Dr. Ron Simmons

Dr. Ron Simmons Pioneers Portrait

Dr. Ron Simmons arrived in Washington, DC in 1980.
Photo © Patsy Lynch

“Black men have been taught for hundreds of years that they are worthless.  Yet despite this, black gay men love each other.  We have protected, comforted, and cared for ourselves, and for thousands of our brothers, in a white society that despises our 'blackness' and in a black community that condemns our love.  When black men love each other in an environment that negates them, it is not a sign of sickness.   It is a sign of health.”

His leadership of Us Helping Us, People Into Living, one of the largest Black non-profit AIDS organizations, is one of Dr. Ron Simmons' greatest contributions to the local gay community.  In addition, Simmons has made major contributions to the Black gay arts renaissance of the 1980s and 1990s in Washington, DC as a photographer and writer.

Even before arriving in Washington in 1980, to pursue a PhD in Communications at Howard, Simmons was aware of the vibrant African-American gay intellectual community, particularly Sidney Brinkley's groundbreaking Blacklight periodical.  Simmons made it a point to be in DC for the Third Word Conference, the first national meeting for gay and lesbian people of color held simultaneously with the 1979 march on Washington for lesbian and gay civil rights.  At that point, he recalls, 'I knew I had to live in DC.  No question about it.'

Once settled in DC, Simmons became part of Blacklight, contributing his photographs, under the pseudonym Butch, layout skills, and writing freelance articles.  He was soon involved with the ENIKAlley Coffeehouse artists and performers, moving with them to dc space in the mid-80s.  When Marlon Riggs came to DC to film Tongues Untied, Simmons became the project's principle photographer.

As AIDS gripped the local gay community, Simmons volunteered as a buddy for Whitman-Walker Clinic. A lifelong interest in holistic health led to his involvement with Rainey Cheeks' Us Helping Us (UHU) project in the early 90s.  In 1991, he went through training with Us Helping Us and in 1992 Cheeks recruited Simmons as executive director for the fiscally-challenged organization.  Within two years, Simmons had put UHU on a firmer financial footing and secured its first independent location at 819 L St SE.  As Us Helping Us grew, Simmons led it through several re-organizations.  In 1997, he led the group to embrace a new role in HIV/AIDS education and prevention, in addition to its established programs for HIV positive Black gay men.

The organizational strength and fundraising ability that Simmons brought to Us Helping Us enabled it to become the first independent Black AIDS group to own its own premises.  Simmons is a national leader in AIDS education and outreach to African-American communities.

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