BE Modern Man is an integrative program that honors the essence, image, and accomplishments of today’s man of color. With features of today’s leaders, executives, creatives, students, politicians, entrepreneurs, professionals, and agents of change—these men share the common thread of creating a new normal while setting the bar in tech, art, philanthropy, business, and beyond. The BE Modern Man is making a positive impact, his way, and has a story to tell.
BE Modern Man Robert W. Simmons III, EdD
Profession: President, Service Year Alliance
One Word That Describes You: Resilient
What does being one of the BEMM 100 Men of Distinction mean to you?
Being recognized as one of the BEMM 100 Men of Distinction is significant. It means that others in the community recognize the impact that my work has had on others. However, what’s more important is that this award acknowledges that a black boy from Detroit, raised by his mother and grandmother, who grew up with his father locked up the majority of his life, can impact the world while challenging the narrative that all black men are criminals.
What are some examples of how you turned struggle into success?
At moments in my life, I wrestled with my father’s physical incarceration. As he has been in and out of prison the majority of my life, I struggled to balance my anger with a sense of optimism. By acknowledging that I didn’t grow up with a father but had a loving mother and grandmother to help guide me, I quickly found my way and turned my anger into joy, my pain into resilience, and my struggle into joy.
What is an important quality you look for in your relationships with others?
Trust and critical feedback.
What are some immediate projects you are working on?
Professionally, I am working to ensure that the voices of black men who are doing service years in our communities are elevated through social media and other outlets. Additionally, I am deeply engaged with ensuring that young women are actively engaged with STEM, through my role as the national advisory board chair for diversity, equity, and inclusion with FIRST Lego Robotics.
What is the best advice you ever received?
Follow your heart and the rest will follow.
What is some advice you have for other men who want to make a difference?
Always trust your gut, and follow your heart…not the money being put in front of you.
How do you prep for an important business meeting and/or event?
Read, read, and read some more. I always want to know who I am meeting with. I always want to know what’s important to those I am meeting with. Most importantly, I want to review the content that I will be discussing so that I not only sound like I know what I am talking about but am able to engage in critical discourse.
As a busy Modern Man, how do you unwind on vacation? Share a story about your best vacation.
Unwinding on vacation requires me to unplug completely. Meaning—no cell phone or any other communication with the outside world. When this has happened, I have found myself just sitting with my earbuds in listening to Jay-Z, Kendrick Lamar, Anthony Hamilton, or Anthony David. The best vacation was actually back when I visited Detroit two summers ago as a tourist. I saw the city and my old neighborhood through fresh eyes.
If you could travel and stay anywhere in the world, where would it be and why?
I would travel to and stay in Detroit. As I have been away from the city that gave me life and inspiration as a young person. I want to see Detroit with new eyes…I want to see my city with fresh eyes.
What is your “Extraordinary Impact”? (Describe how you are making a major difference for others, in a way that distinguishes you as extraordinary in your profession and/or day-to-day life).
My extraordinary impact is actually not extraordinary. but the expectation that my mother and grandmother would have for me knowing what I experienced as a kid without my father. My extraordinary impact doesn’t distinguish me, instead the major difference in my day-to-day life is being a father. Being a father is not just impactful for my family and my boys, but provides a light to other black men carrying the responsibility of being fathers. If I had to name the extraordinary impact, it would be—being a father!
It’s our normal to be extraordinary. Follow @BEModernMan and join the conversation using #BEModernMan.