The Scarlet & Black

The Student News Site of Grinnell College

The Scarlet & Black

The Scarlet & Black

Gina Clayton awarded the Grinnell Prize

Gina Clayton has been awarded the Grinnell Prize for her work in criminal justice reform. Contributed photo.
Gina Clayton has been awarded the Grinnell Prize for her work in criminal justice reform. Contributed photo.
Gina Clayton has been awarded the Grinnell Prize for her work in criminal justice reform. Contributed photo.

This week, the College awarded Gina Clayton, founder of Essie Justice Group and longtime civil and human rights activist, the $100,000 Grinnell College Young Innovator for Social Justice Prize (Grinnell Prize). The Prize honors “social innovators” who approach issues of social justice from angles that have been less explored by well-funded and established non-governmental organizations and nonprofits.

The Grinnell Prize was created in 2011 to fund the work of social justice activists and to then incorporate the recipients of the award into the Grinnell College community. Susan Sanning, Assistant Dean and Director of Service and Social Innovation, worked with a committee comprised of faculty, alumni, trustees and students to nominate and eventually identify the recipient of the award. According to Sanning, the award was created, “to honor people who were doing really innovative work soon after their bachelor’s.” The $100,000 prize is special in part, Sanning emphasized, in that it does not carry the usual restrictions and “strings attached” that grants often do.

“50 percent of [the funds] go to the winner, 50 percent go to the organization. Many of our social innovators put their whole life savings into what they do. So this is a way of recognizing that you may have college debt to pay off. There are ways that you might need assistance to live to keep doing the work that you’re doing. We have winners that use it for those things and we also have others who funnel it back into their organization.”

The open-endedness of the grant is mirrored by the flexibility of the Prize description: “We purposely don’t define social innovation or social justice. That’s part of what the committee has to decide each year…we’ve asked the nominators to identify what is the need and the context of the need that the nominee is addressing. What is innovative about the way that they’re addressing that work?”

This year’s Grinnell Prize winner, Gina Clayton, has developed what the Prize Committee identified as an innovative approach to criminal justice reform. Essie Justice Group, the organization that Clayton founded in 2014, aims to address the problem of mass incarceration by providing women with incarcerated loved ones the necessary resources and support to become legal advocates for individuals ensnared in the justice system. Since its founding, 45 women have graduated Essie’s program in California; these graduates, now members of the “Essie Sisterhood,” will go on to work with lawyers and advocates at Essie partner organizations.

Lucia Tonachel ’18, the Grinnell Prize intern who researched Gina Clayton’s work with Essie Justice Group, described Clayton’s work as “exemplary of how you can marry social justice work and very strong academics … [Clayton] gave this clearly academically-based justification for a question that I asked her about the orientation of her organization, but bookended that with real experiences of herself and other people.”

Clayton’s history of social justice work extends far beyond Essie; she has worked to address issues of injustice through the course of her life, working as the editor-in-chief of the Harvard Civil Rights-Civil Liberties Law Review and serving from 2006-2008 as a board member of the NAACP National Board of Directors. In addition to the Grinnell Prize, Clayton has received the Soros Justice Fellowship and Echoing Green Global Fellowship for her work with Essie Justice Group.

Leave a Comment
More to Discover
Donate to The Scarlet & Black
Our Goal

Comments (0)

All The Scarlet & Black Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *