Broad of the Month: Raana Simmons

Lisa Ingarfield | @tritodefi

When Raana Simmons was 11 years old, she asked her dad if she could try out for the cheerleading team at her school. Her dad adjusted his newspaper in a no-nonsense fashion, looked at her over his glasses, and replied, “No daughter of mine will stand on the sidelines cheering for boys playing a game that she herself could be playing.” Eleven year old Raana did not appreciate the significance of her father's perspective at the time. Fast forward to 2017, and Simmons has a very different view of this moment from her childhood. As she shared the story with me, she also shared how deeply grateful she is for her father’s consistent and intentional commitment to her equality as a girl, and now as a woman.

Simmons, Policy Director for the Colorado Coalition Against Sexual Assault and June's Broad of the Month. 

Simmons, Policy Director for the Colorado Coalition Against Sexual Assault and June's Broad of the Month. 

Growing up in Florida, Simmons was raised by her father. He made sure she was surrounded by women leaders--be it a teacher, a girl scout leader, or her swim coach. He meaningfully created spaces for Simmons to share time with women role models who exemplified strength and leadership and could teach her what it meant to be both a woman and a leader. Today, her dad is her cheerleader. After recently sharing with him some of the struggles she experiences while advocating for policy change in sexual assault response, her father offered encouragement, and told her to keep moving forward because her role in the women’s movement is so important.

Simmons moved from Florida to Colorado in November 2015, to take the position of Policy Director for the Colorado Coalition Against Sexual Assault (CCASA) and finish her Masters in Public Affairs at the University of Colorado, Denver. The work she does for CCASA is never ending. The legislative season can be brutal both in schedule and in negotiation. Sexual assault is an issue few legislators think about, let alone want to talk about. Simmons actively develops relationships with legislators and the widespread, varied stakeholders on the issue to ensure supporting survivors and holding offenders accountable is a priority in Colorado. It’s hard not to get caught up in her energy for this work. Whether it’s an eye roll in response to some asinine comment she heard, or a beaming smile in response to a recent success, her bold, down-to-earth, funny demeanor is inspiring.

Among the reasons Simmons came to Denver was its healthy job market, the ability to expand her horizons and grow her career. She believes Denver as a community does good work in creating leadership opportunities for women, but could do more. For example, it could create more spaces for women’s leadership so women don’t feel as though they are in competition with each other at the city, county, and state level. Simmons recently participated in the It’s Time 2017: Denver Gender Equity Summit held at the end of May and is exploring leadership opportunities with the City and County of Denver Women’s Commission and Emerge Colorado, an organization committed to encouraging and supporting women who run for office. She encourages other women to do the same.

She shares with me her desire to carry on the legacy of the women’s movement. Simmons reflects: “I inherited a gift that I didn’t work for. As an educated woman who has been mentored by leaders in the women’s movement, I want to carry on the torch and legacy they have left me. I want to be able to turn around at the end of my career...and be able to hand the legacy to the women and girls that come behind. I am one link in the chain.”

As Simmons thinks about her own journey two years ago when she traveled across the country in a U-Haul to a place where she knew no one, she feels lucky to have landed in a community of like-minded and empowered women who work to move the needle on the issue of gender-based violence. Denver is a city that cares about issues affecting women and girls, she says, and that wasn’t her experience in Florida. “There is great allyship in Denver,” she states. You can hear the appreciation in her voice for the community she has joined here, and is helping to further build.It is clear Simmons is humbled by the many outstanding women leaders she has encountered in her two short years in Denver. Most strikingly, she is inspired by their willingness to respond to a call to action for expanded civic engagement and leadership opportunities--opportunities which will ultimately ensure ethical choices are made for, and with, women and girls in Denver, and more broadly Colorado.

Her call to all the broads in Denver is to find the thing they are most passionate about; she guarantees they will discover a community of people who have the same passion. Through collaboration and mentorship--and indeed, through cheering each other on--Denver broads can promote an agenda that is responsive to the needs of all working women and families in their communities and beyond.