Lateefah Simon, the executive director of The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights, is a MacArthur “genius” award recipient and made O Magazine’s “Power List.” She tells us about the people who inspire her and who have left the biggest impression, and says her life comes with no surprises.
Who has left the biggest impression on you as you’ve gone through life?
It’s difficult to say one person. I think that who I am has everything to do with the folks who have reared me both professionally and personally. My mother. [Also] Kamala Harris taught me how to really be a professional. I worked for her for four years. I’ve been very much shaped by the hard work she accelerated in her commitment to women. [And] I’ve been reading a lot about Ella Baker … and other women who shaped the civil rights movement in this country. Those are the images I want to live by.
What’s something about you that people would find surprising?
I’m an open book. Part of the reason I come to this work is that I tell my story and that of the people I work with. Growing up in the Western Addition, being part of the social justice system, having a kid … everyone knows all of my business. In coming to this work, I’m accountable — literally — to my neighbors.
What is the book that has had the biggest impact on you?
Like the (s)heroes in my life, there are too many. I am reading “The Papers of Martin Luther King, Jr.” right now. What’s so cool about this book is it chronicles his undergraduate and graduate school papers. I like anything by Octavia Butler. “Fledgling” is an amazing book.
What is the golden rule by which you live?
My daughter comes first. Live out loud.
Where do you find inspiration?
I get the most inspired when I’m walking. I don’t own a car — when I’m in neighborhoods that are changing, and I see the old and new, whether blending of classes or races. I find a lot of inspiration in children and elders together. I get really inspired when I walk by playgrounds. … I am really inspired by the university structure. I’m inspired by commitment. When you do civil rights work, you get inspired by everything. I find inspiration in both the darkness and the light.
What’s one of the biggest issues facing women?
The Lawyers’ Committee had a client last week who was escaping domestic violence in her country and seeking asylum. That day, that was one of the biggest issues in the world. [Another day] I see a woman and her kids not being able to get on the bus because she doesn’t have enough money. I see women throughout many different hues; their struggles are immense. At that moment, I see her as the most important.