Jabari Simama’s story has many different chapters. He grew up in Columbia, Mo., and attended Lincoln University in Jefferson City, Mo., through a football scholarship. During a college Christian fellowship, Simama traveled to Connecticut, where he found kinship and a job the following summer. The experience led him to transfer to the University of Bridgeport, where Simama earned his bachelor’s degree. Afterward, he found his way down to Atlanta, Ga., where he eventually earned two graduate degrees, a master’s from Atlanta University and his Ph.D. from Emory University.
At this point in his life, Simama entered public service and served two terms on the Atlanta City Council, then worked as deputy chief operating officer and chief of staff for DeKalb County and later became the president of Georgia Piedmont Technical College. Despite the challenges, he has always found inspiration through his own childhood and his family’s humble beginnings.
“All of my life, I felt this tremendous kinship and commitment with lifting up ‘the least of these.’ And it's probably because at one point I was part of ‘the least of these,’” he explained.
Jabari Simama’s commitment to helping others has also come from the great support he has received from others throughout his life. A friend from the Christian fellowship organization Young Life helped Simama travel outside of Missouri for the first time. That same friend introduced him to Jack Carpenter who headed Young Life in Connecticut and offered him the summer job. After college, a woman named Lillian introduced him to his first job in Atlanta and to her husband, the late Congressman John Lewis.
Jabari Simama and John Lewis met in 1973 and maintained a close friendship. Simama recounts how it was good to know the human side of John Lewis and to see his loving and humble nature even when their wives were conspiring on the phone about the lunches at their children’s shared preschool.
“I could hear John in the background saying ‘Lillian, remember we're non-violent, we don't talk like that, we're not violent,’” Simama said. “So even in his personal life, something that didn't exactly have anything to do with civil rights, the spirit of non-violence was the way he lived.”
Listen to the latest “In The Arena” episode to hear more about Jabari Simama’s friendship with the late John Lewis, the tenderness of his heart and the racial discrimination of hand dryers.
Jabari Simama is the education policy columnist for Governing.
- Sheila Oliver, Lieutenant Governor of N.J.
- Bruce Bond, Co-Founder of Common Ground Committee
- Heather Repenning, Executive Officer of Sustainability Policy for Los Angeles Metro
- Cathilea Robinett, President of e.Republic: Special Episode
- Miles K. Davis, President of Linfield College
- Sharon Greenberger, President and CEO of N.Y. YMCA
- Toni Carter, County Commissioner for Ramsey County, Minn.
- Harry Black, City Manager of Stockton, Calif.
- John Wetzel, Secretary of Corrections for Pa.
- Alisha Bell, Commission Chair of Wayne County, Mich.
- Mary Ann Borgeson, County Commissioner of Douglas County, Neb.
- Betty Yee, State Controller of Calif.
- Serena DiMaso, New Jersey Assembly Member
- Clay Jenkinson, Governing's Editor-at-Large and Humanities Scholar
- Bryan Barnett, Mayor of Rochester Hills, Mich. and President of the U.S. Conference of Mayors
- Ryan Coonerty, County Supervisor of Santa Cruz, Calif.
- Lydia Mihalik, Director of Ohio's Development Services Agency
- Chris Cabaldon, Mayor of West Sacramento, Calif.
- Affie Ellis, State Senator, Wyo.
- Beth Niblock, CIO of Detroit, Mich.
- Eric Garcetti, Mayor of Los Angeles, Calif.
- Ed O’Keefe, CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Library Foundation
- Blair Milo, Ind.'s first Secretary of Career Connections and Talent
- Phil Bertolini, Co-Director, Center for Digital Government
- Jo Ann Davidson, Ohio State Representative
- Dow Constantine, Executive of King County, Wash.
- Harry LaRosiliere, Mayor of Plano, Texas
- Rebecca Rhynhart, City Controller of Philadelphia
- Michael Crow, President of Arizona State University
- Mayors Melvin Carter of St. Paul, Minn.; Jenn Daniels of Gilbert, Ariz.; Jacob Frey of Minneapolis; and Francis Suarez of Miami, Fla.
- Chris Castro, Director of Sustainability for Orlando, Fla.
- Kim Foxx, State's Attorney for Cook County, Ill.
- Doug Burgum, Governor of N.D.
- Nan Whaley, Mayor of Dayton, Ohio
- Steve Benjamin, Mayor of Columbia, S.C.
- Kristen Cox, Executive Director of Utah Office of Management and Budget
- Acquanetta Warren, Mayor of Fontana, Calif.
- Greg Fischer, Mayor of Louisville, Ky.
- Themis Klarides, Minority Leader of the Conn. House
Governing is a division of e.Republic