November 20182023-04-12T10:35:20-04:00

In partnership with the Riverside Church Social Justice Ministry

JusticeAid continued the struggle against economic oppression and mass incarceration on Sunday, November 11, 2018, with a public forum at The Riverside Church, a landmark New York institution on Manhattan’s Upper West Side known for its history of activism in civil rights. Jeffery Robinson discussed the true history of the economic oppression of African-Americans from slavery to the present as reflected in his dynamic, multi-media exploration Who We Are: A Chronicle of Racism in America.

Next, beneficiaries Alec Karakatsanis of Civil Rights Corps and Gina Clayton of Essie Justice Group engaged in a panel discussion moderated by Johnny Perez, Director of U.S. Prison Program for the National Religious Campaign Against Torture. The panelists further explored Robinson’s themes with a  focus on the systemic extortion of money from poor people by imprisonment and the dramatic repercussions for those left at home, particularly women.

Youth activist Madison Strempek spoke movingly of incarceration experienced through the lens of a child. Performing artist Abena Koomsom-Davis sang an anthem to Justice and poet and educator Randall Horton recited poetry. Afterward, guests experienced The Cell, a VR (virtual reality) installation set up in the Church.

The forum was free and open to the community and live-streamed through @JusticeAid on Facebook. Relive the event at #JusticeAidForum.

We were thrilled to return to NYC’s City Winery on Tuesday, November 13th,  for an epic concert highlighting New Orleans Dr. Michael White and his Original Liberty Jazz Band along with gospel and blues singer Topsy Chapman. Our guests experienced an electric celebration of New Orleans in music, song, and performance—and an inspiring call to action for JusticeAid’s beneficiaries Civil Rights Corps, dedicated to correcting systemic injustices in the American legal justice system, and Essie Justice Group, which harnesses the collective power of women with incarcerated loved ones to end mass incarceration’s harm to women and communities. One hundred percent of ticket proceeds were donated to our hardworking beneficiaries.


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 the 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.

Alec graduated from Yale College in 2005 with a degree in Ethics, Politics, & Economics and Harvard Law School in 2008, where he was a Supreme Court Chair of the Harvard Law Review.  Before founding Civil Rights Corps, Alec co-founded Equal Justice Under Law, a non-profit organization dedicated to systemic litigation challenging injustices in the American criminal legal system.  Alec was also a civil rights lawyer and public defender with the Special Litigation Division of the Public Defender Service for the District of Columbia and a federal public defender in Alabama, representing impoverished people accused of federal crimes.

Alec is interested in ending human caging, surveillance, the death penalty, immigration laws, war, and inequality.  He is the author of The Human Lawyer, 34 N.Y.U. Rev. L. & Soc. Change 563 (2010); Protecting Corporations Instead of the Poor, 121 Harv. L. Rev. 275 (2007); and Civil Disobedience: The Role of Judges, 120 Harv. L. Rev. 1988 (2007).  His most recent article is Policing, Mass Imprisonment, and the Failure of American Lawyers, 128 Harv. L. Rev. F. 253 (2015).

Alec was recently awarded the 2016 Trial Lawyer of the Year by Public Justice for his role in bringing constitutional civil rights cases to challenge the American money bail system and the 2016 Stephen B. Bright Award for contributions to indigent defense in the South by Gideon’s Promise. You can read a recent profile about Alec’s work with Civil Rights Corps in Harvard Magazine here.

Alec also has taught a high school class on mass human caging, civil rights, and safe interaction with the police in the D.C. public schools; helped lead a community organizing effort against racial profiling and police misconduct in the District of Columbia; and is a mentor in the Big Brother/Big Sister program. He is currently Co-Chair of the American Bar Association Committee on Pretrial Justice.  He also spends his time playing the piano, making weird paintings, and playing soccer.

Jeffery Robinson, Deputy Legal Director and Director of the Trone Center for Justice and Equality American Civil Liberties Union, has three decades of experience working on criminal and racial justice and reform issues: as a public defender, attorney in private practice, educator, and civil rights activist. Who We Are: A Chronicle of Racism in America brings to light little-known facts of the history of America’s practice of white supremacy related to African Americans and the complexities involved in the role of race and the criminal justice system in this country.

