JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - Isis Smalls has always been on the front row of her big sister Jade‘s dreams.
“So she was always the little girl that was getting dragged along to everything,” said Jade Simmons.
“Everything,” Smalls said with a knowing look.
“She took those things even more seriously than I did,” Simmons said.
Whether it was a basketball game or Simmons’ near miss with being Miss America 2000, Smalls was there to cheer for her big sister, and then cry for her if it didn’t go her way. Years later, Simmons would coach Smalls through her plunge into the pageant world, helping her to win the title of Miss Houston 2014.
With 12 years between them, they’re very different, but their laughs, their smiles, their ambitions and their faith are very similar. Smalls and Simmons are now on the ride of both of their lives, one they call “Operation Restoration.”
What is that, exactly? It’s a dream that now belongs to both of them: To get Jade on the ballot for the 2020 presidential election. Smalls knows Simmons can do it. Matter of fact, she’s convinced her sister can win the White House.
“Seeing her conquer each level with such greatness. College, getting almost a quarter of a million dollars in scholarship money, I’m like, ‘Yeah, that’s a hero, that’s a superstar,‘” she said. “Moving on, being first runner up to miss America, that’s a superstar.”
Simmons is also a motivational speaker and concert pianist, a wife, mother, daughter and sister. Her enthusiasm is contagious, as is her laugh. To talk to the sisters, it’s evident they’re cut from the same cloth.
The daughters of civil rights warrior Jerome and prayer warrior Loretta Smalls, they say running on the faith that America can once again be one nation under God is a major part of their campaign.
People have told Simmons to scale back on the God stuff. Her answer? A kind smile and a big “Nope.” This is a ministry as much as a campaign.
“Competition is a part of who we are, but we knew this couldn’t be about competition, it had to be about the mission. It’s about love, it’s about restoration,” Simmons said. “And when you really think about what that word means, it’s about coming back together.”
Smalls and Simmons, raised by their parents to serve in the image of Christ, said that the White House is the goal, but the message of hope and unity is the most important part of this adventure they’re on.
“The most powerful part of the ministry aspect to me is that we get to imbue courage and boldness and daring to dream big. When we talk about our faith openly, it’s supposed to be political suicide. It’s been the opposite,” Simmons said. “People want to believe again, and I do believe our faith -- we’re unapologetic about it. We want to be a counterexample of what it means to be a servant leader.”
The sisters say they’re trying to reach out to people who may not completely identify with either party. But the conversation is open to anyone who wants to have it.
“Even if you’re hardcore Democrat or hardcore Republican, we can still have a good conversation,” Smalls said. “I can still respect you, I still want to know where you come from, so even just those moments have been ministry on the ground.”
As the sisters have traveled, they’ve come across people of all walks of life who are frustrated with the current political scene. The Simmons camp itself is a reflection of the people they’re reaching, they said. People of all ages, races, genders, and walks of life.
“The people who volunteer for Operation Restoration, you’d never think they’d even go to the same birthday party, let alone be a part of the same party. We are sort of a partyless party, we feel like the landing place for millions of Americans who are politically homeless,” Simmons said.
And some would say no matter how big the undertaking or how long the campaign trail may be, when you’re traveling the country with your sister, you’re not homeless anywhere you land.
“These daily victories, like the fact we have people of all different races, all different backgrounds on this journey with us, that’s a victory,” Smalls said. “So we love to win on the way to winning, and when we don’t win it’s something of a shock.”
This could be her year, Simmons said.
“We would not be doing this if we didn’t see a way to win. We see a path to the White House,” Simmons said. “We think there’s a powerful moment of disruption for people who are looking at the two options and they don’t see themselves. And even if they’re looking at me and I’m a black woman and they’re not, they’re saying, ‘I hear myself, I hear my heart,’ and it resonates. We think America is ready for a pretty big shakeup and we believe that this is the year that it’s going to happen.”
“We literally believe anything is possible,” she said. “When it doesn’t happen, we’re like, ‘I don’t understand.’ So that’s our mentality.”
Operation Restoration will stay in Jackson one more day before they head to Tennessee.