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Prairie View A&M President Dr. Ruth Simmons talks about new initiative for equality

After the death of George Floyd, she created the Ruth J. Simmons Center for Race and Justice on campus.

HOUSTON — March 25 update: The Ruth J. Simmons Center for Race and Justice mentioned in this article is now open 

Dr. Ruth Simmons understands the role of Black universities, not just because she is president of Prairie View A&M, but because she attended one.

“And that experience gave me an opportunity to come into my own as a student, and as a citizen frankly,” she said.

Simmons rocketed to the top of her profession, becoming president of Smith College in 1995, then became the first African-American president of an Ivy League school -- Brown University.

But her mission for students at Priarie Viw, founded in 1876 on the property of a former plantation, goes beyond educating

“Like me when I was a kid, they need somebody to embrace them, someone who does not make assumptions about their worth or their future,” she said.

Full interview with Priarie View A&M President Dr. Ruth Simmons

"When I made my way into this profession, I never would have guessed that so many years later, we would still be talking about the disparities between African-Americans and others,” said Dr. Simmons. “I thought it would have been addressed by now, but we see it in stark terms. It is far from having been addressed."

So following the death of George Floyd, she took bold action, creating the Ruth J. Simmons Center for Race and Justice on campus. 

“We are tackling the most difficult issue, race, in relationship to fairness,” she said.

Simmons says the center will teach students how to engage and confront inequality.

“I don't want them to walk away,” she said. “I don't want them to give up. I don't want them to be discouraged. I want them to be willing to teach people they encounter, to respond instead of turning away because turning away has not solved this problem, I think we can see that now."

The young student who left Texas in 1964 to get an education and see the world is back in her home state now, teaching one of life’s biggest lessons.