An aerial view of Healy Circle
Category: University News

Title: Georgetown Awards Funding to 5 Projects That Support Descendant Communities

The Fund will award two phases of grants per year and will begin accepting applications for the next round in the coming weeks.

“The Reconciliation Fund is a collective effort — an example of our community’s deep commitment to the possibilities that can emerge when we work in partnership to advance Reconciliation,” says Georgetown President John J. DeGioia. “We are honored to recognize these inaugural recipients and are deeply grateful for their meaningful and important work to advance equity and justice.”  

The five projects, located in Maryland and Louisiana, have a variety of goals and communities they’ll reach, including engaging young adults in rebuilding blighted homes in New Orleans; providing free legal services to families of loved ones with severe mental illnesses; uniting and connecting members of the Descendant community; launching a high school tutoring program that’s co-organized by a Descendant and Georgetown community members; and providing educational programming for children. 

The Reconciliation Fund, which was inspired by a student referendum, began accepting its first applications last fall. Students and Descendants worked together to review and recommend the five awardee projects. 

Student and Descendant Collaboration

The Reconciliation Fund’s Student Awards Committee led the application process in consultation with the Descendant Advisory Committee over the summer and fall of 2022. 

Once the application launched in October, members of the Descendant Advisory Committee helped share news about the Reconciliation Fund with fellow Descendants and information about projects in their communities. The application also included questions on whether applicants had any known connections to the committees or to the Descendant community. 

After the committees reviewed and discussed applications in a joint meeting, student leaders interviewed a select number of project applicants in early spring of this year. They ultimately recommended allocating funding to five individual groups and organizations totalling $200,000, which the Fund’s University Review Board approved in March of this year. 

Zac Colon (G’26), vice chair of the Student Awards Committee, said that members of the Descendants Advisory Committee helped students better understand their communities’ histories and priorities, and that in the end, they chose projects that demonstrated a long-term community impact on future generations.

“Some of these projects are already well on their way to being successful and we’re just opening the door for them to branch out and get necessary resources.

Man with a mustache wears a suit and red tie
Lee Baker, a member of the Descendant Advisory Committee.

While others, like Starting from Day 1 and Mon Petit Maringouin, we hope to provide the foundation for these programs to leave a long lasting impact on Descendant communities,” he said. “My hope is that when I’m graduating from Georgetown, these programs will still be running strong.”

Lee Baker, a member of the Descendant Advisory Committee, said that the inaugural funds are a step toward reconciliation and “transformational relationships between the university, especially students, and Descendants of the GU272.”

“In the wake of the anniversary of Georgetown University’s public admission, acknowledgement and acceptance of its history owed in part to the GU272 — although I still believe so much work and trust-building is before us — I applaud this initial funding moment,” says Baker. “It is a win for those who commit toward reconciliation and restorative justice, especially with a collective input from both students and Descendants in the spirit of ‘for us, about us and by us.’”

Learn more about each of the inaugural recipients of the Reconciliation Fund and how they are making a difference in the communities they serve.

1. Uniting Communities of Descendants

Four side-by-side headshots of leaders of the Southern Maryland Descendant Gatherings, a recipient of Georgetown's Reconciliation Fund.
(From left to right) The Southern Maryland Descendant Gatherings is led by members Steve Hawkins, Francine Hawkins, Henrietta J. Pike and Julie Hawkins-Ennis.

The Project: The Southern Maryland Descendant Gatherings will unite members of the Descendant community, particularly those whose ancestors were separated when they were enslaved on Jesuit plantations in Maryland. 

What They’ll Do: Beginning this summer, the Southern Maryland Descendant Gathering Committee will host gatherings in Southern Maryland that connect and build community among Descendants, honor and showcase their ancestors’ history, pass on their faith, and support individual and group genealogical projects. Families attending the gatherings will visit the sites of the former Jesuit plantations in Maryland. The Committee is also partnering with the GU272 Descendants Association to locate Descendants whose ancestors were enslaved on Jesuit plantations and help preserve their ancestors’ memory and continue to unite communities. 

What This Project Means: “As Descendants of Jesuit Enslaved Ancestors, we are building the future that our ancestors envisioned,” says Henrietta Pike, chairperson of the Southern Maryland Descendant Gathering Committee. “This project will help us pass on our rich legacy of family and faith. We appreciate the investment in this outreach project to connect and expand the Descendant community.”

2. Eliminating Legal Barriers for Mental Health Support

Advocates of the Healing Minds NOLA project pictured at the official launch of the organization in December 2022.
Advocates of the Healing Minds NOLA project pictured at the official launch of the organization in December 2022.

The Project: The Healing Minds NOLA project will provide free legal services to help individuals with serious mental illnesses access appropriate treatment and care in Louisiana. 

What They’ll Do: The project will help eliminate funding barriers for families who have loved ones who are unable to care for themselves so that they can stay in a hospital for an appropriate amount of time and access psychiatric treatment and recovery. The funding will help families pay for legal services, including attorney fees and petitions for long-term treatment and involuntary outpatient treatment, which they otherwise may be unable to afford.

What This Project Means: “Unlike some of our clients who have resources, others are hand-cuffed to help loved ones needing long-term commitments because they cannot afford attorney fees. With the Reconciliation Fund award, we will have the ability to remove this barrier that otherwise often leads to the over-representation of people living with serious mental illness in jails/prisons, homelessness and never-ending acute psychiatric hospitalizations,” says Janet Hays, director of Healing Minds NOLA.

