What Difference Can a Soros Justice Fellow Make?
By Adam Culbreath
The criminal justice system in the United States is in urgent need of reform. But what can one person do? The Soros Justice Fellowships program—which funds outstanding individuals whose work advances a more fair and sensible justice system, and which recently announced its newest class of fellows—offers support in the following ways:
New and emerging leaders. We support future leaders from all walks of life: people like Esi Mathis, who do the work not because they’ve been groomed for it, but because life circumstances have demanded it of them. Or people like Gina Clayton, whose record of achievement and commitment to core justice reform issues is a harbinger of an exceptionally bright future. And it includes people like Starcia Ague, who possess what might be called the “necessary intangibles”: grit, passion, and resilience.
Promising ideas and approaches. We fund individuals who’ve already established themselves in their respective fields who are now positioned to pursue work that experiments, anticipates emerging issues, or creatively seizes upon opportunities. Whether it’s challenging the ways discriminatory policing affects women of color (Andrea Ritchie) or promoting the use of storytelling in death penalty plea negotiations (Leslie Jill Patterson), the work of the fellows informs the larger body of Open Society’s U.S. criminal justice reform efforts.
Stories that spur debate and conversation. It’s increasingly rare for journalists and other media makers to have the time and resources to pursue vital but marginalized, controversial, or unpopular topics. We support those who have the skills and connections to cut through the noise. Projects can cover issues like sentencing policy from a crime survivor’s perspective (Mark Obbie) or injustices associated with DNA databases (Osagie Obasogie).
So, what does this all add up to? An abiding belief in the capacity of a single individual, at the right moment in time, to make a difference. But we also acknowledge that each fellow’s work exists within, and depends upon, an expansive network of individuals and organizations, and expect that their work will continue to evolve and make ongoing contributions to the fields in which they work.
Adam Culbreath is team manager of Leadership and Fellowships for Open Society-U.S.