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Emory alum Doug Shipman elected Atlanta City Council president

Doug Shipman, the incoming president of the Atlanta City Council, moved to Atlanta to attend Emory as a Woodruff Scholar. A 1995 Emory College graduate and former Emory Alumni Board president, Shipman won the seat in the Nov. 30 runoff. Photo via DougShipman.com

When Doug Shipman moved to Atlanta to attend Emory, he never thought he would one day hold one of the highest offices in city government. Shipman, a 1995 graduate of Emory College of Arts and Sciences and former president of the Emory Alumni Board, was elected president of the Atlanta City Council in the Nov. 30 runoff election.

“I came from a very small town in rural Arkansas and I was in awe of the size of Atlanta,” Shipman recalled in an interview Dec. 2. “I remember driving up the connector from the airport and just staring at the traffic and the buildings. I couldn't have imagined then the journey in Atlanta that would include serving in city government as well as leading the Woodruff Arts Center and building the Center for Civil and Human Rights.”

A longtime civic leader in Atlanta, Shipman is a newcomer to elected office. He will take the helm of the Atlanta City Council on Jan. 3, when new city leaders are inaugurated, including incoming Mayor Andre Dickens, also elected in Tuesday’s runoff.

Shipman ran for the post because “it is a real crossroads moment for Atlanta” and “the City Council president is a consensus-building role,” he explained in the final episode of his “Donuts with Doug” podcast. 

“To me, my particular, extraordinary Atlanta journey of working across lines that sometimes divide us, working across the cultural community, working across private and public sectors, working with philanthropies — that felt like the right skill set to try to bring the city together in new ways,” he said.

Shipman has built bridges with communities across Atlanta and beyond through his roles as the founding CEO of the National Center for Civil and Human Rights, which he led from 2007 to 2015, and as CEO of the Woodruff Arts Center from 2017 to 2020. He was CEO of BrightHouse Consulting from 2015 to 2017. 

As a volunteer, Shipman currently serves on the board of trustees of The Carter Center, which was founded in 1982 by President Jimmy Carter and his wife, Rosalynn Carter, in partnership with Emory. He is also a board member for the Atlanta International School and formerly served on the boards of the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce, Midtown Alliance and Atlanta Convention and Visitors Bureau, among other organizations.

After earning his undergraduate degree in political science and economics from Emory, Shipman continued his education with a master’s degree in theology and public policy from Harvard Divinity School and a master’s in public policy from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government.

As an Emory alumnus, he has remained deeply engaged with the university, including previously serving as a member and president of the Emory Alumni Board. He currently serves on the Emory Arts Advisory Board and co-chaired the University Task Force on the Arts with Kevin Karnes, now associate dean for the arts in Emory College. In 2019, he received the Community Impact Arts Advocate Award from the Emory College Center for Creativity and Arts.

Emory: ‘A time of exploration’ 

Shipman came to Emory in 1991 as a Woodruff Scholar. As senior class orator for Emory College in 1995, when he graduated magna cum laude, he called on his fellow graduates “to honestly assess our society and use our education to rectify its injustices.”

“Commit yourself to do more than live; challenge yourself to improve, to affect, to impact our world,” he urged. 

What he learned at Emory helped in many ways to prepare him to do just that, both in prior roles and as Atlanta City Council president. 

“Definitely classes regarding politics as well as data analysis set the stage for the way I think about policy and politics,” Shipman said. “I also studied issues of race, religion, gender, sexuality and class while at Emory — all of which have long shaped my view on issues of inclusiveness, equity and history.”

He lists his “single most important experience at Emory” as taking a course on theology and the Civil Rights Movement taught by Robert Franklin — then a professor at Candler School of Theology and now Laney Professor in Moral Leadership — “which set me on the path of connecting history, religion, politics and social justice.” 

Shipman has often credited his Emory years with broadening his perspective, setting the stage for his future work.

“In a lot of ways, without Emory, I would not have been here to do this,” Shipman said in a 2015 interview about the opening of the National Center for Civil and Human Rights.

And he learned as much outside the classroom as inside, he noted then.

Growing up white in Bull Shoals, Arkansas, he had few opportunities to forge friendships with those different from him. But at Emory, he reached out to learn and build connections.

“To come from a small town in Arkansas with no diversity and become immersed in those conversations — those are exactly the conversations we had developing the Center and the conversations we hope people have visiting the Center,” Shipman said.

His four years on campus even included meeting his future wife, Dr. Bijal Shah, in a macroeconomics class, he told the Emory Wheel in a 2014 interview. In addition to graduating from Emory College, Shah earned her MD from Emory’s School of Medicine and is now an associate professor in the Department of Emergency Medicine and an ER physician at Grady Memorial Hospital.

When the Wheel asked his advice to Emory students, “Take risks!” Shipman said. 

“Emory provides the opportunity to explore new topics, take on leadership roles, meet very different kinds of people, play with ideas. It should be a time of exploration, not just professional exploration,” he explained. “I couldn’t have seen my work coming when in college, but my intellectual exploration allowed me to lay the groundwork for professional endeavors to come.”