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DePaul Law Black Alumni Foundation honors legacy through scholarships

The College of Law was pleased to honor Forrest Sumlar and Tejonne Vinson with the second annual DePaul Law Black Alumni Foundation Endowed Scholarship. This prestigious scholarship, named for prominent African American law alumni, recognizes law students who show potential as future role models and leaders in the legal community. 

The DePaul Law Black Alumni Foundation (DLBAF) endowed the scholarship in 2011 with a $100,000 gift to the College of Law, which the university then matched. 

“Essentially, we’ve spent the last 10 years raising funds,” said Francine Soliunas (CSH ’70, JD ’73), DLBAF’s president. “We had a specific and urgent desire to provide scholarships to our young students.”

While the endowment formalizes DLBAF’s relationship with DePaul, the foundation has been a strong presence at the College of Law for more than a decade. The group was conceived in 2000 by alumnus Ed Williams (JD ’67), who wanted to establish a lasting legacy for past, present and future DePaul law students of color. Initially, Williams appointed several students to gather stories and memories from renowned law alumni. The students interviewed a select group of 10 African American graduates, videotaping and recording their conversations for archival purposes. These interviews are now housed at the Rinn Law Library, and the interview subjects joined DLBAF as life members.

With the group in place, DLBAF began actively soliciting donations and spreading the word about the foundation. For Soliunas, who is dean for strategic and community alliances at the College of Law, her role as president of the foundation represents “a continuation of the more than 40-year love affair I’ve had with this institution.” Soliunas emphasizes that both her undergraduate and graduate experiences at DePaul helped shape her commitment to giving back.

“My life has been informed very much by Vincentian ethics and values,” she noted. In creating the endowed scholarship, DLBAF joins a long line of generous alumni supporters who affirm DePaul’s Vincentian mission.

“It’s encouraging to know that there are people out there who are willing to support my aspirations without knowing me on a personal level,” said 2013 scholar Sumlar. While he doesn’t yet know exactly where his degree will lead him, his experiences at the College of Law have already been formative. “The legal profession is so much more than I ever envisioned it to be,” he said. “I spent last summer working in the public sector at the Cook County Public Defender’s office in Maywood, and I plan to spend next summer at a law firm.”

In addition to his studies, Sumlar also participates on the DePaul Black Law Student Association’s mock trial team and volunteers regularly with the Chicago Debate Commission. Sumlar’s dedication and leadership underscore the foundation’s mandate that each award “goes to a deserving student who we sense would carry forth the legacy of the foundation and be a wonderful role model in terms of what DLBAF stands for,” said Soliunas. Knowing that those who came before him support his ambitions and dreams, Sumlar is determined to excel. “I promise not to let the donors down,” he vowed. Someday, Sumlar and his fellow scholarship recipients may even join the ranks of DLBAF. In the meantime, the foundation will continue to support exceptional students, foster relationships across generations and perpetuate a legacy of success.