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Kalima Mckenzie-Simms

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Making NYC Schools Safer

Kalima Mckenzie-Simms Class of 2020 BEQ Pride LGBTQ+ Leader Under 40

(She, Her) is 28

By 2030, schools nationwide will line their hallways with trans and gay pride flags all year round and “respect for all” will be more than a slogan. LGBTQ students will feel seen and safe and will know where and who to go to for support within their school communities.

The leadership and successes of PFLAG NYC Program Manager Kalima Mckenzie-Simms have left an indelible mark on the nonprofit organization. Kalima guides programs of support, education and advocacy that help LGBTQ youth in every aspect of their lives. She directly oversees PFLAG NYC’s Safe Schools Program, which helps New York City public school communities provide LGBTQ students with the support they may not otherwise receive from their own families, while also combating homophobia, transphobia, bias and bullying. 

PFLAG “helped me back when I wanted to come out to more of my family,” says Kalima. Kalima began working with PFLAG NYC’s Safe Schools Program in 2011, while in college. “When I heard about their Safe Schools Program, I was extremely excited to contribute my own story as a queer black woman growing up in an urban community.” For Kalima, working with PFLAG resulted in a therapeutic power: “I lit up at the notion that I could be a source of hope for young Queer people in NYC.” She threw herself into supporting young people wholeheartedly. She was eventually offered a paid internship with PFLAG during her last year of college. The trajectory of her engagement with PFLAG NYC is poetic, from client to volunteer to student intern to staff professional — from chrysalis to butterfly. Kalima shapes programming, is a resource to NYC public schools and she is on the frontlines of combat against homophobia, transphobia, bias and bullying.  

During Kalima’s tenure, the Safe Schools Program has seen explosive growth — from reaching 20 schools to more than 60 middle and high schools in New York City annually. In 2018-19 she helped deliver presentations to nearly 10,000 students throughout the city. She has established a strong community speakers’ program by recruiting, training and supporting over 100 team members representing the true diversity of New Yorkers. Kalima also created a comprehensive training for the NYC Department of Education’s parent coordinators and family support teams at every school on how to work with families of LGBTQ students. 

Dedicated to the expansion of PFLAG NYC’s programs, and committed to the needs of younger children, Kalima is currently developing a program for elementary school-aged students. Voices like Kalima’s and her perspective are typically underrepresented in leadership and execution of important programming of LGBTQ social and community services in this country. 

Kalima is shaping the Safe Schools Program and its deliverables to always include a professional development workshop for school administrators, staff, teachers, counselors and parent liaisons — most likely born from an understanding of a gap in services from having experienced the delivery of similar programs along the way. Caring for the administrators, teachers, staff, counselors and parent liaisons is making sure the program infrastructure is strong and that the care providers are also cared for — a generative notion that ensures continued success for PFLAG NYC’s future.

“I am so fortunate to have worked as Program Manager,” she says. “My dream job. I had never had an office job before, nor did I have experience working for a nonprofit organization, but my passion for PFLAG NYC’s mission and work made me a good fit for the position.” In addition to her leadership role at PFLAG NYC, Kalima is currently pursuing a Masters of Public Administration degree at the Colin Powell School for Civic and Global Leadership at the City College of New York.

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