Open Society Foundations Announce 2020 Soros Justice Fellows

Friday, December 18, 2020

Open Society Foundations Announce 2020 Soros Justice Fellows

NEW YORK—Fighting to reduce lengthy sentences for youth. Building a network of Black HIV movement lawyers. Tackling structural racism through the power of dance. Organizing differently-abled people who have engaged with the criminal justice system. Providing a toolkit to help those affected by the criminalization of immigration.

These are just a few of the projects being undertaken by the 2020 class of Soros Justice Fellows, a mix of artists, advocates, organizers, and researchers dedicated to advancing reforms and addressing the ills of the U.S. criminal justice system. These 19 fellows, who hail from eight different states, Puerto Rico, and Washington, D.C., will receive a stipend of $57,500 to $127,500, for full-time projects lasting between 12 and 18 months.

“The 2020 class of Soros Justice Fellows begin their work at a critical juncture in American history, coming on the heels of a racial justice reckoning heard around the world,” said Adam Culbreath, who runs the program along with Christina Voight. “Their energy, industry, and diverse approaches to some of the country’s toughest challenges give me hope that they will build on the energy we saw in the streets this year and lead us to a more just and equitable society.”

Among the other projects being undertaken by this year’s fellows: an effort to promote healing trends in the movement to end mass incarceration; work to explore and develop connections between the environmental and climate justice movements and movements to combat punitive policing and prison policies; and a bid to bring an abolitionist queer feminist lens to antideportation work in the Southeast Asian community.

Other fellows will work to help those in the informal economy fight attempts to criminalize their work, research the landscape of the sex trade, call out abusive surveillance practices targeting immigrants, combat state violence in Puerto Rico, and use beekeeping as a tool to help provide financial opportunity to the formerly incarcerated.

“It’s exciting to see the incredible range of ideas and tools these fellows bring to the cause of advancing justice,” said Leonard Noisette, who oversees the fellowship program as leader of the Justice team in Open Society-U.S. “We are proud to help support the next generation of leaders in the movement to bring this country closer to its ideals.”

The 2020 fellows join over 400 other individuals who, since 1997, have received support through the Soros Justice Fellowships to build more vibrant and inclusive democracies.

2020 Soros Justice Fellows

Wakumi Douglas will examine and promote cutting edge healing justice trends, and tools within the existing movement, to end mass incarceration.

Shanita Hubbard will develop a podcast series that explores the intersection between environmental racism and the prison industrial complex.

June Kuoch will use arts-based organizing to catalyze an abolitionist queer feminist orientation within the Southeast Asian antideportation movement. 

Xochtil Larios will lead a transformational educational opportunity for youth held in Alameda County’s Juvenile Hall.

Marilyn Lee will promote beekeeping as a way for formerly and currently incarcerated women and men to achieve financial security, independence, and stability.

Toya Lewis will help build a network of informal workers to resist and combat their criminalization and promote their collective prosperity.

Julie Mao will challenge mass migrant prosecutions and government surveillance, and work with immigrant families and organizers to tell the story of the harms such prosecutions and surveillance cause.

Maria Mari-Narváez will document and combat state violence in Puerto Rico.

Jeremy McQueen will develop a four-part dance film exploring systemic racism and injustices through the real-life accounts of New York City youth embroiled in the justice system.

Jazmarie Melendez will build a movement of young people who are most harmed by policing and immigration enforcement, empowering them to challenge how these intersecting systems impact their lives.

Elizeth Virrueta Ortiz, through the Resistance Sin Fronteras project, will build the power of migrant and monolingual Spanish-speaking families impacted by police violence.

Eric Paulk will build a nationwide network of Black HIV movement lawyers to protect, defend, and support people living with HIV.

Siwatu-Salama Ra will draw upon the leadership of formerly incarcerated people to build bridges between and power within the environmental and climate justice movements and the prison abolition and defund police movements. 

Aishah Shahidah Simmons will use storytelling to explore survivor-centered ways to disrupt and end childhood and adult sexual violence without relying on the criminal justice system.

Phal Sok will create an action-oriented, community-based toolkit that explains the history of immigration policy and its criminalization.

Tamisha Walker will research current and past movements for mass liberation to help inform current and future efforts to advocate for social change.

Denali Wilson will serve youth charged in adult courts in New Mexico by litigating excessive and extreme sentences and fighting for policy change.

Waleisah Wilson will mobilize differently-abled people in the U.S. South who have been directly impacted by arrest, conviction, incarceration, probation, or parole.

Connie Wun will research the sex trade landscape, and, partnering with those who have participated in the trade, highlight the experiences of Black, Indigenous, women, girls, and gender nonconforming communities of color.