Angeliina Lawson, not yet a trustee for the college, sat in her friend’s house with her family in Johnson County, Kansas. The storm outside was a magnificent contrast to the sunny days she was used to back home in Ventura County, California. While she and her husband thought their vacation plans for the day were over, their hosts said to wait five minutes. Sure enough, the storm ended.
After having a child and becoming frustrated with the cost of living in California, the Lawson’s decided to make the move.
“We just fell in love, it was so friendly out here,” Lawson said. “Shawnee Mission Park would’ve been like a national monument that you would have to pay to go in. The people are just so different. They don’t care about labels or what you own. There are some very wealthy people here in Kansas, and they drive a Honda.”
However, her family quickly experienced a catastrophe two months after their move when her husband, an ad manager, lost his job on a phone call.
“We thought we had job security,” Lawson said. “When we moved here, they called him and laid him off, and it was devastating. That day, I took my infant son, he was about 11 months old, still nursing, and we showed up to the food bank lines. It was embarrassing, it was just mortifying.”
This period of hardship ended after her husband landed a salary job and she started a small business. Afterward, Lawson decided to run for State House.
“I ran … not knowing what I was doing,” Lawson said. “I just knew that I didn’t hear the voices of other candidates that I needed to hear to really stand up and [fight] for public education … That drove me to knock [on] over 10,000 doors, to get out there, to talk to people. [With] my background in clinical psychology, that’s familiar to me, sitting and listening.”
Although Lawson lost the race, her effort attracted the attention of Tom Kessler, former Obama field organizer and campaign manager for Rep. Brett Parker, who later served as Lawson’s senior advisor.
“She was really working hard at it, and we all noticed,” Kessler said. “Angeliina was someone I noticed strictly because of her work ethic and the amount of effort she was putting in to win a seat that really was not winnable.”
As she wanted to hear the voice of the people, Lawson once again began knocking on doors, this time 45,000. Heather Meyer, former president of the college Democrats who also volunteered for her, said Lawson has never worked as hard as she did on the campaign.
“She went all across the county, she was really into figuring out what other people needed,” Meyer said. “Out there, almost every day, no matter what the weather. Knocking on doors, driving down rural roads to meet people and seeing what they were thinking about.”
If someone else would have satisfied the need she saw on the board, Lawson would not have run for the office.
“I ran because I saw a need in the community,” Lawson said. “I take it very serious when you put your name on the ballot … there’s a need and I don’t hear about anyone else better than me [who’s] already there.”
A community college graduate, Lawson is shocked by the threat of the removal of Pell Grants, which she said was the only way she could have gone to college.
“I believe that the private depends on the public,” Lawson said. “The stronger the public infrastructures are, the better the private sector benefits from good roads, good bridges, good airports, good judicial system, good medicine, [and] good schools. Those all produce workforce that are being profit makers for the private sector. It’s in the best interest to have a good public infrastructure there. So, for me to hear that, I knew so many people would be having that opportunity taken away.”
Lawson’s main concerns include tracking mental health and the impact of guns on campus. Above all else, Lawson has a strong desire to learn what the people want and apply it to the board.
“I have a lot questions,” Lawson said. “I’m doing a lot of research, more than normal. I don’t understand that, because I would think that is the normal. This is [a] serious position. When you sit in that seat and you represent the people, it is something that you are curious about, and you ask questions, and you make sure that you know … so that when something comes before you, you’re not just a rubber stamp … you have a thinking mind at that table.”