The arc of the moral universe may bend towards justice, but the courage and sacrifice of activists and freedom fighters obtains and maintains justice for our communities. Center for Law and Social Justice Founding Executive Director Esmeralda Simmons, Esq., has been on the frontlines of the fight for civil and human rights her entire storied career.
With an activist worldview shaped in childhood, Esmeralda committed early to advancing progress for people of African descent. Her brilliance and dedication marked her as a leader.
She quickly rose through the public sector ranks into an array of high-level roles, including: serving as the First Deputy Commissioner for Human Rights for New York State, and as a Civil Rights Attorney for the US Department of Education, a New York State Assistant Attorney General, and a New York City Assistant Corporation Counsel. Despite her professional accomplishments, Esmeralda felt an urgency for justice, joining forces with other prominent activists and organizers to create the Center for Law and Social Justice at Medgar Evers College, CUNY (CLSJ), the first and only racial justice law center focused on the needs of New Yorkers of African descent.
Under her leadership, CLSJ became a hub for transformational empowerment, offering its community critical support across an array of challenges including immigration, police brutality, red-lining, advocacy training, education and voting rights. CLSJ won landmark victories, including hard-fought battles against the NYC Board of Elections and state and congressional voter-redistricting cases, bolstering representation and political power for Black and Brown communities. CLSJ’s forums and programs helped vulnerable parents navigate the DOE and foster care systems, providing resources and knowledge to effectively advocate for their children.
CLSJ incubated the Medgar Evers College Immigration Center, providing legal services for undocumented New Yorkers when such comprehensive support did not exist. This laid the foundation for the prolific “CUNY Citizenship Now!” programs now housed across City University of New York campuses. CLSJ’s most current battle is census justice for New Yorkers of African descent.
Esmeralda’s love for community, passion for civil rights and dogged determination earned her the respect of New York’s political establishment, and her own seat at the table. She’s served on, among others, the NYC Board of Education, the NYC Districting Commission.
After 34 years of leading the fight for justice at CLSJ, Esmeralda Simmons, Esq. announced her retirement on January 20th. We will miss her indefatigable spirit, but her legacy shines brightly as we continue tackling our community’s current challenges. We look forward to celebrating her momentous career with our community, family and friends at a grand celebration later this spring.
We’re deeply grateful for Esmeralda’s bold and tenacious stewardship. We continue to lift and climb with her legacy of service as inspiration. Thank you to Esmeralda Simmons, Esq., for setting an example for what it means to be both a general and a foot-soldier for equal justice.