Jill Carter, the ‘People’s Champion’

Race and Politics

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Sean Yoes

By Sean Yoes
AFRO Senior Reporter
syoes@afro.com

The State of Maryland has passed the most sweeping law enforcement reform measures in the nation; the same state that crafted the original and most far-reaching Law Enforcement Officers Bill of Rights in the nation. The individual bills may not be perfect. But, for the advocates of law enforcement reform, at least in my mind this moment is an unequivocal triumph and most importantly a significant step in the right direction for the people who have been terrorized by law enforcement for decades.

There are a lot of heroes in this victory for law enforcement reform in Maryland (and I’m going to write a news story about them soon). But, nobody has fought harder over the last two decades to get to this moment than Sen. Jill P. Carter, the woman known as “The People’s Champion.”

But, I want to tell a story about Sen. Carter that I’ve never told publicly.

It was Carter that helped me get my first job in journalism, my original tour of duty with the Baltimore AFRO American Newspapers in January 1989.

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Back then it was just Jill Carter; no Delegate, no Senator and at that point she had not even passed the Bar. Back then she was simply a very talented young journalist, just a year older than me. I remember a year or so after our initial meeting in December 1988, going back and reading some of her work. I remember the lead of a story, a profile she wrote (I don’t recall the gentleman’s name) and she described the subject of her story as speaking with, “a rich, staccato Southern brogue.” That granular level of detail was unique for a 20-something journalist, who was destined to become one of the most consequential Baltimore politicians of her generation.

But, back to the story.

It was December 1988, and I had been back in Baltimore for a couple of months after my first trip to Los Angeles and my first foray into the world of professional writing. At age 22, I had bought a one-way (it was my first plane ride) ticket to California in March 1988. At the urging of my girlfriend at the time, I purchased a book on screenplay writing and taught myself  how to do it.  I wrote a script for the popular NBC sitcom “A Different World,” which was my favorite show at the time. I got an agent in Beverly Hills (The Herman and Lewis Agency). They liked the script, a lot. They had conversations with the executives of the show. In fact, one of the show’s producers, a brother named Thad Mumford called my crib personally to talk about my script and lament his inability to effectively communicate with my agents. Ultimately, I didn’t sell the script, or get picked up as a writer for the show. However, I left L.A. in September of 1988, and returned to Baltimore with that script as a writing sample and a shot of confidence.

Fast forward to December 1988, and the annual Christmas party of Congressman Kwiesi Mfume (during his first stint in the House of Representatives), which was held at The Walters Art Gallery (now The Walters Art Museum). As I’m strolling through the venerable museum I see a very attractive young woman wearing a black dress. So, I started talking to her, not “mackin” just talking. She told me her name was Jill Carter and she asked me what I did. I said, I’m a writer.

That’s when she told me, (and I’m only paraphrasing a little), “Go down to the AFRO and tell Bob Matthews to give you a job. And you tell him I sent you.”

And she walked away.

A few weeks later in January 1989, I did exactly what she told me to do and I got the job.

Carter, the daughter of American civil rights icon Walter P. Carter and Zerita Joy Richardson Carter, a school teacher (and a community leader in her own right) left the AFRO about a month before I arrived. She got her law degree from the University of Baltimore in 1992, she started clerking for Judge Kenneth L. Johnson that same year and she passed the Bar Exam in 1993. 

In 2000, Carter was elected to the Maryland House of Delegates where she almost immediately earned a reputation as a firebrand and a fierce fighter for the people of her district. 

If people didn’t know at that point, Carter clearly demonstrated she was most assuredly her father’s daughter.

But, earning that title of “The People’s Champion” is often antithetical to being “a good soldier” within a brutally corrupt political machine. There are powerful forces within the Maryland Democratic political machine that have attempted to destroy Carter and her career, but to no avail. She eventually ascended to her current position as a State Senator May 4, 2018. And she keeps throwing punches.

She’s arguably the most dedicated public servant (in the truest sense of the phrase) to the people of Baltimore City since Rep. Parren J. Mitchell. 

That’s lofty praise, and she deserves it.

Sean Yoes is the AFRO’s Senior Reporter and the author of Baltimore After Freddie Gray: Real Stories From One of America’s Great Imperiled Cities.