15Qs for Encore Thinkers: Jimmie Briggs, Activist Documentarian

Just who’s writing, thinking and talking about the encore movement? Encore.org’s recurring feature showcases some of the behind-the-scenes players that deserve a turn in the spotlight. 

If you want to answer the Encore 15Qs – or if there’s someone you’d like us to interview — please be in touch

Activist, documentarian and lecturer Jimmie Briggs was the founding executive director of the “Man Up” Campaign, which aims to eliminate violence directed at women and girls. Briggs continues to work to advance justice and equity, particularly in communities of color. A graduate of Morehouse College, Briggs has traveled extensively in Europe, Asia and the Middle East. He served as a consultant to Encore.org and continues to consult for nonprofits and government agencies. Presently, he is working on an oral history project in Ferguson, MO, not far from where he grew up. Briggs lives with his family in New York City.

1

You’re at a party; an interesting stranger asks about your work. How would you describe what do you do?

At this point, I simply say “I’m a messenger.”

Why do you do it?2

After trying out different hats, in the past and recently, I’ve come to realize my greatest passion and place of fulfillment is capturing and sharing stories of those whose voices are rarely heard or sought. There’s a deep sense of trust and responsibility which comes with people sharing their life experiences with you. I honor that. 

3How does your work compare with what you imagined you’d “be” when you were 7 years old? When you were 17?

Growing up I imagined I would be a doctor, from the time I was a small child. Until I spent my junior year living in Vienna, Austria during the period when the Berlin Wall opened up and the Eastern Bloc of Europe collapsed, I never imagined I could live a life observing, and documenting history and the people who make it.

4What was your first job?

My very first job was collecting recyclable aluminum cans and foil for redemption while growing up in St. Louis, Missouri.

5Who or what inspires you?

I am inspired by my wife and daughter, who encourage and motivate me every day to be a better man.

6What surprises you?

I’m constantly surprised by people’s inability, or unwillingness, to challenge their assumptions about the world, and embrace the unknown. 

7What three words (or phrases) do you imagine your close friends/family might use to describe you?

Passionate, connected, compassionate.  

8How do you handle frustration, setbacks?

Not well, but better than I did when I was younger. Now, I deal with frustration and setbacks-professional and personal-by going for a workout at the gym.

9If you had or have a mentor, what was their biggest impact on you?

The closest person I had to a mentor was Gordon Parks, who played that role personally and at a distance for so many people. His biggest impact was showing me that you can have many chapters in a life.

10What event has had the biggest impact on your life?

There have actually been two, so far. The first was the birth of my daughter, who is now 15 years old; the second was receiving a kidney transplant from my best friend after four and a half years enduring painful dialysis treatments.

11What’s the best single piece of advice you’ve received?

“Keep your head up,” from my father.  

12What’s something that very few people know about you?

My guilty pleasures are reading Entertainment Weekly, People magazine and the free daily newspapers distributed on New York City corners and subway platforms. Also, I love watching old black-and-white noir films from the 40s and 50s.

13What technology could you not live without?

I can live without technology, and have done so many times as a journalist.

14You’re on an island (without wifi) and you can only bring three books, films/shows or works of music: What are they?

I would bring the film “Les Enfants du Paradis” (“Children of Paradise,” by Marcel Carné); and the books, Price of the Ticket by James Baldwin, as well as Dispatches by Michael Herr.

15

How did you celebrate your most recent birthday?

It was low-key, as I tend to like them. I had spent the day with my wife and daughter walking around Manhattan. Then, we had a simple dinner before going to see an evening movie screening. I spent my 36th birthday in Afghanistan as the war was escalating, getting drunk and wandering the streets of Kabul with a friend. It was also the same day my grandfather died, which I didn’t know until several weeks later, after returning home to the States. After that, I lost my fervor for birthday celebrations.