Discover more from Footnotes by Jemar Tisby
My New Job at Simmons College
Learn a bit more about what's new and what will stay the same as I begin this position
I got the voice memo from my friend on a Thursday. She wanted to know if she could share my contact info with someone else. I said “sure” and the next day he contacted me.
“Doc, we need you here. This is your ‘Macedonian call.’ Come over and help us,” he said.
Flattery will get you far.
Of course, the college does not need me. But over a whirlwind couple of weeks that included dozens of text messages, multiple phone calls, and a multi-day visit to Louisville, Kentucky, it became apparent that there could a mutually beneficial relationship between me and Simmons College.
My writing and public-facing scholarship has placed me in the midst of several conversations with various institutions about potential positions. Either they didn’t pan out or they didn’t feel right.
So for the past year I have been self-employed. What emerged for me as a primary factor is the flexibility to work creatively on initiatives related to racial justice without being too constricted by a narrow job description.
What drew me to this opportunity at Simmons College of Kentucky is the opportunity to teach as well as the latitude to continue doing the work I’m already passionate about and pursuing.
I will get to continue podcasting with Pass the Mic and Footnotes, I’ll get to keep writing this newsletter, I’ll be able to travel nationally to speak, and I’ll keep writing articles and books beyond the academy with the goal of helping the people become lifelong advocates for racial justice.
Simmons College also has a remarkable history. It was founded in 1879 by the Convention of Colored Baptists in Kentucky it was designed to provide education to the formerly enslaved.
The college’s second president, Dr. William J. Simmons, was formerly enslaved himself but gained an education and had previously worked at Howard University. Simmons served as college president from 1880-1890, and the school flourished so much under his leadership that officials renamed it in honor of him.
When the Great Depression hit in the 1930s, it decimated the college’s enrollment and finances. They had to sell their building to the University of Louisville and the property was set apart for the education of Black students who went to the university during segregation. The college continued to operate but limited its instruction to religious studies.
After nearly closing, Dr. Kevin Cosby became the college’s 13th president. During his tenure, the college purchased back its original buildings. It has also gained accreditation as a higher educational institution.
Accreditation was a prerequisite to the next milestone—after more than 136 years of operation, the U.S. Department of Education in 2015 officially recognized Simmons College as the 107th Historically Black College or University (HBCU) in the nation.
It’s an honor to enter into this historic legacy. Every new opportunity brings new challenges, and I hope I can count on your prayers and support for this transition. I’ll keep you posted!