Our September Man of the month is a native Detroiter, father, husband, pastor and public servant. Reverend Larry Simmons, 74, is the pastor of Baber Memorial African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church and has been in the ministry for 21 years.
In the AME church, you cannot be appointed past age 75, so Reverend Simmons is preparing to enter into his 22nd and final year of pastoring; but even when he’s not in the pulpit, his light is shining all over Detroit. Whether in the church or in the community, Simmons says he is passionate about the liberation of Black people. “And what the Lord has taught me,” he said, “is that Black people can’t be liberated unless all people are liberated. It’s not possible for one group of people to be free, and others not.”
Simmons quotes two biblical scriptures that he testifies as his political philosophy and theological framework:
Jeremiah 29:11: “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future.”
Philippians 4:19: "But my God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus."
These two scriptures, Simmons says, are promises by God that everyone can live lives of abundance, but this isn’t everyone’s reality because many trust humanity over spirituality. These philosophies, though, are motivating factors in Simmons’ work in the Brightmoor community. While he’s a motivator of sorts, serving as the Executive Director of the Brightmoor Alliance has allowed Simmons to be inspired by others in his community.
The Brightmoor Alliance is a coalition of nearly 50 organizations dedicated to serving northwest Detroit’s Brightmoor community. The Alliance, according to its website, was established in response to conditions in the community; including poor housing, high crime rates, and a staggering amount of vacant land.
“There is a spirit of creativity, innovation and recognized power in the people of Brightmoor,” said Simmons, who explained that Brightmoor will be an example of transformation not only in Detroit or America, but in the world. “Precisely because it’s perceived to be the least of these,” Simmons said, comparing Brightmoor to Israel’s Galilee, which biblically was looked down upon in the Old Testament, but gained significance in the New Testament.
As an area of the city that’s overlooked by many, Simmons has dedicated his work with the Alliance to building community awareness. But it hasn’t been easy, he admits, saying it’s easy to fall to naysayers. “We believe the lies of those who oppress us: that we’re less than,
that we’re unable, that we’re not worthy. All of those are lies,” said Simmons. Working in the community, though, reverse those thoughts. “As people exercise their power and create solutions, they become aware that it’s a lie. Then all kinds of great things happen,” he said.
“Brightmoor is an innovative community where people of modest means can live, learn, commune, and work in a safe, healthy, culturally diverse, and sustainable environment.” This is the Alliance’s vision statement, which Simmons breaks down into simpler terms: “everybody deserves to live with the safety and the comfort that human effort creates...” said Simmons, expressing a summarized sentiment of why Detroit is so important to him. “...I believe that's true of the people of Brightmoor. And by extension, everybody.”