CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WJZY) — A Johnson C. Smith University student is breaking barriers. 

Malay Simmons is one of the first transgender women to serve on an Historically Black College royal court. The court’s representatives are the faces of the university and play an active role in recruitment.  

Simmons served as Mr. Freshman and Mr. Sophomore before transitioning and serving as Miss Junior in 2020-21.  

“So, now you have me today, living my life as a trans-woman,” Simmons said. “I love every step of my journey; I am loving it.”  

Simmons said before her transition she was struggling with authenticity and gender identity, even though she found way to smile through it all.  

“This was a version of me that was still beautiful, but wasn’t so happy,” Simmons said. “There were a lot of times I was mentally going through things, knowing I don’t feel I’m being 100 percent authentically myself.”  

Simmons says her courage to transition comes from her family support system, specifically her mother, aunts and grandmother. Completing it while serving a prominent role was met with some controversy on campus.  

“A lot of people did not like that I was starting to see the spotlight and being the face of different things,” Simmons said. “But on the other hand, I did have a lot of support from my fellow Smithies here at Johnson C. Smith.”  

One of the supporters is Anthony Brown, director of Leadership and Engagement at JCSU.  

“It’s important to showcase that Johnson C. Smith does not discriminate,” Brown said. “We believe in inclusivity and making sure that our students feel that you’re welcomed at Johnson C. Smith.”  

Brown said the university celebrates students of all walks of life.  

“We’re really big on creating safe spaces for our campus,” Brown said. “It doesn’t matter where you are, where you are from, who you are, who you belong to we want to create a safe space for you and that’s really what’s more important and even with our new organization Self Pride for the LGBTQIA+ community, supporting them and letting them know hey this space can be for you as much as it is for everyone else.”  

Simmons is studying communications and psychology while actively involved on campus. She plans to run again to represent her university on the royal court. She hopes her journey will inspire others to live out loud.  

“When you look at me, I want you to see someone who is brave, somebody who has faced adversity, someone who has always strived even in the midst of negligence,” Simmons said. “No matter how many people have told me no, I just say God’s will is a Yes, and I just move in that.”