& Black & Scholar & Mother: A Profile of Dr. LaWanda Simpkins

Black, like BLACK, but also black, and blk.

Black- (n) to live and love in your most sincerest form

Dr. LaWanda Simpkins is the University of Mary Washington’s Post-Doctoral Fellow in Civil Rights and Social Justice. This Spring 2019 semester, she is wrapping up with her fellowship and thus her time at UMW. It is very sad to see a great Black professor leave UMW, my soon to be alma mater. I’m honored to have known her during her three years at the University. I remember first seeing her at the James Farmer Multicultural Center, and being beside myself that I was looking at a Black woman professor. So naturally, I ran up on her and talked her ear off about race, class, gender, transnationalism, and more. Later on when I brought up our first interaction, Dr. Simpkins noted how I was wanting to ask all the questions I had ever wanted to ask another Black woman in academia, but had never gotten the opportunity to do. 

Dr. Simpkins is to me: a mentor, a role model, an elder, an other-mother, an educator, and so much more. For the podcast interview above, I wanted to engage her in a conversation about motherhood. More specifically, Black motherhood, and how she, a Black mother raising Black daughters experiences the world. 

I have to be honest, I wanted to pick her brain on the subject because I am still formulating my thoughts on it. As a Black woman, who may have kids in the future, through birth or otherwise, I am hyperconscious of the ways in which the world is not kind to Black children. I think I fear motherhood because I fear responsibility. My friends and I joke, we’re barely able to take care of ourselves, we can’t imagine being responsible for another human being. 

 I  worked so hard [to be called doctor]… but the sweetest  thing I have ever been called was mom.

– Dr. Simpkins

At the core of my conversation with Dr. Simpkins, I wanted to take note of how she does what she does. I admire how in the past three years she has been able to have a full teaching load, giving birth to two babies, commute between states every week, and be an active member of the campus community. Her presence on this campus has been transformative. My fellow students and I are in awe of her gumption and kindness. 

While my conversation with Dr. Simpkins was explicitly about motherhood, I wanted to also take time and explore the other facets of her identity.  Part of this has to do with trying to be conscious of the ways in which, and the spaces wherein, I identify her first as a mother before mentioning her other accolades. She responded to this point in such a beautiful way: she is always conscious of herself as being a mother, but motherhood is not the full extent of herself. 

My profile of Dr. Simpkins is part of a series I am doing entitled Resisting Black Erasure, for a Communications 491 Individual Study (IS), advised by Ms. Martha Burtis of the Digital Knowledge Center. 

I chose to title the IS Resisting Black Erasure, because my semester long work is an exploration of the ways in which the presence and lived experience of Black people is erased. It is also an active attempt to resist this erasure by creating content that accounts for and celebrates Blackness. Specifically, I have been capturing the narratives of Black people at the University through several mediums: photography, podcast, video, and articles. In addition to profiling Dr. Simpkins, I have created a website for the UMW Social Justice and Leadership Summit, and profiled myself.

My particular interest in this project comes from the fact that I am a Black UMW student who wants to see myself photographed around campus, and wants my very particular narrative to be recorded and archived. However, with this desire comes the hesitation that I will be a tokenized figure for an institution whose lack of diversity in its student body and faculty demographics I do not support. It is with this passion in mind, my background in race theory, and my familiarity with digital tools that I decided to take the initiative and be the archivist. 

Making this profile has been bitter sweet. While I am grateful I can call myself a student of Dr. Simpkins, it’s saddening that if I decide to stop by the campus in the future, I won’t see her here. But her story is important. I know she was here. I know she has impacted my life for the better. And I know she has done the same for other Black girls on campus.

I thank Dr. Simpkins for being herself. I thank her for her mentorship and guidance.

I thank you Dr. Simpkins for asking me ‘why do you feel that particular way,’ the first day we met, and actually listening to my thoughts and theories. I thank you for how you love your daughters, and allow us, the public, to see that. I thank you for being a brilliant Black woman with her PhD. I thank you, thank you, thank you for living in your truth. 

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