“Every day, I hear from families and people we have been able to help how grateful they are. When we are able to make people whole, families strengthen and communities are made economically and physically healthier.”

3. Engaging Young Adults To Build Affordable Homes in New Orleans

(Left photo): (From left to right) Assistant Construction Manager Ra’gene Barrett; Executive Director Prince Holmes; Site Supervisor Ronjay Brown; and Construction Manager John Coyle present a custom-built dog house designed and built by YRNO interns for a fundraiser in October 2022. (Right photo:) YRNO Executive Director Prince Holmes (right) pictured at a closing on the second home YRNO constructed in the Lower 9th Ward in New Orleans.

The Project: Youth Rebuilding New Orleans’ summer and year-round program Reforming Employment Build Program offers young adults internships in construction, providing them with career development training in financial literacy and leadership while renovating homes in underserved communities in New Orleans. 

What They’ll Do: The Rebuild project will employ 15 or more interns who are interested in pursuing a career in construction to build a three-bedroom home in New Orleans. The interns, ages 16-21, will receive two months of training, learning carpentry and life skills to help prepare them for the workforce. The funding will also allow the nonprofit to provide five more homeowners with affordable home repairs. The project is part of Youth Rebuilding New Orleans’ (YRNO) overall mission to engage young adults in renovating and building affordable, new homes to benefit New Orleans’ community. The homes are sold to educators, first responders and health care workers at a discounted rate. 

What This Project Means: “It’s an honor to be selected as a recipient of the Reconciliation Fund,” says Prince Holmes, executive director of Youth Rebuilding New Orleans. “This grant directly impacts the community that we serve. More employment opportunities are provided, neighborhoods are being restored and beautified and now more youth can be educated which we see as an investment for the betterment of the community’s future.”

4. Empowering Children’s Educational Skills and Personal Development

(From left to right) Keira Hill, a retired teacher and administrator of Starting with Day 1, and Kinte Hill, the project’s assistant administrator.

The Project: The Starting with Day 1 Building Confident Kids project will offer educational programming on Saturdays for children between the ages of 7-12 at the community learning center in Maringouin, Louisiana, where many Descendants live after their ancestors were sold and forcibly moved there in 1838, to help them excel in their academic and personal development.

What They’ll Do: The project will provide engaging learning experiences that help children develop foundational skills in key academic areas, including reading and mathematics, as well as field trips. Starting with Day 1 will also assist participants in building up their confidence, self-esteem and mental strength.

What This Project Means: “With over 30 years in education between the two leaders of Starting with Day 1, we are excited and optimistic about working with the children within the Descendent communities,” says Keira Hill, a retired teacher and administrator, and a Descendant and native of Maringouin. “It has always been our mission to create lifelong learning and leadership capabilities within the many young lives that we have touched. We would like to thank Georgetown University for the Reconciliation Fund [grant] as it will provide us with the opportunity to continue our work.”

5. A Mentoring Program for High School Students in Louisiana

(From left to right) Phil Scholer (C’22); Bradley Galvin (C’20, G’21); Ollie Henry (C’24); and Jessica Tilson.

The Project: Mon Petit Maringouin is a virtual mentoring and tutoring program that pairs 10 Georgetown students with students in the newly opened North Iberville High School in Maringouin, Louisiana, where many Descendants live. 

What They’ll Do: The program provides high school students with homework assistance and goal-setting for their post-graduation plans. At the beginning of the school year, Georgetown students will travel to Maringouin to meet their mentees, and mentees will travel to Georgetown’s campus at the end of the year. Mon Petit Maringouin is led by a Descendant and Georgetown Slavery Archive staff member who lives in Louisiana, a Georgetown alumnus and adjunct professor in Georgetown’s The CALL program, a Georgetown alum and a current Georgetown student. 

Short-term, the program seeks to meet the needs of students experiencing learning loss during the pandemic and retain students in school. Long-term, its leaders hope to expand the program by providing extracurricular activities and a service component for mentees.

What This Project Means: “This grant will allow us to turn an idea that started in 2015 with Georgetown’s working group’s call for reconciliation into reality,” says Jessica Tilson, co-lead of Mon Petit Maringouin. “No longer are we offering empty words to the Descendant community, but we are finally providing resources and connections to foster a future based in collaboration and reconciliation. If successful, we will then be able to build out a model and replicate the program to serve different areas of the Descendant community.”

Next Steps

Debra Tilson, an international technical specialist at Southern University and A&M College and member of the Descendant Advisory Committee.

Georgetown leaders will soon announce the application for its next awards cycle this spring, which will grant an additional $200,000 to community-based organizations as part of its annual $400,000 in grant funding. 

Debra Tilson, an international technical specialist at Southern University and A&M College and member of the Descendant Advisory Committee whose daughter, Jessica Tilson, is a recipient, said she and fellow members will continue to work with other committees to finetune the process and apply lessons learned to grow and advance the Reconciliation Fund: “It’s a wonderful thing, and we want this process to get better and better so that more benefit,” she said.

The Fund’s committees will prioritize applications that demonstrate engagement with Descendant communities connected to Jesuit slaveholding in the U.S., particularly the families who were once enslaved on plantations in Maryland and sold in 1838 to plantation owners in Louisiana. 

The Reconciliation Fund will continue to provide grants on an ongoing basis, with an application cycle each fall and spring.