“It’s my city.”
1988 grad works for change through political career
June 17, 2016
Delegate Jill Carter was born and raised in Baltimore—and has never considered leaving her city. Carter, an attorney, has served as the 41st district representative in the Maryland House of Delegates since 2003, when she defeated four incumbents in the Democratic primary. Today she lives and serves in Baltimore, striving to make the city a better place for all to live.
Long before her political career began, Carter was a child growing up in Ashburton, a neighborhood in the northwestern area of Baltimore City that has been home to many prominent African-Americans.
She graduated from Western High School before coming to Loyola on a full scholarship and graduating with a bachelor’s in English in 1988. After working as a journalist for The Afro American newspaper, she earned her law degree from University of Baltimore School of Law.
“Over the years, especially after I graduated from Loyola, people often asked why I didn’t leave Baltimore. I never understood that question. It’s my city,” Carter said.
“There was a village that raised me here, and that’s the village I love. I want to do my part to create that same loving and nurturing environment for the youth here today. Many of them, sadly, don’t have it—and it’s within our control to make that happen.”
Like father, like daughter
Carter’s father, Walter P. Carter, was a central figure in the Civil Rights Movement in Baltimore. He organized several demonstrations against discrimination and segregated housing and was a founding member of Activists for Fair Housing. In addition to teaching sociology at Loyola, he served as a civil rights consultant to the Jesuits.
He passed away suddenly in 1971 at age 48. Several buildings throughout the city—a school, recreation center, medical center, and community center—were named in his honor.
As a young girl, her mother explained to Carter that when her father wasn’t home, he was out fighting for their freedom. After his death, Carter asked a simple question: Who’s going to fight for freedom and equality now?
“I’ve always felt I was born to carry out that legacy and continue the fight,” Carter said.
Carter didn’t realize the full impact her father’s legacy had on her until she made a career move she never anticipated making. In 2002 Carter was the executive director of the Maryland Minority Business Association. Members of the association complained that there were no champions for minority business or enterprise in the legislature and convinced Carter to run for office.
People began reaching out to her, telling her she’d be a wonderful legislator. After thinking it over with mentors and friends, she decided to run. She campaigned and won, becoming the third African-American female attorney elected to the Maryland Legislature.
Carter has experienced both success and adversity during her time in office. As her father struggled with leaders and power in Baltimore in the 1960s, she has found a similar struggle in the legislature.
One of her first bills focused on lead poisoning in children, an issue Carter continues to address in the General Assembly, which mandated that Baltimore City Public Schools eliminate the lead in water so that schools could turn on the water fountains instead of buying bottled water. Today many of the city’s schools still can’t turn on their water fountains.
In 2012 Carter sponsored a bill called Christopher’s Law, which requires police officers to have additional training in CPR, cultural sensitivity, use of force, and sensitivity to individuals with disabilities. The bill was named after Christopher Brown, who was killed in a June 2012 altercation with a Baltimore County police officer. He was 17. The law was signed by Maryland’s governor in 2014.
The need for change
The events that unfolded in Baltimore following the death of Freddie Gray gave Carter a sense of similarity to her father’s experiences during the Civil Rights Movement.
The fight is not just for those who are being oppressed, she said. In the wake of the Baltimore unrest, Carter saw protesters of all backgrounds unite to stand up for fairness and equality in Baltimore and beyond.
“I don’t believe I’m a champion for justice because I’m black. I believe I am a champion for justice because I am aware it exists. God created all people equally, and they should be treated equally. This is a fight for everyone.”
Carter is optimistic about Baltimore’s future because of the young people who are ready for change in the city they call home.
“We have people, like myself, with the energy and the sense of history joining with people who are of the millennial generation—people who are in Baltimore and see the need for change,” Carter said. “We have all the right ingredients to make it happen.”