T.O.N.E. U.P. Lead Program Director Amy Cruz and Co-Executive Director Leslie Alvarez (far left) and ACLU-MN Organizer Paul Sullivan (back middle) with the 2024 Smart Justice Fellows. The Fellows are left to right: Rita Ortega, Aihomon Ebojie, Tarji Kennedy, Mike Smiej, Jenna Mohammed, Jennifer Compeau, Valerie Mangskau, Echocce “Echo” Mendoza, Jorge L. Vargas Perez, and Jermale Kling.

In 2023, all Minnesotans with felony convictions who are on probation or supervision – more than 55,000 people – regained their right to vote under the Restore the Vote (RTV) bill. But many justice-impacted Minnesotans still do not know they can now vote, and misinformation about their voting rights is widespread. To ensure that Minnesotans with felony convictions know they can safely and legally exercise their right to vote, we created a cohort of 10 justice-impacted leaders to reach out and engage with these voters. 

The Smart Justice Fellowship will provide our Fellows with the training to become grassroots leaders among the Minnesotans who regained their right to vote under RTV.  

Through the Smart Justice Fellowship, Fellows will (1) gain the organizing skills and experience they need to engage with justice-impacted voters across Minnesota, and (2) learn about ACLU-MN’s Smart Justice policy platform and how to effectively communicate criminal justice reform ideas to diverse, statewide audiences.  

Fellows will help form a highly visible, issue-based voting bloc focused on radical criminal justice reform in Minnesota. By turning out Minnesotans with felony convictions to vote as a unified group, Fellows will help these 55,000+ new voters wield their power to demand the attention of lawmakers on criminal justice issues that have long been neglected. 

This fellowship is in collaboration with the Minneapolis NAACP and T.O.N.E. U.P. 

2024 Smart Justice Fellows 

(Bios and photos provided by Fellows)

Jenna Mohammed 

Judicial District 1

No photo provided

Jenna Mohammed is a mother and Roman Catholic. Inspired by the Social Catholic teachings, she belives human life is sacred, to protect the dignity of the human person, to stand in soldiarity, and to advocate for the common good. 

Jorge L. Vargas Perez (he/him)

Judicial District 2

Photo of Jorge in a brown suit standing next to a blond woman in red striped dress and blue blazer.

Formerly Incarcerated. Father of three. Socialist Enterprise Entrepreneur. CyberOp IT Technician.

Valerie Mangskau (she/her)

Judicial District 3

Valerie wearing a black t-shirt in front of a painting of a blue flower.

I am a woman living in long term recovery. I have three children named Justice, Faith and Grace. These names have meanings on my core values and how I live my life today. I share my experience, strength and hope with others so that people know they are not alone in their struggles and that recovery and restoration is possible. For everyone.

Rita Ortega (she/her)

Judicial District 4

Photo of Rita standing on a blue walking bridge with white handprints.

I am a Native American and Cuban, South Minneapolis and State of Minnesota, social justice advocate and organizer. I am a mother, sister, daughter, and leader. As a leader I advocate on a social justice platform due to the issues experienced throughout my life. My drive and determination for change is drawn from my lived experience. I believe it’s through shared experiences that goes on to build strong community driven policies.

Aihomon Ebojie (she/her)

Judicial District 4

Photo of Aihomon wearing a black shirt and white blazer with thin gray stripes.

 I am a macro and forensic social worker and I am the Minneapolis NAACP Secretary.

Echocce “Echo” Mendoza (they/them)

Judicial District 5

Photo of Echocce with a small dog wrapped in a blanket.

Echo aspires to lead with accessibility. They are a multi- media artist that hosts public performances through instillations. The instillations are usually entail thought provoking messages and interactive art pieces, all curated through upcycled products. Their favorite product of the instillations is the power of conversation.

Mike Smieja (he/him)

Judicial District 6

Photo of Mike wearing a tie-dyed shirt and sunglasses on his head.

I live in Grand Marais, MN. I’m a part time potter. I have an amazing dog named Hank. I love the outdoors and being by the lake.

Tarji Kennedy (she/her)

Judicial District 7

Photo of Tarji in front of a white wall

Jennifer Compeau (she/her)

Judicial District 9

Photo of Jennifer wearing a black t-shirt and her hair in a bun.

I am a woman in long term recovery from Substance Use Disorder who has an incredible passion for social justice and creating a community for all to thrive. I have been affected greatly by the barriers put in place for those with criminal backgrounds and have decided that instead of being a victim to those barriers I am going to use my experiences to create change. I am incredibly honored and excited to build my ability to do that through this fellowship and continued connection with this organization.

Jermale Kling (all/any)

Judicial District 10

Photo of Jermale wearing a white and blue striped collard shirt.

I'm a Certified Peer Recovery Specialist – Forensic Endorsement, at Twin Cities Recovery Project as well as IT Professional. I myself have been Criminally Justice Impacted for over 30 years of my life and was targeted by Slavery at an early age. My hope is to be a voice of those that struggle with the C.J.S.