Lauren V. Connor, a senior from Maywood, has been awarded the first Alexander Lane Internship by the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at SIU Carbondale.
Connor, who is majoring in theater with a minor in political science, will receive a $6,000 stipend to work for the Legislative Black Caucus at the Illinois Legislature in Springfield during the spring semester.
State Senator Toi Hutchinson, the chairs of the Legislative Black Caucuses, congratulated Conner on the award during a visit to the Institute. Conner will work under Hutchinson and other leaders. Her mentor during the program will be Dr. Linda Baker, visiting professor at the Institute, who works in Springfield during sessions.
Lane is the first black male student to graduate from SIU Carbondale and the internship was created to honor him. He was born a slave in pre-Civil War Mississippi, moved to southern Illinois as a child and used an opportunity for an education to change his life story. After graduating in the late 1800s, he proceeded to graduate from Rush Medical School and become a doctor in Chicago.
Later, he was elected to the Illinois House of Representatives where he became one of the first African Americans to serve in that chamber. He is buried in Carbondale.
“Lauren is an impressive person,” said Matt Baughman, the Institute’s associate director who spearheaded creation of the internship. “She will get this program off to a good start and what she learns will benefit her community.”
In her letter of application, Connor said “I have always had the desire to use theater and performance art as a vehicle for social change and justice. I personally feel that both theater and political science are closely related in their attempt to better mankind by empowering people to be the change they want to see in the world.”
She said the arts have a positive impact on the education of children and “one of my career goals is to create an entertainment company that focuses on expanding arts programming for at-risk youth. Using my knowledge of the political and legislative process, I will be more equipped to work with the legislative, cultural and technical details” of that goal.
The endowment fund to honor Lane and finance the annual stipend is accepting continued donations. More than $125,000 in gifts and pledges have been raised to date toward an initial goal of $150,000.
“Lane’s perseverance in overcoming barriers and achieving his goals serves as an inspiration to today’s students,” said Lane biographer Pam Smoot, an assistant professor at SIU. “We are grateful for the support in helping tell the story and to those who have made contributions to send a student looking for opportunity to serve an internship in the Illinois General Assembly in Lane’s name.”