Persephone Pioneers: Jimmie Briggs

Jimmie Briggs is someone who has devoted the better part of his life to giving a voice to those who are disenfranchised and often go unheard or misrepresented. As a journalist and activist, he has focused his work on examining child warfare and the circumstances that lead to children being forcefully or desperately recruited into conflict, slavery and trauma. His book, Innocents Lost: When Child Soldiers Go To War, is a six-year investigation into the lives of child soldiers in countries like Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, Uganda and Columbia. His work on these social issues led to his appointment as a Goodwill Ambassador and Special Envoy for Children and Armed Conflict by the U.N., a further commitment to his mission of the documentation and education of people on the affects of war. His most recent project,The Man Up Campaign, is a global-grassroots campaign that works with young people to empower and inspire them into taking action to stop sexual and physical violence against women. His most recent book, The Wars Women Fight: Dispatches From A Father To His Daughter, is a portrait of violence perpetrated against women in conflict regions, as well as an ongoing letter to his young daughter on the reasons why continues doing the work he does. It has been a privilege and a truly humbling experience to be able to speak with him on his work and learn more about the activism that he is dedicated to.

PM: You are the executive director and co-founder of Man Up, a global campaign that stands against domestic violence. Can you tell us a bit about the program, your role in it and why you started Man Up?

JB: Man Up was something I envisioned three years ago while still working as a journalist. At the time, I was doing research for a book on sexual violence in conflict and rape as a weapon of war. Ultimately deciding to step back, I began to conceive of the initiative which became Man Up. Formally launched last year in South Africa, during the 2010 FIFA World Cup, the campaign is now actively working with youth between the ages of 18-30 years old in 25 countries around the world, mainly sub-Saharan Africa and the Americas.

PM: As a journalist, you have predominantly covered the issue of child warfare and how children are enlisted to fight in violent conflict due to poverty or force and are often drugged, enslaved and sexually assaulted. How did you get involved with this social issue – were you always interested in it?

JB: I definitely was not always interest in the issue of child soldiers and war-affected children. Previously, I had done quite a few stories on young people here in the States, particularly on violence and the impact of poverty and HIV/AIDS. It wasn’t until I was sent to Zaire (née Democratic Republic of Congo) in 1997 that I began to explore the impact of war on childhood.

PM: How did you get started as a journalist?

JB: My first job in journalism was sorting mail in the mailroom of the Washington Post. I eventually began writing freelance pieces for the Style section, which led to a reporting internship in New York with the Village Voice.


The Man Up Campaign. Images Credited to

Innocents Lost: When Child Soldiers Go To War


PM: Did the experience in covering child warfare further push you to write Innocents Lost: When Child Soldiers Go To War?  How did you start to write this book?

JB: It was after having initial exposure to child soldiers in eastern Zaire in 1997, which led me to writing the book. Of course, it took much longer than expected to complete it but the kernel of the idea was planted then. At the time I was working on staff at LIFE magazine.

PM: What was the day-to-day like when you were meeting the children and people affected most by the conflict and forced recruitment?  In turn, what were your experiences then writing about it?

JB: It was extraordinarily draining, emotionally. I was constantly on edge and began having nightmares and internalized trauma because of what I was seeing and hearing. The time period of investigating that issue wasn’t the easiest one by any means. In the course of working on that book I ended up having PTSD and had to take time off away from it.

PM: What do you think the most common misconception around child warfare is?  Do you feel that our media does a good job of reporting on these conflicts and the issue’s you have witnessed?

JB: The most common misconception around child warfare is probably that the kids want to be in the combat situation. That they have a choice. In truth, they often have no authority in their destinies and are typically taken by force. By and large, the popular media tends to sensationalize child warfare and misrepresent who child soldiers are and why they exist.

PM: Did you ever fear that in documenting these experiences and meeting the people involved in these conflicts, that somehow you would not be able to give a platform to them and honor their experience?

JB: I never feared I’d be unable to give a platform to the experiences of the people whom I met. To be sure, I wasn’t as prepared to do conflict reporting as I should have but within myself I’ve always recognized the stubbornness and persistence I possess. It may take longer than intended to accomplish something or complete a project, but I’m not one to give up easily. I knew I could get the stories out in some way, through multiple venues if necessary.

PM: When you were in places like Columbia and the Congo, witnessing these stories, did you experience a certain amount of trauma from being exposed to these situations?

JB: I was quite traumatized by what I witnessed, but didn’t realize it initially. After my first trip to Sri Lanka in 2000, I essentially “hit the wall” and recognized I had some issues. I tried several traditional options then finally found the assistance I needed through the Dart Center for Trauma and Journalism.

PM: Now you are writing The Wars Women Fight: Dispatches From A Father To His Daughter, a look at how women in conflict regions like Iraq, the Congo and Haiti suffer extreme sexual violence and rape during periods of conflict. What are you hoping to show with this book? Has it been hard to write and be exposed to these violences when you are a father?

JB: The book on which I’m currently working serves multiple purposes. One is to raise awareness of the issue of violence against women through the lives of remarkable individuals fighting it every single day. To look at the issue through the lens of empowerment and resistance, not victimhood. The other aim is to help my daughter- now nine years old- understand why I do what I do, often leaving her to go away. I’m not sure which aim is more important but I’m hoping I can balance the tone of a dedicated journalist with that of a committed father.

PM: You have been appointed as a Goodwill Ambassador and Special Envoy for Children and Armed Conflict by WAFUNIF at the United Nations ““ what does this mean for your future work?

JB: To be honest, I don’t think about it all that much. It was a recognition bestowed in response to the publication of my first book and the advocacy work I was beginning to do around the issue of child soldiers and war-affected children. Regardless of the distinctions I receive- or not- I have a clear sense of the work to which I must dedicate myself.

To find out more on Man Up, or for volunteer and internship opportunities, check out their website at or you can contact Jimmie ( or program director Aimee O’Lee ( for details.