About the Founder
Gina Clayton is Founder and Executive Director of Essie Justice Group (Essie). An award winning social entrepreneur, attorney, activist, and advocate for women, Gina launched Essie (named after her great grandmother, Essie Baily) in 2014 to support and empower women with incarcerated loved ones.
Gina saw up close the impact of incarceration on women both in her personal and professional life. As a housing attorney, Gina designed and implemented the Housing Defense Practice at The Neighborhood Defender Service of Harlem ("NDS") to represent women who were facing eviction as the result of a criminal matter. It was in the course of this work that she became resolved to further examine and expose the harmful impact of mass incarceration on women who have loved ones living behind bars.
Gina grew up in Los Angeles California, where she started as a youth organizer for the NAACP while studying at the University of Southern California. Under her leadership, the chapter became the largest in a nine state western region. She organized campaigns addressing campus policing, voter registration, and CA state sentencing laws. Her successes locally led to her election to the NAACP National Board of Directors where Julian Bond appointed Gina to the Executive Committee and the President/CEO Search Committee, which then selected Benjamin Jealous as NAACP President and CEO.
Gina’s experiences as an organizer and civil rights activist in South Los Angeles led her to pursue the law. While in law school Gina interned or studied under some of the country’s most respected criminal justice reform organizations and leaders including the Southern Center for Human Rights, Public Defender Service for the District of Columbia, Charles Ogletree, Ronald S. Sullivan, Jr., and Soffiyah Elijah. After law school, Gina dedicated herself full time to working directly with low-income women and families impacted by the criminal justice system.
Gina is a member of the New York State Bar, and is proficient in Dutch and Spanish. In 2010, she was awarded an Equal Justice Works Fellowship for her work at NDS. In 2014 Gina won a Soros Justice Fellowship, an Echoing Green Global Fellowship, and a Harvard Public Service Venture Fund Seed Grant in support of her design and launch of Essie Justice Group.
Gina holds a B.A. in American Studies and Ethnicity, with a minor in Education, from the University of Southern California and a J.D. from Harvard Law School.