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Ruth Simmons grew up the youngest of 12 children in East Texas, during a time in our country when blatant racism, particularly in the South meant violence and civil unrest. As a result, her sharecropper parents were very strict, and even tough with their children. They even taught them how to walk on the sidewalk and avoid passing White folks. It was that serious.

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Simmons continued to dream despite the harsh realities of her environment, and getting an education was one of her top priorities. In an interview with PBS, Simmons recalled a moment when she asked her mom if she could go to college one day. Her mom gave her a strange look, because at the time it seemed like an impossible idea due to lack of funding. But guess what? Simmons not only graduated at the top of her high school class, but she also won a scholarship to Dillard University in New Orleans and ended up becoming a trailblazer in Black History with several landmark firsts achieved.

In 2001, Ruth Simmons became the first African-American president of an Ivy League university, as well as Brown University’s first female president. Prior to this appointment, she served as the first African-American female president of a major college or university when she took the teaching reins at Smith College in 1995.

Simmons resigned her post in 2011, but left with a high approval rating from her students. Today, she is a professor of Comparative Literature and Africana studies at Brown and will forever b regarded as a vanguard woman who has demonstrated the power of education to transform lives.

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For 2024’s iteration of MadameNoire and HelloBeautiful’s annual series Women to Know, we knew we wanted to celebrate the people who help make the joys of film and television possible. To create art is to create magic. This year, we spotlight Hollywood Executive’s changing the face of cinema.