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Winona Bryant and Therese Simmons on friendship and community

January 3rd, 2019 11:13 AM

By Bonni McKeown

Winona Bryant and Therese Simmons share a 20-year friendship. They're both nurses and positive role models on the West Side. They each spoke a bit about their lives at a campaign event for mayoral candidate and state representative La Shawn K. Ford in November. 

Simmons attended Marshall High School, got a GED in Job Corps and worked as a switchboard phone operator. She's crafty, creating gift baskets and sewing pillows. She began nursing training in 1979 to help her son after he had a seizure. She's worked in medical surgery and geriatrics.  

"I love to laugh every day," said Simmons, an Austin resident. "Each day is precious and one should be thankful. One of my patients declared he was president, so I called him Mr. President. That was his reality. Another said he was Tupac Shakur. He could do all of Tupac's songs and videos."

Simmons met Bryant at a Columbus Park nursing home at 901 S. Austin. Winona was born in 1959, when her family stayed in the Henry Horner housing project. She said "Henry Hornet" was indeed a beehive of activity — with Black Panthers delivering breakfast for children, nuns next door delivering food, and the Jehovah's Witnesses and Gideons delivering Bibles and tracts.

Bryant noticed that few of the social workers were black. At Crane High, she felt a calling to be a nurse and help in her own community. Soon she was doing home nursing visits on the South and West Sides. 

Bryant's husband, Stephen Lightburn, is from Belize, and both she and Simmons enjoy visiting the Caribbean country. "They're very welcoming to all sorts of people. Belize people are proud of their culture, but humble at the same time," Winona said. 

Like Simmons, Bryant is an instructive elder in her Humbolt Park community. She tells people selling drugs that if they feel they have to do that, they should not bring young children on the corner. Sometimes, she says, "I give out fresh fruit in the neighborhood to give the kids some hope."

Bonni McKweon