Editor’s note: This is the second in a series of articles looking at the lives of three Rockdale residents who were recently inducted into the Rockdale Black Heritage Hall of Fame and presented with Lifetime Achievement Awards.
As an associate professor and founding faculty member in the School of Global Journalism & Communication at Morgan State University in Baltimore, Rockdale County native E.R. Shipp is able to pursue many of her passions, most notably journalism, education and activism.
“Part of my motivation is I always tell people I see myself as kind of a combination of (journalist) Ida B. Wells and (author and anthropologist) Zora Neale Hurston and (educator) Mary McLeod Bethune — all powerful women.
“All of it does tie in to some extent, to activism because of the notion that I want future generations to be equipped to be the full-fledged citizens we’re all supposed to be.”
Shipp, who in 1996 won the Pulitzer Prize for commentary as a columnist for the New York Daily News, is also a history enthusiast and has been researching her family history for nearly three decades.
Earlier this year, she returned to Conyers to give a talk on black historical sites in Rockdale County and two years ago was instrumental — along with Rockdale County Board of Education Chair Katrina McCollum Young and the Rev. Aldren Sadler Sr. — in the establishment of Black Heritage of Rockdale County, from which the Black Heritage Hall of Fame sprung.
“We wanted to have a way to get people to know more about history, and there was a sense that a lot of black newcomers to Rockdale had no respect for black old-timers because they didn’t think we’d ever done anything and had no history,” she said.
At the inaugural Black Heritage Hall of Fame induction in March, Shipp, educator Jacquelyn Belcher and educator and longtime Conyers City Council member Cleveland Stroud were recognized with the Lifetime Achievement Award.
Shipp, who also taught at Columbia University in New York for nearly a dozen years and served as the ombudsman at the Washington Post for three years, said she was surprised and pleased by the award.
“Essentially we were memorializing a lot of people who had come before,” she said. “We were launching the hall of fame, so we’ll be continually adding people who are still with us who are doing significant things to advance a better understanding of the contributions of blacks in the Rockdale area. This was part of that.
“I was more interested in honoring those of the past for the first round, but others decided to come up with this Lifetime Achievement Award. I was not aware of it until they announced it. It’s an honor and I’m glad.”
Shipp, who said all the classes she teaches at the historically black university since the journalism school was established in 2013 have “a heavy dose of history,” led a communication law and ethics class in the spring and is involved in a host of school-related projects preparing the newsgatherers of the future.
“You have to be creative when you’re a small, state-supported school because sometimes the legislature may cut your funding and you end up having to be more creative in finding other funding,” she said. “One of the things our deans have done in the school is to form alliances with other schools that for various reasons need to show they’re doing to something to address a lack of diversity.”
Morgan State students have worked with budding journalists from Brigham Young and West Virginia on several projects, including an award-winning multimedia report on the 50th anniversary of “Bloody Sunday” in Selma, Alabama (www.bridgingselma.com), and a report on food deserts. A new collaboration with students from West Virginia will focus on the opioid crisis and its impact on families and children in Maryland and West Virginia.
Shipp will also spend three weeks this summer in New York City — “My old stomping ground,” she quipped — preparing the blueprint for Morgan State students to work with the writers and editors of the Wall Street Journal.
“We’re also developing a way to diversify the profession in a way, especially in the area of business journalism, so we have a new partnership with the Wall Street Journal,” said Shipp, who will serve as the faculty liaison on the initiative.
“There are a number of students — 10 — will get the benefit of being mentored by people at the Wall Street Journal and we’ll have master classes at our school and students will go to NYC and the Washington bureau to shadow journalists … The idea is to create a pipeline of people, kids of color, to go into this field of journalism.”