Alexandra Sims: 'Follow What Energizes You'

Alexandra Sims: 'Follow What Energizes You'

Alex Sims with Dean David FiglioAlumna Alex Sims (left), founder of APS & Associates, talks with SESP Dean David Figlio.

School of Education and Social Policy alumna  Alexandra Sims (BS10), recognized as  one of Chicago’s most influential Black leaders, recently urged SESP students to not think of a career as one dot to one dot to one dot, but instead to think of it almost like a funnel.

“Think of it as a direction you're headed in. You can bounce around in that funnel but try to stay in that direction,” Sims said. “I would tell my 20-year-old self to follow what excites you, what energizes you, and what gives you passion.”

The conversation was part of Northwestern University’s Nancy and Ray Loeschner Leadership Lecture and was co-moderated by School of Education and Social Policy Dean David Figlio and undergraduate Ryley Boddeker-O’Connor. The talk focused on Sims’s experiences in Chicago politics and public affairs, and created a space for SESP students to ask Sims for advice on their future careers.

Sims, originally from Metro Detroit, spoke about her family’s focus on never forgetting where you come from – something that was instilled in her deeply during her childhood. “We go back to the plantation that we were on as slaves every year. My family bought back the plantation and we now own it. The visit is a big thing for us each year, we call it the revival,” Sims said.

Taking her family’s advice to never forget where she came from, Sims knew after graduating from Northwestern that she wanted to go back and help communities. This motivation led her to the Coro Fellowship Program, where she experienced working in labor, government, and corporate settings.

“I used Coro as an avenue to figure out where I could have the most impact in the public affairs sector,” Sims said. “After Coro, I knew more about what I did like and didn’t like.”

Sims went on to serve as state director from Missouri for President Obama’s 2012 campaign, and then started a voter registration nonprofit in Chicago called Every Vote Counts. She directed the registration of over 120,000 voters in four months - the largest voter registration campaign in the country that year.

In 2016, Sims launched her public affairs firm,  APS & Associates, which manages high-profile clients including the Obama Foundation, Illinois State's Attorney Kim Foxx, and State Representative and Northwestern University alumnus Emanuel “Chris” Welch.

APS & Associates is the only Black female-owned firm of its kind in Chicago, and Sims spoke about the importance of occupying that space. Speaking on how she deals with the backlash that has come from seeing more women of color in politics, Sims said, “I’m really encouraged by the way women of color are banding together in ways I’ve never seen before. It is important in these moments to lean on each other and your allies.”

Sims expressed her disappointment with the way some news outlets report or fail to accurately report on events. “People deserve to hear the truth, and because it’s too wonky or because it’s too deep you won’t write about it, and continue to push a message that is false? This can be incredibly dangerous,” Sims said. “There’s a lot of dangerous things that happen, and movements that are happening right now, so it is very scary.”

Recognizing the many obstacles to overcome, Sims also pointed to the many people who keep her optimistic about the future. “You all do, the Black Bench cohort does, a lot of our clients do,” Sims said. “There are people out there who truly care and working for them motivates me. There are definitely forces against us, but it’s encouraging to go into work and work with people who want to find a way to push through those forces each day.”

By David Johnson
Last Modified: 9/30/22