Grinnell College Awards Grinnell Prize to Leader Championing Black Joy, Art and Culture in Memphis

July 15, 2021
Victoria Jones, founder and executive director of TONE
Victoria Jones, founder and executive director of TONE

Grinnell College has awarded the 2021 Grinnell College Innovator for Social Justice Prize of $50,000 to Victoria Jones, founder and executive director of TONE. Jones’ social innovation work centers Black joy, activism, and community building in Memphis, Tennessee. In 2014, Jones founded the CLTV, now named TONE, to support and uplift Black artists and Memphis by incubating Black arts innovation, challenging the status quo of the Memphis art scene, and mobilizing Black land ownership, and economic independence. 

“The Grinnell Prize exemplifies our mission and demonstrates our values and long-standing commitment to social responsibility and action,” says Grinnell College President Anne F. Harris. “It is my hope that esteemed Grinnell Prize winners like Jones inspire and challenge us to find ways to use our own values, insights, relationships and educational experiences as catalysts to become purpose-driven change-makers throughout the world for the greater good.” 

The Grinnell Prize honors individuals who have demonstrated leadership in their fields and who show creativity, commitment and extraordinary accomplishment in effecting positive social change. Grinnell Prize Week events and award are testament to the College's commitment to empower students to make positive changes on campus and beyond by leveraging their liberal arts education and applying ideas of purpose, civic responsibility, and social justice. 

Jones and TONE sustain their work by intentionally shifting away from a survival mindset and, instead, center their work in Black joy. One of the notable aspects of TONE’s model is the organization’s commitment to acquiring property for Black Memphians to create and showcase their art. Their exhibition site, TONE hq, is located in a formerly redlined Black community, Orange Mound, where residents have been systemically excluded from the dominant, white arts scene both as artists and as consumers of the arts. The site hosts programming and workshops for youth and adults and offers performance space for Black artists to hone and showcase their craft. Jones believes that providing consistent, reliable, and affordable space and opportunity is critical for Black artists to thrive. These artists go on to inspire their community with work that heals, emboldens, and archives Memphis.   

TONE is devoted to the overall well-being of Black people. Even partnerships are navigated carefully so that the artists and Black-owned partners are benefitting in equal measure, if not more than, non-Black individuals and institutions that typically exploit the labor of Black artists and their communities.  In addition, TONE strives to uplift the entire Orange Mound community in its partnership with Orange Mound Community Development Corporation. Together the two organizations are collaborating to form a community co-op for the neighborhood. Future plans include developing additional youth outreach and afterschool programs and creating additional studio and gallery space for Black artists. Jones has a vision to transform Memphis into the cultural beacon of the South. 

Jones shares,“Our path to ownership, whether of land or business, remains systemically out of reach, obstructed by well-intentioned white folks who battle with the savior complex, hurdled by a lack of capital and resources that want to avoid ‘risky’ investments, and lengthened by the steady exhaustion that accompanies any force that is fighting to dismantle oppression while simultaneously being oppressed. But hope is not lost, for while the portrait being painted is bleak, the folks who have found means of survival, especially in the inspiring moments where folks have reached passed surviving to thriving, we are reminded that pressure makes diamonds - and we have a chance to bear witness to the Black brilliance in this city that simply refuses to die.” 

Global Call for Grinnell Prize Nominations  

Individuals and organizations are encouraged to nominate someone who is: 

  • A change-maker working on the cutting edge of social innovation; 
  • A leader who collaborates to equitably co-create solutions to pressing social issues; 
  • A visionary who is tackling immediate challenges while also addressing related systemic issues; and 
  • A mentor who inspires the next generation of social innovators 

Nominations are due by 11:59 p.m. CDT on Sunday, Oct. 31, 2021, and winners will be notified in late spring of 2022. Winners will be awarded $50,000, with half presented to the individual and half to the individual’s organization. During Grinnell Prize week the winner will be invited to campus.  

Nominations are open to both U.S. citizens and nationals of other countries. Nominees must have earned a bachelor’s degree no more than 15 years prior to their nomination. No affiliation with Grinnell College is needed. 

Details about the prize and nomination process are at Questions should be directed to the Center for Careers, Life, and Service at 641-269-4940 or by contacting Vicki Nolton, program associate for service and social innovation. 

2021 Innovator to Watch 

The 2021 Grinnell Prize Selection Committee also wishes to recognize Carl Stafford, founder and lead conceptual specialist of My Region Wins! as a 2021 Innovator to Watch. This new designation was created to honor social innovators whose approach to addressing the root causes of an issue show great promise but necessitate a longer journey toward being able to demonstrate impact. Mr. Stafford’s innovative efforts to rectify damage created by redlining, systematic divesting, and environmental degradation in Kansas City are commendable and make him an “Innovator to Watch.” 

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