Johnny Perez is the Director of U.S. Prison Program for the National Religious Campaign Against Torture, a membership organization committed to ending U.S.-sponsored torture, and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. He adds value, insight, and leadership to existing campaign efforts working to end the torture of solitary confinement while building the capacity of faith leaders and directly impacted communities to engage in education and advocacy in the United States.

Drawing on the wisdom of thirteen years of direct involvement with the criminal justice system, Johnny also works to change unjust policies and practices in the criminal justice system through his participation as a member of the NYC Bar Association’s Correction and Reentry Committee and a member of the NY Advisory Committee to The US Civil Rights Commission . Johnny is also on the board of directors of both Space on Ryder Farm and the Juvenile Law Center.

A sought-after speaker, Johnny has been invited to share his thoughts on criminal justice reform at law schools and institutions of higher learning across the U.S.; including various state, regional, and national conferences on topics including the perpetual consequences of justice involvement, access to higher education, and Solitary Confinement. Johnny’s commentary has been published by The New York Times, The Fordham Law Journal, Ebony Magazine, USA Today, and the Daily News.

A recent collaboration with ACLU’s Smart Justice Campaign, on the challenges of reentry, yielded into its acceptance into this year’s Sundance Film Festival. Johnny has made appearances on Now This, Capital Tonight, and recently the TV Special, Rikers: What’s Next, a conversation with acclaimed journalist Bill Moyers about a future NYC without Rikers Island jail. Johnny is also a father to a teenage girl and a novice violinist. You can connect with Johnny via LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram @mrjohnnyperez.

Abena Koomson-Davis is a performer, educator, and wordsmith. She is a graduate of Sarah Lawrence College, where she earned a B.A. in Liberal Arts, and also of Teachers College, Columbia University, where she earned a Masters in Education Leadership. Abena was an original cast member of the hit Broadway musical FELA!, which earned three Tony awards. She originated the role of Funmilayo Anikulapo Kuti in the Off-Broadway production at the Baryshnikov Arts Center. Abena plays in several notable bands, including the cappella trio Saheli, the Cool Rulers, and Van Davis, where she has been the featured vocalist for over a decade and had the honor of performing with Stevie Wonder.

Abena recently became musical director of the Women’s March Resistance Revival Chorus and has been featured as part of their monthly Resistance Revival Music Series. She currently serves as Ethics Chair of the middle school division at Ethical Culture Fieldston School, where she teaches ethics and social justice to middle and upper school students. Abena is married to world-renowned jazz trombonist Steve Davis.

Abena’s approach to life is polyphonic. Her poem Blacksmith Orchestra is her anthem. JusticeAid is thrilled to welcome Abena at the Public Forum on Racism and the Criminalization of Poverty: 21st Century Debtors’ Prisons in the Age of Mass Incarceration, to be held on November 11th at Riverside Church in New York City

See artist page here.

Randall Horton is the author of The Definition of Place (2006) and Lingua Franca of Ninth Street (2009), both from Main Street Rag. His poetry prizes include the Gwendolyn Brooks Poetry Award and the Bea González Prize for Poetry. Horton has an MFA from Chicago State University and a Ph.D. from SUNY Albany. He is a Cave Canem Fellow, a member of the Affrilachian Poets, an NEA Literature Fellowship recipient, and an assistant professor of English at the University of New Haven. He also serves as senior editor for Willow Books and editor-in-chief for Tidal Basin Review. 

Madison Strempek is an international keynote speaker and author of “Everyone Makes Mistakes: Living With My Daddy in Jail.” She’s an accomplished violist and plays in the Baltimore Symphony Youth Orchestra. Madison recently earned her 1st-degree black belt in Tang Soo Do. Now age 13, she is an advocate for children of incarcerated parents.


The Riverside Church is an interdenominational, interracial, international, open, welcoming, and affirming church and congregation.

JusticeAid beneficiary-recipients Gina Clayton and Alec Karakatsanis joined moderator Vanita Gupta on April 17, 2018, at WilmerHale in Washington, DC for our first public panel focusing on our 2018 theme, 21st-Century Debtors’ Prisons.


The 300th Anniversary of New Orleans is sure amplified JusticeAid’s tribute to Billie Holiday: Songs for Lady Day, held on April 24, 2018, at The Hamilton in Washington, DC. The concert celebrated the legendary blues musician’s birthday with performances by Paula Cole, Marshall Crenshaw, Dom Flemons, Cécile McLorin Salvant, and Kandace Springs.

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