Chakena Sims Wins Ainslie Award
Chakena Sims ’16 has been fighting for voting rights since before she was old enough to vote.
A devoted advocate for preserving and enhancing America’s democratic process since her early teenage years, Sims has now been recognized with the 2020 Ainslie Alumni Achievement Award from the Posse Foundation. She was selected for this honor from among thousands of extraordinary posse alumni and young professionals across the country.
Sims, who serves as board president of Chicago Votes, a nonpartisan organization that works to empower young people to engage in politics and public service, is a Chicago native who came to Conn as a Posse scholar and has demonstrated her leadership skills in the years since, gaining the respect of state and local leaders in Illinois.
“I remember the pride I felt registering and voting for the first time, and when we think of all we’ve worked for over the course of centuries, we don’t want to reverse; we don’t want to move backwards—we only want to move forward,” Sims says in a video released by the Posse Foundation celebrating her achievement. “This is a moment for us to say, ‘Hey, we’ve marched. Now what?’”
The stirring video, which includes footage of the late civil rights icon Congressman John Lewis, who devoted his life to expanding voting rights and ensuring America never lost sight of its fundamental ideals of democracy, also featured personal messages from Illinois governor J.B. Pritzker and Sims’ faculty advisor while at Conn, associate professor of History David Canton, who directs the Africana studies program.
“I want to personally congratulate Kena [as she’s known to her friends] on this award and for all of her amazing accomplishments,” Gov. Pritzker said.
Since its founding in 1989, the Posse Foundation and its 57 partner institutions have awarded $1.5 billion in scholarships to students from 10 cities across the U.S. with an aim of diversifying the pool of students major colleges and universities recruit from, and to help prepare them to become responsible community leaders.
Named in honor of Michael Ainslie, Posse’s first board chair, the annual award recognizes outstanding graduates who have achieved notable success and made positive contributions to their communities and beyond.
Canton recalled his time serving as Sims’ advisor at Conn, describing her as an incredibly motivated student who was very active on campus and deeply passionate from the start about the issues she still works on today.
“I remember when Chakena organized a voter registration campaign on campus and invited Susan Merrill, CT Secretary of State to the event, and when I invited Joe Madison, a civil rights activist and talk show host to campus to talk about voter registration and student activism, Chakena attended the event, took a photo with Joe, and two weeks later was on his radio program talking about her voter registration drive,” Canton said.
“I am very proud of Chakena and she has just scratched the surface and I have no doubt she will continue to leave the world a better place.”
In 2018, CC Magazine featured Sims, a former young alumni trustee, in a photo essay documenting Conn’s political disruptors.