Diversity and Democracy

For Our Ancestors and Our Descendants

In August 2016, I got a personal message on Facebook from a genealogist working with the nonprofit Georgetown Memory Project, who inquired about my relationship with the Mahoneys of Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Having grown up with grandmothers steeped in the ways of teaching a granddaughter the “begats,” as my mother called them, I was easily able to trace our family back four generations to Mary Ellen Queen and Abraham Mahoney from Maryland.

That Facebook message would bring me into a new way of learning and living, into uncovering layers of my family history and discovering new family members, some whom had been friends for years as we attended the same schools and churches growing up in New Orleans. We would come to be known as the “descendants” of the Georgetown University 272, or the GU272—enslaved people who were sold by the Society of Jesus in 1838 to support the bankrupt Georgetown College.

One year later, I arrived at Georgetown’s Front Gates to begin my first semester as a first-year student. It has been a year of growth and learning, incredible opportunities, challenges, new friendships, and aca­demic highs and lows. The inclination early in life is to blend in with your peer group. Yet here I am, a fully actualized senior adult, facing the same emotional, physical, and academic challenges as students generations younger than myself. I am learning so much from them!

We have so much historical information available to us that could make us stronger by opening avenues to dialogues about how and why freedom matters. I believe that we all, as members of an open and free society, owe so much to the records kept from the sale of those families. It is an oppor­tunity to do the hard work of truth and reconciliation our nation has consistently refused to do.

I am here at Georgetown to be a living representative for my family and our ancestors as an act of good faith, in the spirit of the Ignatian-Jesuit philosophy of cura personalis, for the care of the whole nation and healing of national wounds. There is no better time than now and there are no better people than ourselves to create a better future so that our descendants will be proud to say our names and remember us lovingly as we acknowledge and revere those who came before us.

Mélisande Short-Colomb is a Georgetown University Student.

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