Lanessa Owens-Chaplin (she/her) is an experienced civil rights lawyer with over 10 years of public service experience. As the Director of the Racial Justice Center, she leads the effort to restore, uplift, and work alongside Black, Indigenous, and people of color, through traditional and movement lawyering. Lanessa joined the NYCLU in 2018, as a member of the Education Policy Center where she was instrumental in the education equity campaign and led the environmental racism campaign, including the I-81 Project. Lanessa’s docket prioritizes the intersections of racial justice, infrastructure equity, land use laws, restorative principals such as reparations, impacts on education, and Indigenous rights.
Lanessa began her legal career in 2012 working in legal services, where she performed client-centered direct legal advocacy. From challenging excessive prison sentences for low-level offenses to civic restoration and discrimination cases. Lanessa would go on to work in policy by joining the New York State legislative assembly as legal counsel and chief of staff, where she led the local initiatives, such as raise minimum wage, ending solitary confinement for youth, and Raise the Age. Lanessa’s leadership in legislation and policy quickly promoted her to a cabinet position as the Deputy Secretary of Intergovernmental Affairs to the Speaker of the New York State Assembly, Carl Heastie. Lanessa developed broad strategies and campaigns for the negotiation and implementation of intergovernmental agreements for the Western, Southern Tier and Central New York regions.
Publications include, Tulsa's Greenwood neighborhood wasn't America's only Black Wall Street, USA Today; New York’s Green Amendment: Curbing Environmental Racism, New York Law Journal and the I-81 report, Building a Better Future, The Structural Racism Built into I-81, and How to Tear it Down.
Lanessa is appointed by the Chief Justice to the New York State Judicial Institute on Professionalism in Law, and an Appointee to the State of New York Grievance Committee of the Fifth Judicial District.
Community Achievements include, The 2015 Award Recipient, New York State Bar Association, Young Lawyers Award;2016 Award Recipient, New York State NAACP, Melchor, May, McKinney Honor; 2017 Award Recipient, Seeds for Change, recognition of civil rights litigation addressing the carceral systems disproportionate impact on children of color; 2018 Central New York Business Journal, 40 under 40 Honoree; 2020 Awardee, Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc, Marjorie Dowdell Fortitude Award.
In addition to her Juris Doctorate, Lanessa received her L.L.M in Environmental Law and a Doctorate of Humane Letters from the State University of New York.