The future of the United States recognizes policy as the way to combat racism.
While many of the country’s institutions still benefit from the work of enslaved men and women and uphold the policies that continue to create wealth, health, education, and housing deficits for Blacks, Georgetown University students voted, in a nearly 2-to-1 margin, to pay reparations as a part of their tuition.
The results of the referendum are as follows: 66.08% for yes (2541 votes), 33.92% for no (1304 votes). This means that the referendum passes.
— GUSA Elections (@GUSAElections) April 12, 2019
Georgetown sold 272 enslaved men and women in 1838 for the equivalent of about $500,000 today to pay off debt and sustain itself financially. The school acknowledged the profits from Maryland Jesuits’ slave-owning plantations were a significant source of funding and have given a formal apology to descendants and renamed two buildings in their honor.
But a group called GU272 Advocacy Team went a step further, pushing through a bill that would create a new $27.20 fee every semester for all Georgetown undergraduates toward a reconciliation fund.
If the university’s board of directors approves, it will be the first policy in an American institution to compensate the victims of slavery and begin to address the intergenerational inequality.
Nile Blass is a Georgetown freshman who is part of the GU272 Advocacy Team behind the bill.
“We believe that financial restitution funded toward conscious, descendant advocacy-based policy is the best way that we as an institution can support these individuals,” Blass told CNN.
“The Jesuits sold my family and 40 other families so you could be here,” sophomore Melisande Short-Colomb, 63, a Georgetown student, said during a town hall to discuss the issue last week. She’s a descendent recognized by the university under the “legacy” admissions policy.
The group estimates the fund would generate more than $400,000 a year and would “be allocated for charitable purposes directly benefiting the descendants of the GU272 and other persons once enslaved by the Maryland Jesuits,” according to the bill.
Calls for Policy to Undo Disparities in Wealth
Research has shown disparities between Black and white Americans in terms of income, health outcomes, quality of schooling, homeownership and a continued decline in wealth among Black Americans.
Historically speaking, the NAACP has reintroduced. H.R. 40, a reparations measure, in every Congress since 1989.
Current NAACP President Derrick Johnson said, “It is something that we must address, so we can get past this moment in time in a way in which the legacy of slavery, the legacy of segregation, the legacy of institutional racism can once in for all be done away with and we can all prosper as a nation as one whole community.”
Rep Sheila L. Jackson of Texas has put forth the measure again to study the impact of slavery in a way that is “realistically forceful and effective to help African-Americans who never had the issue of wealth that was inherited.”
The Movement for Black Lives, a coalition of dozens of activist groups working on racial justice, included reparations in its policy platform, which included full and free access for all Blacks to lifetime education in all schools and programs, and forgiveness to student loans; guaranteed minimum livable income, corporate and government reparations to ensure access and control of food sources, housing and land, funding for cultural education and restoration and preservation of cultural assets, and the immediate passage of H.R.40, the “Commission to Study Reparation Proposals for African-Americans Act.”
Some presidential candidates for 2020 have also called for a policy, but none amounting to reparations, specifically.
Sen. Kamala Harris proposes the LIFT Act, a tax plan that would provide a tax credit to working singles making $50,000 or less and families making $100,000 or less, expanding the safety net for the middle class. Sen. Corey Booker has proposed a “baby bonds” program focused on low-income families, which would give every child a savings account, with federal contributions to the account increasing as parental income decreases. Several other candidates have agreed to sign a bill to establish a commission on research.
New school vs. old school
According to a July 2018 poll by Data for Progress, 26 percent of Americans support some kind of reparations.
Sophomore Eliza Dunni Phillips, also on the GU272 Advocacy team, interviewed descendants of enslaved people in Maringouin, La.
“The vestiges of slavery are still so evident, and so many of the African-Americans whose ancestors were enslaved are still so disenfranchised,” Phillips said. “It’s not enough to say sorry. Georgetown has to put their money where their mouth is and invest into the descendant community.”
Todd Olson, vice president for student affairs at Georgetown, said the Georgetown student’s bill still needs to go before the board of trustees because it involves proposed changes to tuition.
The university has vowed to “carefully review the results of the referendum, and regardless of the outcome, will remain committed to engaging with students, Descendants, and the broader Georgetown community and addressing its historical relationship to slavery,” Matt Hill, the university’s media relations manager, told ABC News, in a statement.