail With Scant Evidence

Tracked is a project that dives deep into the problems that artificial intelligence poses on communities. While AI is being used to solve many problems in our world, the use of it still leaves room for grave error, especially when used unethically and with bias. This story looks at the case of a Black man who, like many other Black men, was wrongfully accused and sentenced. This time, his case was largely reliant on information and evidence provided by security video. This story is important because it speaks to the realities that many minorities are facing in a "progressive" world. It reminds us and proves that although we are making strides in beneficial areas like AI, there is still an embedded root of racism and prejudice that affects everything we do in this country.
– Shana Joseph, Communications & Marketing Assistant

Racial Justice

Adam Beyah converted to Islam in 1972, through the Nation of Islam. When he later moved to Fayetteville, North Carolina, he joined a mosque named for Omar ibn Said and led an effort to get a state historical marker about Omar placed in front of it. Image by Gavin McIntyre.

I Am Omar

Post and Courier grantees trace the life of enslaved Muslim scholar Omar Ibn Said from South Carolina back to his birthplace in the deserts of northern Senegal. This remarkable reporting documents the importance of returning historical memory—not just plundered artifacts—to African nations confronting the legacy of the slave trade.
– Ethan Ehrenhaft, Development and Impact Assistant

Amandine Situ Bocco, left, graduate student at the IFAN Cheikh Anta Diop University, and Mamarame Seck, a linguistics researcher at the university, page through books about slavery inside a museum in Saint-Louis, Senegal. Image by Gavin McIntyre.

I Am Omar

This story is my favorite because of the impact I saw it have in classrooms. Teachers I worked with who were already teaching about the history and lasting impact of slavery used this reporting to talk about the many enslaved Black people who were Muslim and the connected ancestries in the African diaspora. There were lots of beautiful and meaningful student connections being made.
– Donnalie Jamnah, K-12 Partnerships Manager and 1619 Education Network Manager

Francisco Rojas, a medical assistant, administers a vaccine to Andres Hernandez at Esperanza's vaccination clinic in a former gym in West Englewood in Chicago on May 4, 2021. Image by Manuel Martinez/WBEZ. United States.

Chicago’s Plan To Flood Areas With COVID-19 Vaccines Improved Racial Equity. Now It’s Ending.

This innovative multilingual project, which involved some 4,000 community members in Chicago, addresses inequitable access to COVID-19 vaccines among Black and brown communities in the city. It’s a stunning model of community-centered service journalism.
— Mark Schulte, Education Director

Image courtesy of theGrio. United States, 2020.

Afro-Puerto Rican Identity Explored in Afro-Latinx Revolution: Puerto Rico Documentary

Natasha S. Alford’s reporting highlights the diversity within the Latinx community, with a focus on the Afro-Latinx/Afro-Puerto Rican experience. When you look at Latinx media there is barely any representation of Afro-Latinx people. As someone who grew up in a predominantly Latinx neighborhood, I knew from an early age that the media is not representative of the diversity within the Latinx community. Alford’s film asks really important questions relating to representation, identity, and discrimination within the Latinx community.
— Maryel Cardenas, K-12 Education Program Assistant


Image by Ana Gonzalez.

Destined for Bullfighting, He Chose To Revolutionize Flamenco Instead–by Dancing in Drag

This documentary highlights the story of Manuel Liñán, a queer flamenco dancer on a journey to deliver a powerful performance. As a man practicing a traditionally female dance, Liñán overcomes the constraints and expectations of gender norms while grappling with the possibility of judgment and rejection for practicing and sharing his art. This film resonates deeply and captures many facets of being a queer person in a traditional society; being shut out from certain practices that one admires greatly; and the conflict that comes with pursuing something traditionally deemed shameful. This film highlights the beauty and talent Liñán commands over dance and cements his role within the flamenco performing arts.
— Daniel Vasta, Multimedia and Digital Marketing Coordinator

Environment and Climate Change

Illustration by Amanda Miranda for The Intercept Brasil. 2021.

Coffee With Gunpowder

This report by just one journalist denounces the abuses of an industry against Indigenous populations in the interior of Maranhão. Sabrina Felipe won the Vladimir Herzog prize, one of the most important in Brazil.
Verónica Goyzueta, Amazon Rainforest Journalism Fund Coordinator

Seagulls fly around an iceberg in Disko Bay outside Ilulissat on Aug. 4, 2021. Pieces of ice the size of islands break off the Ilulissat Glacier 40 miles inland, forming a long parade of icebergs as they flow out to sea. Image by Lauren Petracca/The Post and Courier. Greenland.

