Gina Clayton-Johnson

Executive Director & Founder


Gina Clayton-Johnson is the Executive Director of Essie Justice Group, which she founded (named after her great grandmother Essie Bailey) in 2014 to harness the collective power of women with incarcerated loved ones to end mass incarceration’s harm to women and communities.

Gina has spent more than a decade advocating for communities of color.

As an undergrad at University of Southern California, she became a youth organizer for the NAACP, leading campaigns addressing campus policing, voter registration and state sentencing laws. Her experiences as an organizer and civil rights activist in South Los Angeles led her to pursue law. In her first year as a student at Harvard Law School, someone Gina loves was sentenced to 20 years in prison. Despite years of work in racial justice and organizing prior to law school, it was this painful personal experience that would put her on a new course.

As an attorney in Harlem, NY, Gina represented women of color who were facing eviction as the result of a family member’s criminal matter. She designed and implemented the Housing Defense Practice at The Neighborhood Defender Service of Harlem (NDS) after seeing how women with loved ones behind bars were suffering, resulting in weakened communities. Gina began to look for organizations and academic literature that addressed criminal justice with a focus on women with incarcerated loved ones and found none.

She founded Essie Justice Group for those women.

Gina holds a BA in American Studies and Ethnicity, with a minor in Education, from the University of Southern California and a J.D. from Harvard Law School. Among the awards she has received for her work are fellowships from Equal Justice Works, Soros Justice Fellowship, Echoing Green Global, the JMK Innovation Prize and a Harvard Public Service Venture Fund Seed Grant in support of the design and launch of Essie Justice Group. In 2017, she was awarded the Grinnell Prize, the largest award given by any U.S. college in recognition of social justice.

Gina has also been honored by several publications, and was named Top 14 Women Who Rocked 2014 by Colorlines, and a San Francisco Magazine Soldier of Social Change in their “Women In Power” Issue in 2015.

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