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Whether it's art, literature, bluegrass or blues, Black Kentuckians have had a hand in shaping it. The African American Folklorist explores that history by providing a more personal look at culture. Building upon the existing newspaper and podcast series, The African American Folklorist presents a chance to share lesser known stories of influential figures.

The African American Folklorist: Derrick Simmons Is Impacting Change Through Narratives

Julie Bowles

“I'm a firm believer that we have to tell our story; it has to be told as thoroughly and honestly as possible.” 

Black narratives coming from African Americans are important when working to liberate the mind. Recently, I spoke with Derrick Simmons whose childhood love for reading and writing materialized into several self-published book titles. His first book, Message To The Little Homies, was inspired while Simmons was incarcerated, having a phone conversation with his son.

“The overall message in the book is to change the way that you see yourself, to change the way that you think, and by doing so, your behavior will automatically change. The book opens with a letter where I'm actually [writing a letter] “dear little homie” and I'm letting the little homie know that I know you are out in the streets, you [are] wilding out. But change is necessary! You need to change your life. So [in] the first chapter it actually deals with a brief lesson in history.”



Simmons studies religion, history, and the community. He connects ancient Tribal Wars, prisoners of wars, and early enslaved Black people of America to the Black struggles of today.

“When you [have] little homies that are in the streets, and they are beefing and warring with one another, they become easy prey,  whether it's the police, whether it's the rival crews, whatever it may be, in the long run, all the dreams, all the goals that you would have for yourself, they become obsolete, they are put on the back burner. I drew several parallels because I feel like history is a great place to start from.  History, I'm a firm believer, is one of the greatest teachers.”

Using his voice to spark self-esteem, self-awareness, and self-love, Simmons also writes to the young women of our community. 

“The message to the home is is the first book in what I call, The Being Real series. There are two other books in that series. The second one is called, Jewels For My Little Sister. That book opens up with a chapter talking about [an] African myth on how creation took place. So once it's understood how creation took place, then a young woman is able to see her worth. Because he is in effect, divine in the sense. Not the divine. But she is divine.”

Simmons owns and operates New Lyfe Publications, which provide literature that promotes growth and development. Simmons also publishes the West Side Story series that incorporates writers he grew up with.

“Now those are collections of short stories, and Volume one, I wrote those short stories. Now these are urban short stories. So those stories are designed to show that change is possible and that any of us can change.”

I asked Simmons if his narratives evoke black folklore, legends, and myths.

“You got to remember, in the ancient world, they didn't have societies where books were prevalent, where writing was prevalent, where everyone could read and write," he replied. "So what they did was they had these great stories. And within the stories are a bunch of symbolism, or a bunch of scientific information, or a bunch of history about a group of people, a bunch of ideas about how they see God, how they see themselves and how they see the world. So when we  understand what myths are, then we can understand the importance of them. And then we can extract the things from myths that are beneficial for us today. Although these myths were created hundreds and thousands of years ago.”


Lamont Jack Pearley is an applied folklorist, ethnographer and African American traditional music historian and practitioner enrolled at WKU in the African American and Folk Studies programs. He is an African American Studies Ambassador with the African American Studies Department, hosts a weekly segment on WKU Public Radio called the African American Folklorist, and is the editor of the African American Folklorist Newspaper. He was inducted into the New York Blues Hall of Fame as Great Blues Historian and TV/Radio Producer (2017) and Great Blues Artist (2018).
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