The Greenland Connection

What does a giant iceberg off Greenland’s coast have to do with the Lowcountry of South Carolina? A lot—and none of it good. The Post and Courier’s Tony Bartelme and photojournalist Lauren Petracca take readers on a vivid tour of Greenland’s melting polar ice to explain the threat it poses for low-lying communities like Charleston 3,000 miles away.
— Steve Sapienza, Senior Strategist, Collaborative News Partnerships


Cattle were rounded up for shipment to a slaughterhouse. Image by Victor Moriyama/New York Times. Brazil, 2021.

How Americans’ Appetite for Leather in Luxury SUVs Worsens Amazon Deforestation

With amazing photographs to illustrate, this story exemplifies how to expose the destructive forces behind deforestation in all their complexities. We hear and see from a Brazilian rancher who does not see anything wrong with what he is doing (in the context of Brazil's policies to encourage people to lift themselves from poverty by exploiting the rainforest), experience the regulation loopholes in action, and follow the international supply chain all the way to the end product.
Jelter Meers, Editorial Coordinator for Rainforest Investigations Network

Image courtesy of Punch Up. Thailand, 2021.

Encroaching Forests and Encroaching People — When Reclaiming may not be an Answer

This story illustrates how an important but complicated issue can be explained in an engaging way by using a perfect blend of data visualization, interactive applications, animated graphics, and multimedia elements. It also works nicely on different screen sizes. The story content combines both data analysis and stories from villagers affected by the Thai forest policy, providing a smooth, friendly, and informative reading experience.
— Kuang Keng Kuek Ser, Data Editor, Rainforest Investigations Network

A team walks downhill on a steep portion of road where the van was unable to descend with all the passengers inside. Image by Alexandra Radu. Malaysia, 2021.

‘The Sweetest Thing’: The Women Restoring Borneo’s Rainforest

The power of reforestation reminds us to always see and conceptualize the bigger picture even when nature becomes fragmented. Rainforest Journalism Fund grantee Alexandra Radu's photojournalism narrates a powerful story regarding how a local community initative cultivates a feminist sense of resilience against the gloomy backdrop of environmental destruction in Malaysia.
— Kymberley Chu, Rainforest Journalism Fund Intern


Tom Tang sits on his bed, where he spends four-five nights each week while on the road. Image by Kayla Hui. United States, 2020.

Chinese Truck Drivers Face Extra Barriers Finding Mental Health Care

Through text and portraits, Boston University Reporting Fellow Kayla Hui highlights the stories and struggles of Chinese immigrant truck drivers in New York City. Amid a pandemic that has exacerbated our mental health crisis, this story brings a critical issue to light.
– Libby Moeller, Reporting Fellow Editorial Coordinator

Children and Youth

Kim Yu-kyeong, head of Banet, a support group for Korean adoptees. Image by Jean Chung / Rest of World.

Korean Adoptees Felt Isolated and Alone for Decades. Then Facebook Brought Them Together.

Ann Babe's reporting sheds light on an issue that has been hiding in plain sight for decades: An estimated 170,000 international Korean adoptees, one of the largest transnational, transracial adoptee populations to date, have been left behind to struggle with the trauma of loss and displacement in isolation that led to a heightened risk of depression and suicide. The story follows the solidarity among Korean adoptees that helped save many lives despite the lack of institutionalized support.
– Boyoung Lim, Senior Editor


Image by Pedro Farias-Nardi. Dominican Republic.

The High Human Cost of America’s Sugar Habit

In this episode of Reveal, Sandy Tolan takes us to the Dominican Republic and shows us the poor living and working conditions Haitian workers face at Central Romana, the biggest sugar exporter to the U.S. We learn about the missing pensions, the lack of health care, the $3-a-day pay, the human trafficking, and the cycle of forced labor. What is the cost of our sugar habit?
— Jackie Calderon, Editorial Coordinator

Indigenous Communities

Image courtesy of OjoPúblico.

Visions of Coronavirus

Hands down one of the most impressive cross-border journalistic collaborations I've ever read. Led by the editorial team at OjoPúblico in Peru, and featuring the work of 15 journalists and seven Indigenous artists across Brazil, Peru, Ecuador, and Colombia, this story gets at the heart of how communities handle existential health threats like the coronavirus pandemic and document their history through art. Also, the whole project is translated into English, Portuguese, and Spanish!
– Leonor Grave, Rainforest Journalism Fund Assistant

Michael Oliveira Baré Tikuna lists countless incidents of apparent prejudice he faced for being Indigenous since moving to Rio de Janeiro. “We are made invisible in the university, in social movements, we are made invisible in everything,” he said. This photograph was taken in Copacabana Beach in Rio de Janeiro on November 14, 2020. Image by Mongabay. Brazil.

