PAWTUCKET—“I figured I had seen it all,” said Jimmie Briggs. “I thought I was tough, but seeing these little kids with AK-47s and 9 millimeter handguns was surreal. They were fighting on the frontlines in this war in the jungle.”
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Briggs spent close to eight years traveling to war zones as a journalist. He witnessed child soldiers forced into combat, was haunted by the heartbreaking stories of survivors of genocide, and was incredibly moved by the brutal accounts of rape and mutilation of women across the world.
“In what I did, there was always some element of violence and always some victimization of women and girls around me,” he said.
“I wanted to help shine light on these issues and do more to honor the people and their stories.”
Briggs hit a nerve at St. Raphael Academy after he challenged students to join a campaign to end violence against women and girls.
The high school recently welcomed the international activist and executive director of Man Up, a global campaign to activate youth to stop violence against women and girls through the arts, sports and technology.
The campaign challenges individuals to “man up” and demand an end to the abuse and violence against females in their own families, communities, and worldwide.
“The stories have the biggest impact,” said Briggs. “I was trying to personalize these issues because it really resonates with people.”
Determined to start a Man Up chapter at the school, members of the St. Raphael Academy community found the message to be very compelling.
Senior Andres Taborda said that many of his fellow students felt encouraged to deal with issues of violence they see in their own lives.
“It’s so eye opening,” Taborda said.
“It makes us realize how threatened our society is. The students were really interested in what Jimmie had to say. There is going to be a very big movement here. We want this small school in Pawtucket to really get the ball rolling in the state of Rhode Island.”
Senior Savannah FitzGerald said that her desire to do humanitarian work after she graduates was only fueled by Briggs’ message.
“I’m completely moved by all of this,” she explained. “He is so inspiring. This has motivated me to pursue my ideas and better this school. It also gives me hope about my generation. That there are people who want to actively better the lives of others.”
Junior Patrick Miranda shared that the presentation was very inspirational.
“It’s a sensitive topic that people don’t really touch upon, but they really need to hear,” said Miranda. “And he’s been through all of it.”
Briggs’ address to the Saint Raphael Academy students was also part of a yearlong series of presentations and workshops for students on reverence, respect and right relationships. The series was launched by President-Principal Donohue-Lynch to support the school's comprehensive approach to the issue of bullying.
Principal Donohue-Lynch shared that the response from the students has been very thoughtful.
“I felt encouraged by their genuine care about this serious issue,” she explained. “Our mission of attending to the needs of the individual student allows us to place certain issues, such as violence and bullying, within the context of our Catholic identity.”
Briggs reminded the students that change takes time, encouraging them to move with faith.
“They may not see the fruits of their efforts right away,” he said. “To be truly successful they have to think long-term. They want to see immediate results sometimes. I encourage their passion, but I also warn students to temper their expectations and to not get disappointed if they don't see change right away.”
He added that the stories young people share with him have a powerful affect on him personally and reinforce his own motivation to continue.
"There was a student that shared a story with me that was so moving and compelling," he said. "When young people feel comfortable or moved to share their personal story with me it is very affirming and it reinforces the need for conversations like these, but also the need for efforts such as Man Up. I'm glad and excited they are going to going start a Man Up chapter and I will do whatever I can do to help them.”
Briggs invited the students to educate themselves on an aspect of this issue that calls to them.
“Being a man is not about being apathetic,” he said. “It’s about holding other men accountable. It’s about stepping in. You have the power to change your environment. You can’t complain about it if you don’t try to change it. We have to have faith that people can change. You have the responsibility to do something about it. You just have to say something.”
To learn more about?the Man Up campaign, visit www.manupcampaign.org