This year, Grinnell Prize Week will honor the 2017 Grinnell Innovator in Social Justice Prize winner Gina L. Clayton, an attorney, activist and advocate for women. She founded and directs the Essie Justice Group, an organization that supports women with incarcerated loved ones and helps the women mobilize to advocate for reform of the criminal justice system.

During Grinnell Prize Week, Oct. 2-5, students, faculty, staff and guests will have the opportunity to interact with Clayton and learn about best practices in designing, organizing, and implementing initiatives that address social justice issues facing our world today. All Grinnell Prize events are free and open to the public.

Gina Clayton and Essie Justice Group

Clayton began her career in New York City as a housing attorney in Harlem, where she helped women facing eviction due to a criminal matter. This work inspired her to become a champion for families trapped on both sides of prison bars. Mass incarceration is a major issue in the United States, where one in four women and nearly one in two black women have a family member in prison.

Essie Justice Group, which is named for Clayton’s great grandmother, Essie Baily, creates a cohort of women with incarcerated loved ones who can support each other, their family members, and their communities.

“Essie is about sisterhood because our hypothesis is that sisterhood creates change,” Clayton said. “In our healing to advocacy model, which was built by women with incarcerated loved ones for women with incarcerated loved ones, we focus on three pillars: advocating for self, advocating for family, and then advocating for community.”

Two Essie sisters, who are graduates of the group, will come to campus to speak about their experiences with Essie during Grinnell Prize Week.

“Our sisterhood needs to go throughout the 50 states. Sisters need an Essie in each state to let them know, ‘Hey, you’re not alone.’ Be the voice. Embrace the loved one that’s incarcerated,” said Elizabeth Robinson, Essie Justice Group Los Angeles cohort graduate. “I know a lot of women out there like me need Essie."

Clayton will receive the prize for her work with Essie during an awards ceremony at 11:15 a.m. Tuesday, Oct. 3, on the Grinnell campus.

Schedule of Events

All events are in Joe Rosenfield ’25 Center, Room 101, unless otherwise specified. To RSVP for any events that require it, please email Vicki Nolton or call 641-269-4940.

Monday, Oct. 2

Alumni Panel Discussion: Careers that Intersect with the Industrial Prison Complex
Noon-1 p.m.
Alumni who are working in careers that intersect with the prison industrial complex will discuss their work and the social justice issues they witness and are addressing.
Lunch will be served.
Grinnell Prize Retrospective Reception
4:15-5:15 p.m.
Since 2011 the College has awarded the Grinnell Prize to 20 deserving individuals who have worked with 14 different social innovation organizations. Posters about the current work of past Prize winners and their organizations will be available for viewing through Oct. 3.
Hors d’oeuvres will be served.
Panel Discussion: Grinnell Liberal Arts in Prison Program
7:30-9 p.m.
Formerly incarcerated students and their families, along with Emily Guenther ’07, director of Grinnell's Liberal Arts in Prison Program, and Clark Lindgren, professor of biology, will discuss their experiences with the Prison Program. The program enrolls students in prison in a demanding curriculum equivalent to a year at Grinnell College, and also hosts a student volunteer group that supports and supplements this accredited program.

Tuesday, Oct. 3

Grinnell Prize Award Ceremony and Keynote by Prize Winner, Gina Clayton
11:15 a.m.-12:45 p.m.
Lunch will be served.
Panel Discussion: The Power of Our Stories: Achieving Mental Health and Criminal Justice Transformation Through Women’s Advocacy
7:30 p.m. to 9 p.m.
Grinnell Prize Winner Gina Clayton and representatives from the Essie Justice Group as well as Tammy Nyden, associate professor of philosophy, Dionne Benson-Smith, and representatives from Mothers on the Frontline will discuss the power and perils of uplifting the experiences of women in advocacy work. Panelists will explore the significance of bringing women's stories into stigma-laden public debates, through a focus on advocacy at the intersection of mental health and incarceration.

Wednesday, Oct. 4

Workshop: Gender, Patriarchy and State Control in the Age of Mass Incarceration with Gina Clayton
11:15 a.m.-12:45 p.m.
This conversation with Clayton will explore the intersections of patriarchy and the rise of the prison industrial complex. The session will explore the historical and present day forms of state control experienced by people who do not identify as men, present a new analysis, and discuss observations of intersectionality in the decarceration movement. Lunch will be served. RSVP required.
Coffee with the Prize Winner
3-4:30 p.m. at Saint’s Rest Coffee Shop, 917 Broad St., Grinnell.
Clayton will be there to join in informal conversation and coffee.
Workshop: Building Power from the Margins: Strategic and Principled Community Organizing with Clayton
7:30-9 p.m. in Forum, Digital Liberal Arts Lab
This workshop will provide attendees with a primer on fundamental community organizing principles and examine how they translate into scalable social change strategy. Specifically, Clayton and Essie Justice Group member leaders will share the origins and application of their award-winning nominations recruitment model and examine primary challenges and opportunities faced by base-building organizations today. Participants with community organizing experience or aspiring organizers especially welcome.
RSVP required.

Thursday, Oct. 5

Kickoff and Community Panel: Collaborations in Social Innovation — SPARK, a Community-Based Social Innovation Challenge
11:15 a.m.-12:45 p.m.  in Rosenfield Center, Marketplace Dining Hall, whale room
Sponsored by the College's Donald and Winifred Wilson Center for Innovation and Leadership, this year’s campus/community social innovation challenge will again focus on poverty-related challenges facing our community partner organizations.
RSVP required for those who do not have a Grinnell College meal plan.

The Grinnell Prize

The largest award given by any U.S. college in recognition of social justice, the $100,000 Grinnell Prize reflects Grinnell’s historic mission to educate individuals "who are prepared in life and work to use their knowledge and their abilities to serve the common good."

"The Grinnell Prize reflects our College’s longstanding commitment to educating individuals who will make the world a better place," says Grinnell College President Raynard S. Kington. "Our students benefit greatly from interacting with Grinnell Prize recipients in the classroom and in informal settings on campus."

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