‘We Are Made Invisible’: Brazil’s Indigenous on Prejudice in the City

This reporting by Karla Mendes, who was also an incredible outreach partner in K-12 schools this year, utilizes compelling interviews and multimedia to explore the rich and diverse stories of Indigenous people living in cities throughout Brazil. The reporting asks readers to reflect on the causes and lasting impacts of invisibilization, and acts as an invaluable reminder of how important it is to actively seek out the stories of communities that are not widely represented in the media.
– Fareed Mostoufi, Associate Director of Education and DEI Lead

The Navajo Times. Photography by Jason Greene and Sakya Lucky Calsoyas.

How One Paper Is Covering COVID-19 in the Most Under-Connected Part of the U.S.

This short film is a love letter to community journalism. Created by Léo Hamelin in close partnership with journalists and editors at the Navajo Times, it documents how the paper has kept the Navajo Nation connected despite the pandemic's disproportionate impacts and the unreliability of Internet access. It is a tribute to the power of storytelling—and the importance of who tells the story.
— Hannah Berk, Education Manager

Donald Darder covers full gasoline canisters at the Pointe-Au-Chien tribal center in Louisiana in September 2021. Image by Duy Linh Tu. United States.

This Louisiana Tribe Lost Most of its Homes to Hurricane Ida. ‘This was the Big One.’”

Indigenous communities don't often appear in headlines, and those native to the Southeastern United States are commonly overlooked. For southern Mississippi's community newspaper, grantee Duy Linh Tu uplifts the struggles of the Pointe-Au-Chien nation after Hurricane Ida ahead of a forthcoming film on the tribe's fight to save their land and culture.
– Leilani Rania Ganser, Grants and Impact Coordinator

Gender Equality

Betsy Briggs Cathcart works in her salon BBC, one of the first to host the Shear Haven trainings in Nashville. Image by Natasha Senjanovic. United States.

Teaching Tennessee Hair Stylists and Barbers to Spot the Signs of Domestic Violence

As Nastasha Senjanovic reminds us, "one in four women and one in seven men will experience domestic violence." With that in mind, it's heartening to learn how stylists are teaching thousands more to identify signs of abuse, which has been exacerbated during the pandemic.
– Holly Rosewood, Outreach Coordinator

Image by Sarah Pabst. Argentina.

Uniform Femicides: System Errors

Karen Naundorf and Sarah Pabst focused on a topic that, tragically, is very familiar to Argentine audiences — femicides — and used data analysis, interviews, and stunning photography to dig deeper and expose the power structures that enable violence against women to go unpunished. We learned that about a fifth of 250 women killed in 2020 had filed charges against their aggressors — and that in 13% of femicides this year, the murderer was a member of the security forces.
— Marina Walker Guevara, Executive Editor

Estela Abila begins her work day in different houses. Image by Anita Pouchard Serra/VICE. Argentina, 2021.

Empowered Household Workers in Argentina

This year, I had the opportunity to listen to Natalie Alcoba speak about the project Empowered Household Workers in Argentina during a visit with one of our Campus Consortium partners. Natalie Alcoba and photographer Anita Pouchard Serra capture stories of women in Argentina organizing in response to the economically and medically perilous conditions in the country for those employed as domestic workers during the COVID-19 pandemic.
— Kayla Edwards, Outreach Assistant

Migration and Refugees

Refugee identification cards issued by the Australian government. Image by Imran Mohammad Fazal Hoque. United States, 2021.

Writing Saved Me

Imran Mohammad Fazal Hoque, our Truman College Reporting Fellow and a Rohingya refugee, writes of his own seven-year journey from Myanmar to Chicago by way of a detention center in Indonesia and a camp in Papua New Guinea. Imran has a courageous soul and a gift for words: Telling his story may change the lives of Rohingya refugees here and throughout the diaspora.
– Kem Sawyer, Contributing Editor/Director, Reporting Fellows

Kataleya Nativi Baca, 28, a transgender woman, fled Honduras after enduring years of violent harassment. Here, after crossing into Mexico from Guatemala by river raft, she continues her long journey to the U.S. border. Image by Danielle Villasana / National Geographic. Photograph supported in part by the International Women's Media Foundation.

Women on the Move

This beautiful photojournalism project documents eight female migration narratives, examining the factors that compelled migration and the challenges that women face throughout their respective journeys. The subjects represent eight unique global communities but speak to similar themes of sacrifice, loss, and hope. The project is also a collaborative endeavor, showcasing the work of eight talented female photojournalists.
– Sushmita Mukherjee, Education Coordinator, Chicago


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