In commemorating women who have left a mark in our nation’s history, it’s important to also acknowledge men who have taken on women’s issues. That’s the very reason once a week during Women’s History Month, through our “Honorable Mention” article, we’re paying tribute to men and their efforts to tackle issues that influence the lives of women and girls.
This week, we’re honoring Jimmie Briggs.
A former journalist, Briggs has spent his life writing stories that need to be told. Now Jimmie's moved into the role of activist and advocate. “Journalists are the pretense of objectivity. And I don't want to be objective anymore,” Jimmie says.
Jimmie’s latest initiative, Man Up, involves a coalition of organizations that aim to inform and inspire young people to tackle gender violence on behalf of future generations. The collective uses soccer and hip hop as the central tools to reach out to youth, boys and girls alike, and engage them in a proactive plan of attack against gender violence in their respective regions and countries. In the Congo and Nigeria, they’re working with youth to confront rape as a weapon of war; in Guatemala and Mexico, they’re tackling femicide; in the Balkans, trafficking and prostitution, in Europe and the U.S., domestic violence. “Whatever form of gender violence is most threatening and pernicious in one country or region, that’s where we start.”
Jimmie describes the initiative’s strategy as “very from the bottom up.” They intend on engaging youth through those things they are passionate about – soccer and music.
“Soccer is arguably the global sport,” Jimmie insists, and that’s no exaggeration. For evidence, one only needs to watch a World Cup game to witness the furor and boisterousness of the fans in the stands and the ardor of the players on the fields. And so it makes sense that Jimmie would choose soccer as a tool to reach youth.
Briggs also sees hip hop music as a key way to reach into communities across the globe. “It thrives in many areas and they’ve adapted hip hop culture and music to their own cultures and music. There’s potential there to engage young people in Japan, South Africa, Brazil, Korea, Honduras, all over. Young people across the globe are embracing hip hop and taking it back to its roots as a tool for social change and empowerment and advocacy.”
So what separates Man Up from other organizations working against gender based violence? Unlike the reactive nature of many of these groups, Briggs recognizes that it’s time to be preventative. And Briggs also recognizes that youth are can play an extraordinary role in the movement. “We can plant the seeds then water the seeds, with young people around the world, and I believe their efforts will take root.”
Briggs latest book is a testament to his belief in the healing power of youth. “The Wars Women Fight,” due for release next year, is a collection of letters to his young daughter Mariela. Briggs confesses that his conversations with women across the world and here in the U.S. prompted him to speak directly to Mariela in hopes of arming her with truth and compassion, and the strength to defend and represent women everywhere.
“I owe it to all those people who shared their stories with me and opened up their lives to do whatever I can,” Jimmie said during an interview with Tonic.com. “I’d like to believe that if I didn’t have a daughter I would still care about this issue, that I would bring compassion and passion and energy and obsession… but I don’t know. Maybe I’d be like most men and see this as a women’s issue. But the reality is I do have a daughter, I’ve spent time with women around the world, I’ve cried with women around the world who’ve endured horrible atrocities. And those two realities in particular have led me to this place.”
Briggs is no newbie to documenting the inexplicable violence that pervades many societies. His last book, “Innocents Lost: When Child Soldiers Go to War,” involved visiting war torn countries around the world and speaking to soldiers and army leaders. So tireless and fervent was his commitment to the cause, he was named United Nations Goodwill Ambassador and Special Envoy to Children in Armed Conflict.
When asked how the Do Something Generation can get involved in the fight against gender based violence, Jimmie shares what he’s told young people at high schools and youth groups across the country: “It’s not productive to take steps without knowing where you’re going. Learn first then you can make informed decisions on what to do… Then ask yourself: what are you good at? Can you draw, dance, whatever? Think about how you can use your interests and talents to directly get involved. Read up on what other organizations are doing around the issue and see if you can find a way to contribute to the cause, think about using your talents in a productive way.”
Jimmie also wants young people to know that they don’t have to wait for someone to lead them. “You can make an impact right now. You have the power. You have the voice. It’s up to you to use it… Individuals get tired, movement don’t.”
It is for this very inspirational attitude and diligent work that Jimmie Briggs is our Honorable Mention of the week.