Unsung Heroes

You may have checked Facebook on Saturday morning to see a stream of Georgetown Day photos. Nestled among was a post containing the story of Oneil Batchelor.

Oneil’s story was shared by Unsung Heroes, an organization started by a group of Georgetown students to highlight the stories of the workers who keep Georgetown running. Unsung Heroes aims to "promote awareness and appreciation for the workers who do so much for our campus behind-the-scenes but often go unrecognized and unappreciated”. We spoke with Febin Bellamy, who founded the organization, to learn more about how it started and what we can expect in the future.

The Idea

The whole idea started last semester as a class project for Moral Foundations of Market Society. Last spring, I used to stay in the MSB studying for exams until 3am, every day for like 3 weeks. I used to always see the workers cleaning the windows, and vacuuming the classrooms. Some of them would knock on the breakout room that I was in, and ask if they could come in and clean. I would see the same workers every night.

After a week, I finally introduced myself to one of the workers. His name is Oneil Batchelor. The idea for the project kind of sprung up from my interactions with Oneil. I learned more about Oneil, and throughout the weeks we became really good friends. I thought to myself, I wish that other students would also take the time to get to know some of the facilities workers, especially the ones that work at night. A lot of these workers are responsible for keeping our classrooms and bathrooms clean – and we sometimes tend to take it for granted.

And not just facilities workers like Oneil, but other unsung heroes from different departments within Georgetown. What about some of the cooks at Epicurean or Leos, or even the construction workers that we often walk past on our way to class? What about the utilities plant workers that control heating & cooling for every building on campus, or the service worker that stays on campus for days to shovel the snow, just to ensure that the streets are safe for us to walk on?

I wanted to give back somehow and as I got to know them on a personal level, I thought about sharing their unique stories and giving them the spotlight. Every worker has a unique story. We just have to take the time to listen and show a level of acknowledgement.

So I pitched the idea to some of my friends in my class [Daimei Li, Molham Krayem, Sean McKenzie, Frank Maia, Victor Turitzin, Erik Van de Water] and they loved it. That was how Unsung Hoyas was born. This is a distinction from what we have now. Unsung Hoyas is a group we started, focusing on Georgetown workers. But Heroes is the broader platform. We plan on establishing chapters of unsung heroes on different campuses all over the nation. For example: the University of Pennsylvania’s chapter would be Unsung Quakers, or Harvard’s Unsung Crimsons.

The Clinton Global Initiative

Unsung Heroes was launched through the Clinton Global Initiative University (CGI U). Every time you apply to the CGI U, you have to establish a project that benefits the university or community either on a local, national, or international scale. I wanted to take Unsung Hoyas from a small scale class project – to an actual organization [Unsung Heroes] which seeks to highlight workers from universities all over the country, not just Georgetown. Many universities have already expressed interest in starting up a chapter on their campuses.

CGI U provided a great platform to launch Unsung Heroes. I met students from all over the country who were just as passionate about social entrepreneurship! I got a little bit of funding through organizations such as Startup Hoyas, and that’s how it started. Unsung Heroes is a team of 7, including Harrison Williams (COL ’16), Lucas Berry (MSB ’17), Isaiah Jones (COL ’16), Jonathan Carrington (MSB ’17), Naiara Parker (MSB ’18) and Kevin Durham (MSB ’19).

Building Awareness

A lot of people compare us to Humans of New York – in the way that we highlight the workers and share their stories. That is the approach that we utilize because it is already a well-known model and it is a great way to get people to acknowledge the unsung heroes that are not being recognized.

We seek to promote awareness and appreciation for the unsung heroes. The “awareness” part ties in to our “Humans of New York style” approach – by sharing their stories and capturing their portraits of their humanity. By doing this, we are raising awareness that every unsung hero on campus has a story. They are human beings, just like everyone else.

The “appreciation” aspect is a call to action. Now that we know more about their backgrounds and stories, how do we show our appreciation? How do we engage them? How do we get students involved? That’s the second part of Unsung Heroes we are working on right now.

Encouraging Appreciation

Moving forward, we will be partnering with organizations on campus such as GIVES to actually show appreciation for the workers by doing random acts of kindness. We want to create thank you cards for the workers and buy them coffee after a long night of work. We will be creating video campaigns that capture these random acts of kindness and we will have a call to action at the end of the video. We want to set the example and inspire other students to go out of their way to show appreciation for the workers, through random acts of kindness.

Sometimes when I interview workers, I ask them about their most memorable moment at Georgetown. They would often say that it was when a student bought them coffee, or bought them a card. Some of these workers have been on campus for over 20 years – and their most memorable moment was when a student did a random act of kindness for them. Imagine if students did that on a weekly basis? It would mean the world to some of these workers. Sometimes the little things are what really matter.

That is what drives me to lead Unsung Heroes, because I can see how much it means to them. I want to eventually implement these acts of appreciation in schools – but it all starts with saying thank you and acknowledging them.

Skyrocketing Popularity

I knew that we offered something unique but I didn’t expect the social media pages to take off so quickly. Likes, Shares, comments, are one way of measuring success. But the main way is through feedback – both from the students and from the workers. I know that many students have gone up to workers like Frankie and have shown appreciation by thanking her for her service to Georgetown. But what about the workers that students don’t know or interact with on a daily basis?

That’s our primary group that we seek to highlight, and our secondary group are workers that students are already familiar with. Some of our most successful posts have been about the workers that students know and interact with on a daily basis – like Frankie! We are definitely conscious of what kind of post works better and what doesn’t, but we try to mix it up and show the different departments of Georgetown – especially the workers who do not already get a lot of recognition and appreciation.

Oneil

We are doing an appreciation event with the Corp for Oneil on May 5th. He is really interested in entrepreneurship and starting his own culinary business. You can see the fire in his eyes when he talks about his passion for cooking.

He has a wife and a daughter to provide for. He says that wants to pursue his dreams of building his business but he can’t because of a lack of funds. After hearing his story, we thought about ways to help him out with his business.

By partnering with the Corp, we are trying to give him a push in the right direction by funding him $1,000 to be the main food vendor for the Corp’s Snaxa Cookout on the South West Quad.

This event with Oneil is a reflection of the kind of events that we want to implement moving forward. You never know what a simple gesture can mean to an unsung hero.

Editor’s Note:  This interview has been broken up into two parts. The second part, focusing on the execution of Unsung Heroes will be published next week.