As part of Black History Month (BHM), the college hosted a Meet and Greet event on Feb 6 at which students of color were able to meet professors of color.
The guest speaker for the event was Donnie Simmons Jr., a new Instructor Librarian at WCC’s Harold L. Drimmer Library. Simmons is the son of a familiar campus figure, Donnie Simmons, Sr., who is the Coordinator of the Black-Hispanic Male Initiative in the Student Involvement department.
In his lecture, which was later followed by a Q&A session, Donnie Jr. related his life story, which was not always a smooth one, to the BHM audience.
He was born in 1993 in White Plains, New York. He describes himself as a “mama’s boy,” but says his father was his mentor. He has two older sisters and one younger brother. He divided his story into four sections: childhood, middle school days, high school days, and college and beyond.
As a child, he was not concerned with anything other than having fun and spending quality time with his family. In middle school, he found out that he had a speech delay problem which became apparent during class discussions. He’d be isolated when taking exams.
He felt defeated and found himself hanging with the wrong crowd. In middle school, he became interested in football. He says that his mother “dubbed it” the second he told her of his interest. She finally agreed to let him play when one of his friends convinced her to.
“I have two left feet, I was trash, but I was having fun,” he told his student audience.
He enrolled in Stepinac High School to pursue his football career. “Freshman year, I still had two left feet,” he said, but he didn’t let that stop him. He became the first Junior at Stepinac to be offered a spot at a D1 institution, Syracuse University.
But when he got to Syracuse he found he wasn’t focused on grades but on football and parties.
He described himself as “bugging out.” In his sophomore year of college, he plagiarized a history paper and almost lost his full-ride scholarship and spot at the university. This was a turning point for him. From that day forward, he decided to “get it together.”
When he tore his ACL during a practice drill, he had to take a year off from football, so he got a job. He worked at the Martin Luther King, Jr Library at the university, which ultimately led him to his new job at the Drimmer Library at WCC.
Simmons takes pride in being an educator. His advice for students is to “pursue higher academic success and stay focused. There’s a reason why you’re here. You’re already one step ahead of someone.”
Regarding his speech delay conflicts within his early life, he said he responded by reading and continuously articulating words until they began to flow swiftly.
He concluded his speech by saying, “With every obstacle, you can’t stay where you are, you have to move forward.”
After the presentation, The Viking News staff writer Ashlene Charles interviewed Professor Simmons.
The following is a transcript of the conversation:
VN: What are your goals when partaking in these campus events?
Simmons: The Student/Faculty/Staff meeting event was very special, and I am extremely grateful for having the opportunity to share my story. Creating a space where like-minded people can connect through shared experiences is key, and my goal was fulfilled when I noticed others understood my story from their own perspective.
I appreciate events that bring people together through common familiarities because we all leave with learning something new.
VN: While you were at Syracuse and were unable to play football because you tore your ACL, how did you find your “clique” on campus?
Simmons: My clique had always been my fellow teammates. There were other football players that went through similar hardships, and they supported my journey tenfold. When I struggled through my physical therapy regimen, many went out of their way to uplift my spirits during tough moments.
Then, when I finished my physical therapy sessions, and I was separated from all football activities, I connected with a lot of students on campus while working at the Martin Luther King Jr. Library. They were a great support system during my recovery as well.
VN: I recall you mentioning that your mother was highly against your playing football but you did not mention how your father felt about it.
Simmons: My Pops was always a fan of football and wanted to see me play, but he never rushed signing me up. He understood the concern my Momma had when it came to the sport itself, so he waited patiently before he endorsed the idea of me playing.
She was the gatekeeper of my football pursuit–if she didn’t feel comfortable with the decision, it wasn’t going to happen. Thankfully, my mom allowed me to play – and the rest is history.
VN: What does Black History month mean to you?
Simmons: Black History Month is a historical remembrance of the Black American experience, told through the legacy of iconic figures that came before us, both named and unnamed.