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State rep carries on father's legacy at the Indiana Statehouse

State Rep. Vanessa Summers serves constituents in the same Indiana neighborhoods where her dad served families.

INDIANAPOLIS — During Black History Month this year, a longtime Indiana lawmaker shares her hopes to live up to that of her father, who served in the same elected position.

State Rep. Vanessa Summers works non-stop serving constituents in the same Indiana neighborhoods where her dad served families. So when you meet Summers, you learn right away she's passionate about her job. Growing up, she watched her father go from their family business to the Indiana Statehouse for District 99 for years.

"I was a daddy's baby. So, wherever he was, I wanted to be," Summers said.

That's what makes Summers' journey to the statehouse unique. Her father, Rep. Joseph Summers, died of cancer in 1991. That's when the late Congresswoman Julia Carson told Vanessa to step up. After visiting the grieving family, Carson told Summers what she needed to do.

"When Julia Carson told you to do something, what did you do? You did what she told you to do. So, I found my beautician, found a dress, read the speech," Summers said.

The Summers name is no stranger because of their family funeral business. In 2002, they merged with the late Lavenia Jacobs to serve central Indiana families together. But throughout the years, Vanessa knew her father's passion. 

"He would say, 'Y'all take care of the business,'" said Summers. "I am going to have fun. He thought this was fun."

Summers made history in 2011, becoming the first Black woman to serve as Indiana Democratic Caucus Chair. It happened when House Democrats fled to Urbana, Illinois to protest Republican-backed education- and labor-related bills. Now, as a politician who is also a mother and grandmother, Summers is a force to reckon with as she fights for justice and equal rights.

"Whether you are Democrat or Republican, you said or did the wrong thing and you need to know," said Summers. 

The state representative also fights at the statehouse for equal access to health care, especially after spending 11 days in the ICU this past Christmas with COVID-19.

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