Scholarship Class: 1989
High School: Martin Luther King Jr. High School, Detroit, Mich.
At her mother's insistence, Monice Mitchell Simms enrolled in a high school honors program for students with a high aptitude for math, science and applied technology. But Simms had the heart of a storyteller. Winning the Rosa Parks Scholarship enabled her to follow her passion.
When Simms graduated from Detroit's Martin Luther King Jr. High School in 1989, the first scholarship she received was from the Rosa Parks Scholarship Foundation. She said winning the Rosa Parks award gave her the confidence to apply for other scholarships. In the end, she covered the complete cost of her college education - including books - with scholarships.
"The Rosa Parks scholarship opened the door for me to pursue other scholarships," said Simms, 46. "What's brilliant about the Rosa Parks scholarship is that it doesn't put any boundaries on how you can use it. I like the freedom it gave me to pursue whatever field I wanted to and to decide my own path."
Simms said the scholarship was especially sweet because four years later, her younger sister, Jenice, would also receive a Rosa Parks scholarship. Twenty-five years later, in 2018, Jenice Mitchell Ford served as keynote speaker at the Rosa Parks Scholarship Foundation annual luncheon, where she was named the foundation's alumnus of the year.
"She was there when I received my scholarship," Simms said, recalling her sister's attendance at the scholarship luncheon when she was honored in 1989. "She saw me do it. I was happy to see her get the same award."
Simms leveraged the education she received through newspaper internships and as an undergraduate student in Wayne State University's Journalism Institute for Minorities (now called the Journalism Institute for Media Diversity) to learn how to gather and tell stories. As an intern at the Cleveland Plain Dealer, she volunteered to launch a writers' workshop for incarcerated women. Through the program, she taught women - ages 18 through 60 - how to write in exchange for access to the women's life stories, which she knew she would one day use in a creative pursuit.
After earning her bachelor's degree, Simms pursued a graduate degree at Columbia College in Chicago. Using the stories of the Cleveland women as a foundation, she created "Carmin's Choice," a film that earned her a $30,000 grant from the Showtime cable network. The Showtime grant allowed Simms to make a second film, "Rain," a story about a couple facing the end of the world. "Rain" was filmed in Detroit in 1999.
Simms said she is very proud of the way her film opened doors in the film industry for regular people in her hometown.
"Someone we knew was a real estate agent, so we made them our location manager. We put hairdressers we knew in our hair and makeup department. There were a lot of people who got their first film credit on my movie and later when Gov. Granholm brought film incentives to Michigan, they were able to work in the film industry because they had experience," said Simms, whose film aired on Showtime several times in 2000 and 2001.
After earning a master's degree in 1997, Simms moved to Los Angeles. In addition to her film work, she has had a stint working for journalist Tavis Smiley's production company and has published two books: a novel, "House of Corrections" in 2010 and a children's book, "Nana's Fridge" in 2014. She and her husband of 14 years, Ryeal, live in Pasadena, where she is busy with a slew of independent film and new media projects. Simms hints that a future project may bring her back to Detroit.