Campus & Community

A History of Simmons in a Little Black Book

Cover of Our Little Black Book 1974
Photo credit: Our Little Black Book Collection, PC 032, Simmons University Archives, Boston, MA, USA.

The Little Black Book (or, Our Little Black Book), a yearbook for Black students, was first published in 1974 to capture the service, time, and growth of the Black experience at Simmons. Originally Lynne White’s 1974 senior project in Communications, the Book provides a chronicle of Simmons College’s Black community. We take a look at the origin and significance of Our Little Black Book and the history of the Black community at Simmons.

“Back then, we considered ourselves fighters for Civil Rights,” recalls Lynne White ’74, who created the first Little Black Book (or LBB) during her time at Simmons. “We were coming into our own identities and wanted to form our own society and fight for our own rights on campus. We were finding a way of telling our stories, a way to be honored instead of discriminated against. We needed to make our stories and voices known.”

Striving for an American Dream that had already excluded their parents and grandparents through discrimination, redlining, and school segregation, among other social injustices, Black students at Simmons were ready for classes that resonated with them, and an acknowledgment that Black history is a vital part of American history. This included the establishment of the Black Student Organization (BSO), the creation of an African Studies program, and expanded recruitment efforts to encourage Black women to attend Simmons.

“I was a part of that cultural revolution on campus, and I thought it would be good to create our Little Black Book, to show that what we were doing was important,” says White. “We wanted to show those coming after us that you can reach goals that your grandparents could only hope for! We were trying to get to the mountaintop in our high heels and afros.”

That first Little Black Book sparked a tradition that continues, fifty years later. “The Little Black Book is more than a yearbook,” says Professor of Practice and MSW Program Director Gary Bailey, “it is a hope-book.”

Visiting the Collection at the Simmons Archives makes the fruition of that hope apparent. “It’s a catalog of success, in many ways,” notes Bailey. “Some people who have done extremely important work in the world were here at Simmons. And that’s just touching the surface.” Students featured in the Books include Karen Young-Thomas ’77, Pamela Sneed-Cook ’77, Carol Waller-Pope ’74, Millicent Gorham ’76, Leslie Morris ’75, and Gwen Ifill ’77. As Bailey says, “[The Little Black Book] serves as an important marker for Black students here at Simmons and the power of their presence.”

Past President of the African-American Alumnae/i Association (AAAA) Kenyora Lenair Parham ’10 served as Sister of the Little Black Book during her sophomore year before becoming President in her junior and senior years, as part of her involvement with the Black Student Organization (BSO) at Simmons. “I observed how information and wisdom were passed down from one student leader to another, creating a sense of continuity and fostering a strong connection among the members,” says Parham, who saw the LBB as pivotal to preserving the legacy of Black students, faculty, and staff at Simmons. “In a predominantly white institution, where historic protests and demonstrations were necessary to demand culturally-responsive resources and representation, the Little Black Book became a symbolic cornerstone of our identity.”

A Collection of Little Black Books

Spanning the decades from 1974, the Books feature profiles of graduating students, original artwork and poetry by students, and photographs of student groups and campus events. Our Little Black Book 1999–2000 includes excerpts from a speech given by the late Dean Emeritus Elizabeth (Betty) Rawlins ’67GS on “The History of the African American Students and Faculty” at the African American Centennial Event, held on April 21, 2000. The Books have also included letters to graduates from Black alumnae/i, administrators, faculty, and staff.

Photo credit: Our Little Black Book Collection, PC 032, Simmons University Archives, Boston, MA, USA.

“This ever-evolving aesthetic isn't just a visual representation; it's a symbolic manifestation of our growth, adaptability, and resilience as a community,” says Parham. “The fluidity of the Little Black Book's design mirrors the dynamic nature of our experiences as Black students at Simmons. It's a deliberate act of reclaiming agency over our narrative, emphasizing that our stories are not static but continually shaped by the individuals who contribute to and carry on the legacy. The Little Black Book becomes a canvas, allowing us to paint the narrative of our community in vibrant hues and varied shapes. It stands as a testament to the creativity and innovation present within the Black Student Organization, showcasing that our stories are not confined by tradition but are an ever-evolving tapestry of experiences, perspectives, and achievements.”

Gina Patterson ’06 served as President of the BSO during her time at Simmons, and notes that the LBB was an important part of the work the organization was doing. “As Black graduating seniors, it was important to have something that connects us all, a book that would solidify in some ways the Black Simmons experience,” says Patterson. “I still have my Little Black Book and it always brings a smile to my face as it brings back so many great memories. I'm also so proud of each of us from that year...We are leaders, advocates, creators…all of what Simmons teaches and preaches [during our] four years.”

Parham sees the LBB as “a tool for visibility, allowing us to showcase the achievements of Black students and amplify their voices. It served as a reminder of the resilience and determination required to establish and maintain spaces that celebrated our culture, represented our diversity, and acknowledged our shared history. Moreover, the Little Black Book was a means to make an indelible mark on the institution, leaving a legacy that transcended individual terms or positions. It encapsulated the stories of struggle, triumph, and progress, serving as a source of inspiration for future generations. By passing down this symbolic book, we ensured that the journey of Black students at Simmons was not only acknowledged but also carried forward with pride and purpose.”

While the COVID pandemic disrupted the creation of the Little Black Book, the BSO created a digital version in 2023, and efforts are currently underway for a print edition for the Class of 2024. Bart Brown ’24, Soul of Communications of the BSO, is working on the layout for the new Book, and found inspiration from past printings. “I looked at a range of Books, from the 1990s to the last few years, and found one that was black and white with a bit of gold. I thought it was really pretty and minimalist.” Brown is making an effort to keep printing costs low and accommodating undergraduate, graduate, and doctoral students who would like to be included. “There is a lot of Black history at Simmons that wasn’t preserved very well, so this is our way to preserve some of it. The BSO is one of the longest standing organizations on campus, but you wouldn’t know that unless you went through our paper archives.” In her review of previous LBBs, Brown recognized Parham in the 2010 edition. “[It’s interesting to see] where you were then and where you are now,” Brown says, noting that BSO members were also able to connect with alumnae/i in person at the Black Alumnae/i Symposium last May.

That the LBB retains its value for Simmons students, and for the history of the University, White says, “It warms my heart. It says that it was important to do it. Every year it’s grown into something new for the women who need to feel included, feel like they matter. Their stories are important and need to be heard.”

Publish Date


Alisa M. Libby