Woman leaves job as lawyer to open institute to help African American girls

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WENDELL, N.C. (WTVD) -- Nearly four years ago, Angelicia Simmons quit her job as a lawyer to open the Fannie Lou Hamer Institute of Advocacy and Social Awareness.

It's a decision she still has no regrets making. "I believe, honestly, that although some battles can always be won in the courtroom, in our communities, we need institutions like this," she said.

Eighth-grader Ashden Johnson is one of the students going through the institute, which focuses on African American girls ages eight through 18.

"It's impacted me because I know that I have space that I feel comfortable in," Johnson said. "I like to read so Ms. Angie included books for us to read that relates to our lives. I can see myself in a book."

The institute is named for the Civil Rights icon Fannie Lou Hamer. Born in 1917, Hamer was born a sharecropper. She'd go on to establish the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party and be a vocal advocate for voting rights.

In 1964, Hamer delivered a congressional testimony, that would in a sense, frighten President Lyndon B Johnson so much so, that he held an impromptu press conference during her speech.

The speech, however, failed to slow down the momentum Hamer created after her speech was replayed over various media outlets in the following days.

The following year, President Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act of 1965 which prohibited racial discrimination at the polls.

"I feel like, as a voting advocate, to endure what she endured," Simmons said. "It was so important that I had to attach her name to something."

When ABC11 stopped by the institute, students were learning about being an advocate and needing one. "It's okay to need help, and that you're going to need help in difficult situations," said Jayda Coleman, another student of the Institute.

"Our whole vision is a world where black women and girls thrive. Not just live, but they're thriving," Simmons said.

The institute offers summer programs for those interested.
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