Georgetown University is trailblazing a path for other major U.S. institutions. In April, the undergraduate student body voted in favor of starting a reparations fund to recognize the college’s historical ties to the horrors of the slave trade. This move, the first of its kind at a major American university, sets the tone that we must honor our ancestors’ involuntary sacrifices that have made the privileges we enjoy today possible.
The student-led proposal put forth a plan to charge an extra $27.20 per semester, set to begin in fall 2020. This number is meaningful because, in 1838, the university sold 272 men, women and children to pay off a debt to help the school stay afloat. According to The Washington Post, the fee would “raise an estimated $400,000 the first year and increase with inflation. A nonprofit organization led by a board of students and descendants would donate money to charitable causes directly benefiting descendants of the 19th-century sale of enslaved people.”
This move forces the university to not just talk about slavery, or rename a few buildings, but actually puts forth a plan to turn free labor by enslaved people into wealth and opportunity for their descendants.
While the vote is not yet binding, it definitely sends a loud message that a simple apology is not enough.
The “reparations” conversation isn’t new, and just like history and its effects, the topic probably won’t ever die. How can a country recover from centuries of slavery and racism? That definitely isn’t a simple answer, but to move forward we always have to know our history. Georgetown, located in the heart of Northwest D.C., is taking a meaningful step toward being on the right side of that history.
While Georgetown students are leading the national conversation on reparations and we applaud them from afar, let’s use this as a catalyst to ask ourselves a few questions. What more could we be doing as people of color to honor our rich history? Why aren’t more of us taking on the responsibility to ensure descendants have resources that can lead to wealth?
Or, at least, these are the questions I am asking myself.
Regardless of what side you fall on the argument, we must put some respect on our ancestors’ blood, sweat, and tears. I will take this as an opportunity to play my part in turning a corner on race relations in America. Our history isn’t a pretty truth, but it’s our truth. It isn’t pretty but it birthed a resilient and beautifully creative spirit in us. To honor that history, is honoring ourselves. To honor that history, is Black love.
Tell us, do you think college fund reparations are the answer? Would you like to see more universities jump onboard? Weigh in below in the comments!