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Overcoming the Odds: From Poe Homes to a successful career

Posted at 11:23 PM, Jun 25, 2019
and last updated 2019-06-26 08:28:47-04

BALTIMORE — Heartbreaking.

Dr. Charles Simmons had very few words to describe what he's watched over the past nine days in Baltimore City.

"It's been heart wrenching not only to see that there was a problem but to see how long it took before anything was done about it," said Simmons.

Simmons, his seven siblings and his parents were among the first families to move into the projects for black families as they were called nearly 80 years ago, at the time they were brand new.

"It was a step up for what we were exposed to poor people, poor black people were exposed to this," Simmons said.

He lived there until 1955 when he joined the Marines, but his parents called the Poe Homes home until about 1962.

He went on to college, graduate school and got his Ph.D. He came home to start his own college, founding Sojourner Douglass College, a liberal arts school in 1972.

The friendships he formed with neighbors like the late Pete Rawlings continued over the years, even having reunions for families who grew up in the Poe Homes.

While things are gradually returning to normal after more than a week without water, no toilets or showers, Simmons worries about the message the slow response sends to the people who live in his old neighborhood.

"If I can do it, everyone can do it," Simmons said. "I'm sure the criteria is the same; you have to be poor to be eligible for public housing."

But as a proud, successful product of public housing, he has a message for the folks of Poe Homes left high and dry.

“I encourage the people to give up not to think that’s your destiny, that they can transform their lives and the lives of others, and they should see that as a responsibility," Simmons said.