Before he could take on some of the largest infrastructure projects in Queens, 58-year-old entrepreneur Andrew Simmons first had to rebuild his life.
His story began in Yonkers in the 1980s where his mother Lillie Pearl Simmons died from lupus when he was just 8 years old. By the age of 14, Simmons began to get in trouble with the law for using and selling drugs. He was arrested for selling drugs while packing a handgun in Harlem and by age 20 he found himself sentenced to more than a decade behind bars. That’s where he began to turn his life around.
“I became a jailhouse lawyer,” Simmons told QNS.
He began studying case law while taking college courses and while he was providing legal assistance to fellow inmates, Simmons filed motions that eventually led to the dismissal of the gun charge. He was released after serving just over seven years in prison. Simmons credited his jailhouse lawyering for impressing attorneys at the New York City-based law firm Debevoise & Plimpton so much that they hired him as a paralegal upon his release.
Simmons went on to establish Long Island-based two companies — A&S Rebar and Lashay’s Construction and Development — which work in tandem on infrastructure projects including the redevelopment of LaGuardia and JFK airports, the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, the Queens Midtown Tunnel and the recently completed Kew Gardens Interchange reconfiguration.
“We were working on that project for three years working on 10 overpasses, sometimes around the clock with workers doing double shifts,” Simmons said.
A&S is the only Black-owned rebar supplier and fabricator in the northeast and Lachay provides subcontractors on the construction projects. Simmons also started a nonprofit that develops affordable housing and is outspoken regarding criminal justice reform and creating opportunities for Black and Brown business owners in construction.
In addition to his more than 100 full-time employees, Simmons looks for additional workers in Queens who need work to stay off the streets and out of trouble. His philosophy is to stay humble and give a hand up to those who need it.
“I got out in my late 20s and to this day I’m hiring the formerly incarcerated under the My Brother’s Keeper program,” Simmons said. “I started that program in 1997 with the concept of helping young people who are out on the street selling drugs and the ones that are coming home from prison.”
He focuses mainly on younger adults who are at risk.
“I got trapped off of being out there running the streets at 15 years old, selling drugs,” Simmons said. “I didn’t have many role models out there at that time, and there was no one to prevent me from even going to prison, so I figured that if I can be a role model for them and help to stop the recidivism, it can mean a lot to me to give something back.”
He also coaches them to take advantage of mentorship programs wherever they can find them
“I’ve been through almost all the mentor programs at the New York School Construction Authority, MTA, New York, New Jersey Port Authority, and they’ve been very successful,” Simmons said. “And I have grown in scale and I’m very grateful to say that I stood on the shoulders of a lot of great people that mentored me, and paved the way for me to get where I am today.”