What does it mean to be a peace and human rights activist? For Rudy Simons, 88, it means more than five decades of speaking out, standing up to oppression, and working to inspire others to promote peace and fight persecution.
Roeper School, an independent school for gifted students in grades preK-12 in Bloomfield Hills, will honor Simons at its annual Gala & Golden Apples Award Ceremony on Friday, Feb. 17, at the Royal Music Theater.
Roeper’s awards tradition began in 1990 to commemorate the school’s 50th anniversary and to honor individuals who embody the school’s goal of empowering students to contribute to the world.
Simons is linked to Roeper in several other ways as well. His son, Eli, is a Roeper graduate and his wife, Roseanne, is a substitute teacher at the school.
Being a peace and human rights advocate is not a mission for someone seeking quick or even tangible success.
“You never really know what effects you’re having singly, but when you’re with tens of thousands, you can point to the outcome,” Simons says, referring to the 1965 civil rights march in Montgomery, Ala. This historic event led to President Johnson’s advancement of federal civil rights legislation.
Simons went to Montgomery on his own after obtaining the name of an Alabama lawyer, who directed Simons to a local center for civil rights volunteers where he helped during a chaotic period of protests, arrests and police brutality.
Simons says his interest in peace and human rights evolved over time. “As a boy, I saw news reels of the bombing of Poland, which was part of my anti-war orientation,” he says.
He served as a soldier during the Korean War. “We were told we were fighting for peace,” he says. “We were told to go and kill [the enemy], and I couldn’t see that was the way it was.” He later was deeply involved in anti-Vietnam war efforts.
While serving overseas, he learned some books by such authors as John Steinbeck had been removed from the U.S. Information Library for being subversive. Simons saw graffiti in Europe that said “Yankees Go Home” and “Save the Rosenbergs.” This was during the McCarthy hearings, and all those things started to churn in his head, he says.
Back in Detroit, Simons opened an advertising agency where he worked for 15 years. He was a music publisher and lyricist for the stage and radio commercials. Then he took a long, solo trip around the world and observed the effects of American foreign policy.
Back in Detroit, he got involved with the ACLU and began traveling “to build bridges with other countries and look into human rights situations.”
Simons traveled with delegations to China, Columbia, Iran, Iraq, Central American and Israel.
His most recent Israel trip was in 2011 with a group of Jews and non-Jews led by the Resource Center for Nonviolence. They brought Jewish Israelis and Palestinians together, generally with a cordial response, Simons says.
He served on the board of Wayne State University’s Center for Peaceful Conflict Resolution and was a vice president of the Cranbrook Peace Foundation.
The Simons papers are held at WSU’s Walter Reuther Library.
Currently, he is working with the NAACP and the Birmingham Temple on a national project to replicate the Rev. Martin Luther King’s “Beyond Vietnam” speech in 100 places. The speech was first given on April 4, 1967, the day King was murdered.
Still Going Strong
Simons grew up in Detroit and attended Congregation Shaarey Zedek as a boy. Later, he was a member of the Birmingham Temple, where he is still connected. He and his wife live in Southfield, and they have two sons.
Simons continues to be active with Peace Action of Michigan, the Michigan Coalition for Human Rights and the NAACP. You may see him on a Monday afternoon at a busy Ferndale intersection with a small group of activists holding up signs saying “Honk for Peace.” Simons has been part of this weekly group for years, hoping to inspire those who pass by to care about peace.
He also enjoys speaking to school and other groups about social justice and activism, conveying an unyielding commitment to peace and equal rights with warmth and charm.
Roeper senior Leora Bernard, daughter of Dennis and Hadas Bernard of Birmingham, will present Simons’ award. Senior Ellie Moskowitz, daughter of Leslie and Rabbi Michael Moskowitz, will present an award to keynote speaker Bryan Stevenson, executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative.
Other honorees are Shamayim “Mama Shu” Harris, who is working to rebuild her blighted Highland Park neighborhood, and Sally Booth, in her 90s, who played an integral role in establishing the school.
The 2017 Roeper Gala & Golden Apple Awards Ceremony will be held at 7 p.m. Friday, Feb. 17, at the Royal Oak Music Theater. Visit RoeperGala.preclickbid.com for ticket information.