In the more than two decades since she moved to Holmes County, Miss., from Baltimore, Md., Ellen Reddy has been a force for her community and, especially, for the rights and health of young people. Reddy founded the Nollie Jenkins Family Center with her twin sister, Helen Johnson, in 1994, with the goal of providing area families with safe, affordable childcare for their babies and preschool-aged children.
In 2003, Reddy partnered with the ACLU of Mississippi, the Mississippi Center for Justice, and the Southern Poverty Law Center to create the Mississippi Coalition for the Prevention of Schoolhouse to Jailhouse to identify and end the systemic factors contributing to the “pipeline” between schools and prisons.
Soon afterward, she partnered with the Southern Poverty Law Center again, this time to create the Mississippi Youth Justice Project. In her work with this project, she advocated for a Department of Justice investigation into the state’s treatment of youthful offenders. As a result of the ensuing investigation, one of the state’s two training schools was closed, adolescent offender advocacy programs were put in place in all Mississippi counties, and young people can no longer be placed in detention for “status” offenses, that is, non-criminal acts that are illegal only due to the age of the offender.
The most recent focus of Reddy’s energies is the use of corporal punishment in Mississippi’s public and charter schools. She worked to organize the Mississippi Coalition to End Corporal Punishment, which formed in 2021, to pass legislation eliminating corporal punishment in schools throughout Mississippi and the Southeast.
Today Reddy serves as CEO and executive director of NJFC. While she continues to manage the day-to-day financial, administrative and programmatic operations of the organization, Reddy has not allowed that responsibility to limit her use of her formidable skills as an agent of change. She has been quite busy making change happen outside the walls of the organization, as well.
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