Senator Derrick Simmons – Delta Business Journal
Dedicated to the Delta – Determined to make a difference
By Jack Criss • Photography by Johnny Jennings
Mississippi State Senator Derrick Simmons, who represents parts of Bolivar, Coahoma and Washington counties in District 12, has a deep love for his home state and, in particular, the Mississippi Delta. Skilled and experienced enough to work anywhere else in the country – or the world – he made a conscious decision early on to come back and stay where he thought he could make the most difference and have a positive impact on the life of others. He does this through his government service and as co-owner/partner of Simmons & Simmons, PLLC Attorneys-at-Law, with offices in Greenville and Ridgeland.
The forty-five-year-old Greenville native, along with his twin brother Errick (the current mayor of Greenville), says he got his work ethic early on from his parents. “My mother, Alzena, worked in grocery stores and was with Kroger for nearly thirty-five years,” he says. “She started as a cashier and worked her way up through the years. My father, who passed away in 2015, was a factory worker, working long, hard hours. He was still working when he died, actually. Both my mother and father instilled in me the value of education and hard work. My parents wanted Errick and I to have the opportunities we didn’t have.
After graduating from TL Weston High School in Greenville as valedictorian and top of his class, Simmons proceeded to Jackson State University where he earned his Bachelor of Business Administration in Accounting after earning his graduated in May 2000. “My brother was with me at Jackson State when he was graduating,” Simmons says. “He and I have always had a competitive spirit, but good spirits, and that pushed us to do more. We got full scholarships to JSU, which was the school my mom always wanted to go to but couldn’t. had never had the chance. Somehow he managed to finish first in the JSU College of Business.
Both brothers were also active in student government from high school through college, so their life trajectories remained true and straight. “I always joined the different clubs at school and got involved in extracurricular activities,” says Simmons. “It was never about being a leader; it was always about service, first and foremost. And that’s how I still think and feel today – it’s almost innate: one gets involved in civic and community organizations to help others, not for personal accolades.
After JSU, Simmons went to Howard University in Washington, D.C., where he went to receive his Masters of Business Administration in Finance—and was named first in college class—and then his Juris Doctorate from Howard School of Law, in the Top 50 percentile. “While at Howard, I also interned as an internal auditor for Northrop Grumman, the California-based aerospace defense company,” he says. “So I went to Howard at night while working for Northrop during the day – I did that for two straight years working and studying almost all day, literally.”
While at Howard Law School, Simmons was a licensed administrator, a representative of the Student Government Association. “One of the challenges for my platform was creating and training a joint MBA/JD program, which I achieved,” he says. “It ended up being a four-year program that started at the university in 2003.”
After graduating from Howard, Simmons turned down several high-profile offers to return to the Delta in order to give back. “It comes down to that sense of service,” he says. “Going to bigger markets, I would have been another face in the crowd or just a number. In Greenville, Delta, I knew I could impact the lives of young people and my community. C That’s why I initially returned to work as a law clerk for Circuit Court Judge Margaret Carey-McCray before becoming an assistant public defender in the Washington County Public Defender’s Office.
In 2008, Simmons and his brother started their own law firm, Simmons & Simmons, specializing in criminal defense and personal injury. The government service would soon call, however.
“Four years after I returned to Greenville, a position opened up with the Greenville Public School District Board,” says Simmons. “Errick was on the city council at the time, but he recused himself in the vacancy vote and I was able to win the seat unanimously on the board against four other opponents. I served from 2009 in 2011 – that last year as school board secretary – which was also the year I was elected to the state senate Johnnie Walls had resigned his seat in the senate to run for judge of the Court home run in Bolivar County and threw my hat in the ring and ended up winning with seventy-six percent of the vote over two other opponents,” he said.
Simmons says, above all else, he is an advocate for education as a senator and, thus far, was most proud to play a central role in the state’s decision to change the state flag in 2020. during his tenure.
“Educating our citizens to the best of our abilities as well as changing the image of this state was important and personal to me,” he says. “And to be the current Senate Minority Leader is something that I consider an honor and a privilege. This is also a strong point for me: getting the approval of my peers. Also, the bipartisan effort to change our state flag was a huge moment for me, a moment when we all came together to deliver a better Mississippi. This also applies to our recent state song change, now “One Mississippi”, written and performed by fellow Greenville native, Steve Azar. It demonstrates that we are moving forward and we must not go backwards,” says Simmons.
Senate Minority Leader since 2017, Simmons is also chairman of the Senate Municipalities Committee, vice-chairman of the Senate Constitution Committee, and sits on a number of other committees, including Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks and ports and marine resources, among others. .
Throughout his legislative tenure, Simmons has secured tens of millions of dollars earmarked to help improve the Delta and District 12. This year alone, in April, he worked with other Delta lawmakers to secure $15 million. dollars of public funding for needed local projects. Over the years, the senator has received numerous state and national awards and honors for his dedication to public service. He was recognized by his local newspaper’s readers’ choice winner as the best of the best “local legislators” 2022.
Simmons has been featured in local, state, and national media and publications over the years for his legal and legislative activism. During the last legislative session, he orchestrated a walkout on the Senate floor when sponsors and supporters of the Anti-Critical Race Theory bill introduced it for debate and discussion. This led to her appearing the next day on MSNBC to discuss her acting with anchor/host Alex Witt.
The senator is a life member of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc. and a life member of the NAACP. Simmons also currently serves on the Mississippi Access to Justice Commission and as a board member of the Mississippi Volunteer Lawyers Project and North Mississippi Rural Legal Services. Additionally, he is currently the Attorney for the Board of Directors for the Town of Metcalfe.
Simmons and his wife, Cuwanda Flowers Simmons (a longtime USDA agent and Zumba instructor whom he married in 2009) have two sons – Derrick, Jr. (“DJ”), eight, and Carter Jace , four years. An avid cook when not busy at work, Simmons and his family are very active at Greater Springfield Baptist Church in Greenville. “I love to cook !” he’s laughing. “Especially seafood and Italian dishes. I cook for the family three to four times a week, unless I’m particularly busy. I also like to play tennis, which I have been doing for years, and I try to play golf,” he laughs. “And, my brother and I remain extremely close and best friends.”
What awaits Derrick Simmons? “I will continue to do my best to help the Delta and my state,” Simmons responds. “If I’m called to do something different, something else, I’m motivated and inspired enough for any opportunity that comes along. Hopefully the sky is the limit.