Yesterday the staff & board of Black AIDS Institute (BAI) learned of the passing of Dr. Ron Simmons, a longtime leader in ensuring Black people are centered in the HIV/AIDS movement. Ron was a mentor to many current and former BAI staff, and his loss is felt deeply.
"Dr. Ron Simmons was a giant in the HIV movement who fought so that the lives of all Black people mattered. He was boldly and unapologetically Black and a teacher to us all,” said Raniyah Copeland, BAI’s President & CEO.
Ron’s passing would be a blow at any time. Yet in this environment—a week in which we have seen the horrific murders of Black people on repeat on our screens every day, the same month that the murders of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Nina Pop and others gained widespread attention, seeing Black gay men being assaulted while bird watching in the park, and as Black people are dealing with disproportionate sickness and death due to COVID-19—Dr. Simmons’ loss hits particularly hard. This type of trauma has been happening to Black Americans for 400+ years, but a week like this is never not an unspeakable emotional burden. It is never not demoralizing. It is never not exhausting.
Phill Wilson, founder and former CEO of BAI, remembered Ron’s wisdom and leadership, saying “The Black LGBTQ community lost one of our godfathers last night. Ron Simmons was a leader, mentor, and historian. Ron chronicled our lives and gave life to our stories before we knew we had stories to tell or lives worth being chronicled. From his seminal work as an openly gay professor at Howard University, to raising the profile of the National Coalition of Black Lesbians and Gays to his entrepreneurial visionary work with Us Helping Us, Ron always knew we we had been, where we were, and where we were going. Most importantly in the darkest of times, no matter how fractured we might have been, Ron was always willing to smile and celebrate our humanity, no matter what our differences might have been.”
After retiring from Us Helping Us, Dr. Simmons had done seminal work in developing evidence-based, culturally relevant HIV interventions for Black Same Gender Loving men. “Whenever I would cross paths with Ron, he always took the time to invest in my growth and development, and he was known to do this for those of us coming up who were Black and wanting to make a difference in our communities. Committing to do the same and paying it forward seems like the best way to honor his legacy as we continue to do the work”, said Christopher Hucks-Ortiz, BAI’s Director of HIV and Clinical Services.
#RestInPower to the great Dr. Ron Simmons. His legacy continues through the work we do to end HIV in Black America by dismantling the systems of oppression that drive HIV.