The OCC Effect: Lanessa Owens-Chaplin, '03

The OCC Effect
Lanessa Owens-Chaplin, '03
Lanessa Owens-Chaplin, '03 went from being on her own at age 17 to leading the fight to remove the elevated portion of Interstate 81 from the heart of Syracuse.

Lanessa Owens-Chaplin, '03 always had big dreams but never knew if she could overcome significant life challenges to make any of them come true. By age 17 she was living on her own while attending Henninger High School. After receiving her diploma she decided to come to OCC and major in Humanities.

Initially learning how to balance the demands of working full-time and going to college was a huge struggle. Coursework took a back seat. As she developed relationships with professors, her education became more important. When she took a Business Law class, it opened her mind to the possibility of a career in law. "The most valuable thing I learned at OCC is realizing that learning is a collaboration and a set of ideas that can open your world. This impacted my confidence to understand my dreams could be a reality."

After earning her degree at OCC, Owens-Chaplin committed full-time to education and her future. She quit her job, moved away, and enrolled at SUNY College at Old Westbury. She graduated with honors, then moved on to the School of Law at the University of St. Thomas in Miami. She earned her law degree and returned to Syracuse with the goal of making a difference in the community.

Owens-Chaplin is now spearheading an effort which may change the face of Syracuse for generations to come. She's the lead counsel for the New York Civil Liberties Union which is dedicated to working with community members to ensure that their civil liberties are protected and the injustices of the original construction of Interstate 81 through the city are not repeated. The elevated highway reached the end of its usable life in 2017. The New York State Department of Transportation recommended replacing it with surface-level streets one year ago. "My goals are to continue to push Syracuse to be a better place, advocate for policies and laws that ground our city in principals founded in the Constitution, and to never stop learning. Education is evolutionary."

Onondaga Community College
Henninger High School