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 profound love for his home state and, in particular, the Mississippi Delta. Qualified and experienced enough to work anywhere else in the nation—or world—early on he made the conscious decision to return and stay where he thought he could make the most difference and positively impact the lives 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 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, ending up staying with Kroger for almost thirty-five years,” he says. “She started as a cashier and moved up the ranks over the years. My father, who passed away in 2015, was a factory worker, putting in long, hard hours. He was still working when he died, as a matter of fact. Both my mother and father instilled the value of education and hard work. My parents wanted Errick and me to have the opportunities they didn’t have.”
After graduating from T.L. Weston High School in Greenville as Valedictorian and first in his class, Simmons made his way to Jackson State University where he received his Bachelor’s Degree in Business Administration in Accounting upon graduation in May, 2000. “My brother was with me at Jackson State at the same time earning his degree,” says Simmons. “He and I have always had a competitive, but good natured,spirit and it drove us both to do more. We got full scholarships to JSU, which was the school my mother had always wanted to go to but never got the chance to do so.” Somehow, he managed to finish first in the JSU College of Business.
Both brothers also were also active in student government, from high school on to college, so their life trajectories stayed true and straight. “I always joined the various 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 about it today—it’s almost innate: you get involved in civic and community organizations in order to help others, not for personal accolades.”
After JSU, Simmons went to Howard University in Washington, D.C. where he went to receive his Maters of Business Administration in Finance—and named first in college class—and then his Juris Doctorate at the Howard School of Law, making the Top 50 percentile. “While at Howard, I also interned as an internal auditor for Northrop Grumman, the aerospace defense company based in California,” he says. “So, I went to Howard at night while working for Northrop during the day—I did this for two straight years working and studying nearly all day long, literally.”
While at Howard Law School, Simmons was a Graduate Trustee, a representative of the Student Government Association. “One of my platform issues was to create and form a joint MBA/J.D. 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 prestigious offers to return to the Delta in order to give back. “It goes back 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, in the Delta, I knew I could make an impact on young lives and on my community. That’s why I returned to, initially, work as a law clerk for Circuit Court Judge, Margaret Carey-McCray, before becoming 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 work. Government service would soon be calling, though.
“Four years after I returned to Greenville, a position opened up on the Greenville Public School District Board,” says Simmons. “Errick was on the City Council at the time but he recused himself on the vacancy vote and I was able to win the seat unanimously on the Board over four other opponents. I served from 2009 to 2011—that last year serving as Secretary of the School Board—which was also the year I was elected to the State Senate. Johnnie Walls had resigned his seat in the Senate to run for Circuit Court Judge in Bolivar County and I threw my hat in the ring and ended up winning carrying seventy-six percent of the vote over two other opponents,” he says.
Simmons says, first and foremost, he champions education as a Senator and, thus far, was most proud of playing a pivotal role in the state’s decision to change the state flag in 2020 during his tenure.
“Educating our citizens to the best of our ability as well as changing this state’s image was important and personal to me,” he says. “And being the current Senate Minority Leader is something I hold special as an honor and a privilege. That is a highlight for me as well—getting the approval of my peers. Plus, the bi-partisan effort in changing our state flag was a huge moment for me, one where we all came together to put forward a better Mississippi. This also applies to our recent change of the state song, now ‘One Mississippi,’ written and performed by a fellow native of Greenville, Steve Azar. It demonstrates that we’re moving forward—and we must not regress,” says Simmons.
Serving since 2017 as Senate Minority Leader, Simmons is also the Chairman of the Senate Municipalities Committee, Vice-Chairman of the Senate Constitution Committee and serves on a number of other committees including Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks and Ports and Marine Resources, among several others.
Throughout his legislative tenure, Simmons has secured tens of millions of dollars earmarked to help improve the Delta and District 12. Just this year, in April, he worked with other Delta legislators to secure $15 million in state funding for needed local projects. Over the years, the Senator has received numerous state and national awards and recognition for his dedication to public service. He was recognized by his local paper’s Readers’ Choice Winner as Best of the Best 2022 “Local Legislator.”
Simmons has been featured on local, state and national media outlets and publications over the years for his legal and legislative activism. During the past legislative session, he orchestrated a walk-out on the Senate floor when sponsors and supporters of the “Anti-Critical Race Theory” bill presented it for debate and discussion. This led to his appearance the next day on MSNBC to discuss his action 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 the North Mississippi Rural Legal Services. In addition, he currently serves as the board attorney for the City of Metcalfe.
Simmons and his wife, Cuwanda Flowers Simmons (a long time USDA operative and Zumba instructor whom he married in 2009) have two sons— eight year-old Derrick, Jr. (“D.J.”) and four year-old Carter Jace. A cooking enthusiast when not busy working, Simmons and his family are very active in the Greater Springfield Baptist Church in Greenville. “I do love to cook!” he laughs. “Especially seafood and Italian dishes. I cook for the family three to four times a week unless I’m particularly busy. I also enjoy playing tennis, which I’ve done for years and attempt to play golf,” he laughs. “And, my brother and I remain extremely close and best friends.”
What’s ahead for Derrick Simmons? “I’ll continue to do my best to help the Delta and my state,” answers Simmons. “If I’m called to do something different, something else, I’m motivated and inspired enough to any opportunity that presents itself. Hopefully, the sky’s the limit.”