Kareem Simpson, Covington Independent Schools
Kentucky School Advocate
Q: You graduated from Covington Independent Schools and were elected to the board in 2022. What does it mean to serve?
A: It is a good opportunity to give back, not only to the institution that nurtured my education and professional life but to give back to kids who are in school right now, which includes a number of my nieces, nephews and other extended family. My family has been in and around Covington and Newport since the 1900s.
Q: You spent the past year as an Artist in Residence for the "Crafting Stories, Making History: the African American Experience in Covington, KY" project at Kenton County Public Library. Can you tell us more about the project?
A: It was a partnership of the Library of Congress, the public library and several other institutions. As artist in residence, I spent the year researching and writing several chapters of a murder mystery novel called “Moon Song.” The novel is set in Covington in 1988 in the Eastside, a traditional African American neighborhood. I use real places but it is a work of fiction based on what was happening in the black community in those times, including intentional segregation. The book will be published by the end of 2024.
Q: You have published several other books. Can you tell us about them?
A: In 2013, I published “Chronicles of a Boy Misunderstood.” It is four intertwined stories set in northern Kentucky/Cincinnati with a gay black male as the central character. I wasn’t seeing stories at the time with black men at the center. The fictionalized stories are based on actual events. I’ve written two nonfiction books: “Game On,” a collection of blogs I had written for local newspapers, and a motivational book, “They Say I Talk Funny: A Helpful Guide to Unleashing Your Inner Creative.” I was recently awarded a grant through ArtsWave in Cincinnati to write a nonfiction book about historic places in this area and the Black lives in those places.
Q: You also served in the U.S. Army. Can you tell us about your service?
A: I served from 1997 to 2001 in military intelligence as a Korean linguist. I went to Korea for training, but I was stationed in the states – California, Arizona and Texas. I didn’t know Korean but had a background in language arts. I took a test to determine my ability to learn foreign languages. My score qualified me for the hardest languages – Chinese, Arabic and Korean. I was assigned Korean.
Q: What, so far, has been the most rewarding part of being a board member and the most challenging?
A: It has been rewarding to see the decisions and policies we’ve put in place trickle down to positively affect students. We were faced with the possible closure of a school and we recommended against it and advised several measures, including community engagement. We have seen some improvement.
It has been challenging to prove my worth. There are not a lot of people who look like me and have the same background and knowledge of how to run a board, promote community engagement or guide institutional development. There aren’t a lot of African American men in leadership in Covington. The first few times I suggested something out of the box, board members looked at me like I was crazy. Now, they realize Kareem kind of knows what he is talking about. Some of my knowledge comes from serving on the Kenton County Planning and Zoning Commission. Right now, I’m leading the committee to update our comprehensive plan.
Getting to know
Profession: Manager of the Duncanson Program at the Taft Museum of Art, a Black art outreach program
Hometown: Born in Newport, moved to Covington a few years later
Family: My mom lives in Houston, and I have three younger brothers and extended family for acres.
Favorite subject: Math was the most eye-opening; language arts a close second.
Hobby: Writing and studying film
Book recommendations: I have two. “Stamped: Racism, Anti Racism and You” by Ibram X. Kendi and Jason Reynolds. It is a young adult book and easy to get through. The other is a motivational book, “Shift into a Higher Gear: Better Your Best and Live Life to the Fullest” by Delatorro McNeal. It helps you think of ways to make things happen and start doing things you need to do.
Interesting fact: I was born on July 25, 1978, the same day as the first test tube baby, Louise Brown. My mom, who is the Queen of Facts, first pointed this out. My mom, by the way, recently earned a doctorate as a nurse practitioner (Doctor of Nursing Practice) and is now teaching.