Joseph Salamon, News Editor
Prominent national journalist and St. Louis native Jimmie Briggs spent time on the University of Missouri-St. Louis campus last week to connect with UMSL students. A crowd of approximately 25 students gathered in the Student Government Association Chambers in Millennium Student Center on March 15 to listen to Briggs share his life story.
Hosted by The Current Student Newspaper, the event sought to give insight into the life of a successful self-made journalist and the sacrifices he made to achieve his stature. In learning about and opening a dialogue with someone who used writing to propel their career and establish their voice on a national and international level, students were able to directly gain insight and advice from someone who was once in their position.
A St. Louis native, Briggs moved to New York city after high school and has lived on the east coast since, working with Life Magazine and the Washington Post, while also freelancing with many other publications including Vibe, Source, XXL, and Time. In the spirit of reaching and inspiring students, Briggs shared some wisdom he has learned throughout his career. “Everyone’s journey is different, especially in this field,” he said. “It takes a lot of luck and timing.”
Much of Briggs’ work focuses on disenfranchised groups across the world, as he works to give a voice to those who wouldn’t otherwise have one. “Too many stories pathologize their subjects,” Briggs said, wary that writing a story about a marginalized person or group of people could portray them as unhealthy or troubled by default. Briggs has devoted his professional life to reaching out, no matter how difficult or dangerous, to these marginalized people.
By writing internationally published stories on an AIDS crisis in East St. Louis, or covering stories pertaining to the issue of child soldiers, Briggs has worked to humanize his subjects and present their story in a just and objective manner. He pinpointed his work covering the lives of child soldiers in Rwanda and the Congo as a turning point in his journalism career. “It was like this cycle of war,” Briggs said.
After years of traveling to and from Africa to cover these psychologically jarring stories, Briggs eventually had to take a step back. “I was burned out from the grind of it,” he admitted. During his seven year hiatus from journalism, Briggs focused on tangential ways to make an impact on these issues he held closest to him.
During the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, Briggs launched the Man Up Campaign, a non-profit global initiative mobilizing young people to stop violence against women and girls through arts, sports, and technology. The initiative focuses on developing countries, mainly in Sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East, and Latin America.
Briggs returned to journalism to work on a collection of approximately 80 oral histories from St. Louisans affected by the events in Ferguson in 2014 after the Michael Brown verdict. His new project is an extension of his desire to humanize subjects in delicate stories.
Briggs was on campus throughout last week, speaking at the J.C. Penney Conference Center on March 13 and on March 16 in addition to his March 15 presentation. He wants to share his experiences with the local community he grew up around and, in doing so, inspire young people to give back to their communities as well.