Angel Simmons ’09 gives back through a huge number of Chicago outreach organizations and charities.
As a student at Columbia College Chicago, Angel Simmons ’09 threw herself into classes in writing, dance, music and more. “I grew up in a house with a mother who said you don’t have to pick one thing,” she says. Today, she still lives by that expansive philosophy, working with a humongous amount of Chicago outreach organizations and charities.
Today, Simmons serves on the executive board for the Karitos Christian Art Conference (which aids Christian artists) and the associate board for Open Books literary organization (which provides programs, workshops and used books to thousands of readers). In 2016, she was crowned Ms. Worldwide USA for the Live Out Loud charity, where she works as an ambassador for anti-bullying and suicide prevention. Simmons also works as a model, author, actress and motivational speaker and is available to lead workshops for groups, schools and organizations. She’s especially involved in Chicago’s Englewood community, where she was raised; Today, she works as a mentor to Englewood youth and hosts the storytelling show Do Not Submit at Kusanya Café on the second Saturday of every month. She took some time out of her busy schedule to talk with us about why outreach matters.
A lot of your projects involve arts outreach. Why are the arts are important in community work?
I grew up in Englewood. It wasn’t the best neighborhood. You go to school, you come home. And unless you’re involved in something, it’s easy to get in trouble. But I was involved with the arts.
Being involved with the arts and dance and music, it kept me out of trouble. But more importantly, it gave me an outlet to express my frustrations. The anger of being a teenager, of being a girl, of being in the hood and watching people get shot and hearing gunfire. The arts were an expression. They were an outlet. They were a way to combat everything else.
How does your faith inform your work?
For young people, I think having a safe space is so critical. It can provide a place where they can go and sit and talk and start projects and do something positive. That is probably the most meaningful thing an organization can do in the city: have a place where kids can go.
If I didn’t have my faith I don’t know where I would be. I don’t know what I would have gotten involved in. We had places we could go. But everyone didn’t. Everyone wasn’t involved in church. Everyone wasn’t involved in the arts. So, what happens to those young people?
What advice do you have for people who want to get more involved with their communities?
Go back. Go back to the schools that you were at. Go back to the organizations that you were involved in. Connect with your park district to see what’s going on.
If you’re looking for something to do you have to know what’s needed. If you don’t know what’s needed, you don’t know what you have to offer.
What ways do you stay involved with Columbia?
I am really excited about joining the Chicago alumni chapter for Columbia and seeing how I can connect other graduates to things that are happening in the city. Most of the alumni I know live on the South Side, and all of the events are on the North Side. I’m looking to bring some events to the South Side, and to connect alumni with organizations in the city.
How do you balance your busy schedule?
I was raised to believe I could do everything. But you know, as an adult, as a woman in community service and ministry and all these other things I just really have to be careful with my schedule. I have to make sure I don’t crash. Some of these things keep me going, but there are days that I just have to sit down. But everything is connected to something that I’m passionate about, and it makes it easy. It makes it easy to go without sleep.