Pulitzer prize winning journalist and Morgan State University Professor, E.R Shipp on Sept.19 , spoke at community organization Strong City Baltimore’s 29th Street Community Center as part of the Gertrude S. Williams Speaker Series.
“We were going through whole patches of blocks that looked like an abandoned city.” Shipp said. “In those rough areas, there was most likely always some house of worship, a liquor store, and a funeral home. What is that saying about us?”
Shipp moved to Baltimore four years ago and speaks candidly about her observations of Baltimore from the record high homicide rate to the supringsly low levels of civic engagement by the community.
Dressed bright and casual, Shipp addressed an intergenerational crowd of over forty people on the role of journalism in community engagement.
This event is third in a quarterly series honoring Gertrude Williams, who was principal of Barclay Elementary/Middle School from 1971-1998. Before Shipp, the series hosted leaders such as former mayor Kurt Schmoke, Adam Jackson, CEO of Leaders of a Beautiful Struggle.
For over thirty minutes, Shipp walked the crowd through her segregated childhood in Georgia and how that lead her to journalism.
Shipp was one the first Black students to attend the J. P. Carr School in Georgia after the school was integrated in the late 1960s.. She then attended the University of Georgia in 1972, which only was integrated 12 years before her arrival. She graduated in 1976 with a BA in Journalism before going to and graduating with a MS in Journalism from Columbia University.
Since then, Shipp has worked at varied newspapers including: The New York Times, The New York Daily News, The Washington Post and currently writes a bi-weekly Wednesday column for The Baltimore Sun.
“The role of writers is to be the griots,” Shipp said referring to the African oral tradition of storytelling. “We are the ones who have the memories of what has been…we are teaching people about the past and what is happening now.”
Shipp ended her speech with a story about how her family members, in frustration with the terrible conditions of the local school, burned it down in an effort to get the city to build a better one.
“We need to revive the spirit — not that we need to be arsonists,” Shipp laughed. “We need to revive the spirit that we can get things done.”