Black History Month Honoring Simone Lyles; a colleague, mentor, and friend.
February 27, 2019
The rise in popularity of African American culture started gaining traction in the 1920s with the Harlem Renaissance. Dr. Carter Woodson, the creator of Negro History Week (amongst numerous other achievements), led to ensure the teachings of black history in 1926. He accordingly chose a week in February that honored the birthdays of both Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln. His conscious hope was not only to show that African Americans had immensely helped in the creation of America but also to bring life and interest to a culture lacking traditional visibility. Taking a page from a man of honorable agenda, I write this to bring renewed energy to a woman I’ve spent the past 3+ years admiring on a day-to-day basis. A woman with Little Rock beginnings that have become an observable form of strength, character, and most importantly, truth.
Your color and complexion are assets. Not liabilities. Words Mama Green lived by and faithfully passed on to her daughter, Simone. A commanding force that has guided her drive to both artistic and monetary success, she has diligently demonstrated that you can influence the path ahead without compromising your spirit. Ignoring the standard of topical jabber, Simone speaks to a story of relatable ballads.
Singing since she can remember, she recalls watching her older cousin perform a Clark Sisters’ song at their church, “And I knew that’s what I wanted to do”. Finding solace in music from a young age, her champion moment didn’t come until the 9th grade. Her rendition of the iconic Anita Baker’s “Caught Up in the Rapture” was a standout portrayal and she’s been a friend of the mic ever since.
In 1997, she found her way to Chicago and created the band, Soul Sanctuary. Her numerous melodic accomplishments include the adoption of her songs in Dance, Dance Revolution, Ugly Betty, and frequent commercials for many high-profile companies, even leading her to win an ADDY Award in 2006. She is also a member of the Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists and continues to perform on an almost weekly basis.
This same year she started as a receptionist with one of the longest standing Chicago recruiting firms, Chicago Legal Search. Manning the phones, she witnessed first hand the need for legal staffing assistance beyond attorneys. Recognizing that the company was turning away potential profit, she began mentioning her calls to the owner until he subsequently gave her a shot. A local real estate company reached out asking for assistance finding a paralegal. They took the job. He mentored her through the process as she found a candidate, made the placement and received a generous commission. From that moment she was set on becoming a recruiter. So much so, that one day -not long after the success of her first placement- she voiced that they should consider starting a legal staffing division. The owner asked her to create a business plan setting in motion the birth of the division she now directs, CLS Legal Staffing.
As I write this I believe this woman to be an engineer. She’s assembled the bold lines of her journey and has come out a treasured artist, an esteemed businesswoman, and in recent years, a breast cancer Olympian. April 16th, 2016; April 16th, 2018; two dates of diagnosis. Lumpectomies, radiation, double mastectomy, and reconstruction surgery: bittersweet words that doubly define. Webster lent words of reality; her spirit defines reincarnation.
April 16th has crafted October 31st — a day where she simultaneously celebrates cancer-free health all while hosting her annual fundraiser. Enlisting the help of other singers and musicians she’s worked with over the years, our community comes together to toast a night dancing for life. The proceeds are then donated to charities that offer support and awareness to women of color.
In defining her version of success, two things stood out to me: how success makes her feel and how she makes a point to highlight that this is not a monetary effect, but a result of having self-faith. Success as a result of her ability, resistance to compare, and confidence that positivity, regardless of shades of amber, will prevail. As her dad always says, “No one is getting out of here alive, ride it til’ the wheels fall off”, so she continues to do just that… acknowledging that she stays in her lane. The problem with this is talent divulges across many avenues. How do you pick a lane when you’re vital to many? You can’t. She can’t. And if I’ve learned anything in the years leading to 2019, it’s that my voice, our voice, matters. So it is with this, I plead we don’t let her. The lanes are long overdue for a remodel and with women like her crusin’ along, that asphalt just got a much-needed facelift.
Written by: Tara Teague