by TRACY ZOLLINGER TURNER
Doris Sims has seen the country “go through hills and valleys” when it comes to race. “A lot—especially within this past year—has happened within our country with dealing with racial inequality, and dealing with issues of equity and diversity,” she says. For some, she believes, this time has introduced new awareness. “What I’m hoping is that we don’t lose the momentum that we’ve gained. It’s easy to stick a sign in your yard and say, ‘Black Lives Matter,’ it’s another thing to make sure the actions that you take show that Black lives matter to you.”
After more than 40 years in public service, Sims retired from her position as director of the City of Bloomington Housing and Neighborhood Development (HAND) Department in January. Over the course of her career, she helped to research and develop a voluntary retirement plan for City employees and founded Citizens Academy—a program that educates residents about how city government works. She has taught homebuying classes and helped people whose homes were in foreclosure to save them. Overall, “I think that the job that I have had has been so rewarding because we help people make sure that they have decent, safe, and sanitary housing,” she says.
“I had a great mentor when I started working for the City of Bloomington,” says Sims. She was originally hired to work for Bloomington’s Redevelopment Department by Betty Cockrum, a longtime public servant who passed away in 2020. Cockrum later became the city controller and, for the last 15 years, was the president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Indiana and Kentucky. The two women remained close as Sims served on the Planned Parenthood board for almost 10 years, including two years as chair and four more on its executive committee. “I tell everyone that I think Betty saw the potential in me at that very young age—22— that I didn’t see in myself,” she says. In 2017, Sims was named a Living Legend at Bloomington’s Black History Month Gala.
Raised in Evansville, Sims’ father was a long-distance truck driver and her mother worked in a cigar factory. Sims was born in the middle of a five-sibling lineup and her mother died when she was 16. “I knew at that point I wanted to go to college,” she says. She came to Indiana University for the Groups Scholars Program, which was created to support first-generation college students. That’s where she met her husband, Bloomington City Council President Jim Sims.
As Sims settles into reading, scrapbooking, and taking “some time for Doris to see what Doris wants to do in her next chapter” as a new retiree, she plans to remain involved in civic work. She has held multiple board positions beyond Planned Parenthood, including the Bloomington Housing Authority, Monroe County Sheriff ’s Merit Board, and City of Bloomington Board of Public Safety, and is currently involved with the Democratic Women’s Caucus.
“I think I feel a little bit more hopeful going into the next four years than I have in the past four years,” she says. “I hope as a community that 2021 can be a year where we can look back and reflect inward as well as outward and see how we can mend any issues that we think that are important to us.”