Ron Simmons, a gay man whose wide-ranging community-based work helped countless individuals living with HIV/ AIDS, especially queer Black men, died on May 28 at the age of 70 due to complications stemming from prostate cancer, according to published reports.
Simmons most prominently spent more than two decades spearheading Us Helping Us People Into Living (UHUPIL), a non-profit, community-based service organization that offered HIV prevention and support services to Black folks in Washington, DC. Those services would prove to be especially vital in light of the disproportionate impact the epidemic has had on men of color in recent decades.
Simmons was also an educator, working as an assistant professor at Howard University’s School of Communications in Washington for 12 years.
He continued to stay true to his reputation for helping others after he retired from UHUPIL In 2016, going on to lead a sexual health intervention workshop for Black gay men between the ages of 16 and 29. He also shared the expertise he gained over his decades with UHUPIL by founding Ron Simmons Consulting.
Among his other posts, Simmons was a member of both the Global Network of Black People Working in HIV and the DC Regional Commission on Health and HIV. He served on the steering committee of the International AIDS Conference for African Nations, as well.
“Dr. Ron Simmons was a giant in the HIV movement who fought so that the lives of all Black people mattered. He was boldly and unapologetically Black and a teacher to us all,” wrote Black AIDS Institute president & CEO Raniyah Copeland, who said Simmons mentored many current and former BAI staff members.
Others also reflected on the man known for being a pioneer in the area of HIV/ AIDS service work.
“The Black LGBTQ community lost one of our godfathers last night,” Phill Wilson, founder and former CEO of BAI, said in a written statement. “Ron Simmons was a leader, mentor, and historian. Ron chronicled our lives and gave life to our stories before we knew we had stories to tell or lives worth being chronicled… Most importantly in the darkest of times, no matter how fractured we might have been, Ron was always willing to smile and celebrate our humanity, no matter what our differences might have been.”
Simmons hailed from Brooklyn and went on to attend the State University of New York at Albany, where he received a bachelor’s degree in Afro-American Studies and master’s degrees in educational communications and African history. He then obtained a doctorate in mass communications from Howard University.
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