An Update on Slavery, Memory, and Reconciliation

March 16, 2021

Dear Members of the Georgetown University Community:

It is with profound respect that I write to share with you the news of the creation of a new Foundation to support the educational aspirations of Descendants of Jesuit slaveholding and racial healing efforts in the United States. The Descendants Truth & Reconciliation Foundation, announced last night in The New York Times, was established through a dialogue initiated by Descendant leaders, representing the GU272 Descendants Association as well as other Descendant groups.

In 2018, leaders of the Descendant community, the Society of Jesus, and Georgetown engaged the W.K. Kellogg Foundation for its support in developing a dialogue process to establish a shared vision for reconciliation. Over the course of these next few years, this Dialogue proceeded through a series of convenings held at Southern University in Baton Rouge and at Xavier University of Louisiana.

Guided by the principles of the Kellogg Foundation’s Truth, Racial Healing, and Transformation program, the Dialogue focused on Jesuit slaveholding across North America and the role of enslavement and forced labor of people of African descent in the development of the Society of Jesus in the United States. This includes the benefit we received at Georgetown and our participation in the institution of slavery.

Throughout this process, we have been guided by leaders in the Descendant community, who sought unity among Descendants as well as a shared path toward reconciliation.

We have honored a commitment that we made years ago in meeting the Descendant community—that, as we proceed, we would find ways to proceed together, in collaboration and partnership. It became clear through the Dialogue process that the establishment of a shared vision for a Foundation was a first priority for Descendant leaders in the steps toward reconciliation. We sought to honor this commitment to dialogue between the Descendants and Jesuits and to provide support as we engaged in the work of confronting historical and present-day aspects of the history of enslavement and the lived experiences of members of the Descendant community. The work and dedication of the participants in the Dialogue has been extraordinary—especially the Descendant leaders who have guided the work. Their vision, centered on Descendant aspirations and educational attainment, has grounded these conversations in important ways.

Over these many months, we have been in regular communication with Descendant leaders, working to align our University’s activities with the vision of the Dialogue. Our University’s engagement has been led by Joseph Ferrara, Vice President and Chief of Staff, and we have had a number of colleagues participate at important points throughout this process. I wish to especially thank Rosemary Kilkenny (L’87), vice president of institutional diversity and equity and chief diversity officer; Adanna J. Johnson, associate vice president for student equity and inclusion; and Rev. David Collins, S.J., associate professor and director of doctoral studies for history, for their leadership and the time they spent in support of this Dialogue.

Georgetown was honored to provide $1 million in funding to support the planning and assistance necessary to create the framework and structure for the Foundation, and we look forward to supporting and partnering with the Foundation moving forward.

We now have the conditions in place for us to accelerate Georgetown’s work on a related effort which will further our community’s engagement with Descendants. In October 2019, following a student referendum, Georgetown committed to contributing $400,000 a year to support community-based projects to benefit the Descendant community. While this effort is distinct from the new Foundation, the Foundation was an important first step in building the trust and partnership that will enable us to establish an enduring framework for engagement between the Georgetown community and the Descendant community. Our aim, working with members of our community and the Descendant community, is to provide our first grants this year.

It is with hope and gratitude that we begin this next phase of our work in partnership with the Descendant community and the Society of Jesus, as we continue to grapple with and respond to the enduring legacies of the enslavement of people of African descent.


John J. DeGioia