Dena Simmons’ first role model was her mother, whose resilience and strength brought her to the United States from Antigua. In New York, she worked tirelessly to create a world in which Dena and her sisters could thrive. Dena’s mom instilled the value of education in her daughters, empowering them to effect change in their lives, and the lives of others, through learning.
Today, Dena is a role model for countless women and girls across the nation. A renowned author, speaker and activist, scholar and educator, Dena is a beacon for anyone pursuing a life of learning, teaching, and social activism.
From a young age, Dena’s pursuit of knowledge was powered by a learned and lived experience of injustice and inequality. In a segment profiling her as one of PBS’s “Makers: Women Who Make America,” Dena shares experiences of racial inequity, violence and prejudice in her childhood that were driving forces behind her decision to dedicate her life to educating others and fighting for justice.
After graduating from Middlebury College, Dena returned to her hometown of the Bronx as an educator. In Ms. Simmons’ classroom, safety came first. Dena knew that before the academic goals set by administrators could be met, her students needed to feel confident and loved in the classroom. She was determined to create the school environment she wished she’d had growing up in the Bronx.
“Every child deserves an education that guarantees the safety to learn in the comfort of one’s own skin,” she says in her powerful 2015 TED Talk, ‘How students of color confront imposter syndrome.’
Dena, a student of life, is a Truman Scholar, a Paul and Daisy Soros New American Fellow, and a Fulbright Scholar. She is a graduate of Pace University’s Childhood Education Master’s Program, and Columbia University, Teachers College. Her passion and motto of “leading with the heart” has brought her on a journey of fellowship and learning around the world to affect change in regard to youth access to education and healthcare.
Now, as the Director of Education at the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence, Dena is a leading voice on teacher education and culturally responsive pedagogy. She supports educators nationwide in learning and living the values of social and emotional intelligence with equity as her guiding force. Through her influence, Dena is actively creating emotionally intelligent and safe communities for students in classrooms here in Connecticut, at home in the Bronx, and beyond.
Today, Dena will be honored by the Connecticut Women’s Education and Legal Fund (CWEALF) and Young Women Rising with a “The Future is Now” award, which celebrates women under 40 who are making a difference in the lives of young women and girls here in Connecticut.
“Throughout her career, Dena has dedicated a range of her roles to ensuring that issues of equity are at the heart of her work, which distinguishes her as a leader of this and the next generation of young women,” said Kate Farrar, executive director of CWEALF, on Dena’s recognition.
Dena’s tireless work and dedication to fostering safe communities of learning for all and fighting for equity make her an exemplary leader of the next generation of female change makers.