BMF Honors Former Cambridge City Mayor E. Denise Simmons

The Harvard Black Men’s Forum honored former Cambridge Mayor E. Denise Simmons yesterday during the group’s 16th annual Celebration of Black Women Banquet, which recognizes black women from both Harvard and the Cambridge community.

Celebration of Black Women Chair Jonathan Figueroa ’10 said that the event seeks to honor “extraordinary, strong, intelligent black women,” such as Simmons, “who’ve done significant work in the community.”

The Black Men’s Forum highlighted Simmons’s involvement with urban youth, African American organizations, small business owners, and civil and equal rights throughout her public service career.

As the first openly lesbian African American mayor in the country, Simmons described herself as representing three minorities.

“I have triple problems to pass,” she said.


Simmons said that it was “unthinkable” during her childhood for a black woman to aspire to be mayor of her city, and encouraged her young audience to focus on achieving their goals and recognizing the impact they can have on others.

“Don’t let people talk you out of doing what you want to do,” she said. “What young people are looking for is not role models but real models.”

While she said she was honored to serve as Cambridge’s mayor, she questioned why it took until 2008 for a “progressive city” like Cambridge to elect its first African American mayor.

“How long will it take for a female black president?” she added.

Brandon M. Terry ’05, former president of Black Men’s Forum, said he agreed with Simmons’s comments about the need for members of the Harvard black community to serve as role models for the larger black community.

“A lot of times we get wrapped in the [Harvard] bubble,” he said, emphasizing the need for the student body to be more engaged in their neighborhood.

In addition to Simmons, four graduating Harvard seniors—Omobolaji O. Ogunsola ’10, Chioma M. Achebe ’10, Saron A. Tesfalul ’10, and Jacqueline C. Hairston ’10—were also awarded a Senior Leadership Award at this event.

—Staff writer Rediet T. Abebe can be reached at

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

CORRECTION: April 30, 2010

An earlier version of the Apr. 30 news article "BMF Honors Former Cambridge City Mayor E. Denise Simmons" incorrectly stated that Mayor E. Denise Simmons is the first African American mayor of Cambridge. In fact, Kenneth E. Reeves ’72, was the first African American mayor of the city. He served as mayor from 1992-1995 and from 2006-2007.