With the mission of increasing recognition for Georgetown’s workers, Facebook page Unsung Heroes captures their personal stories through videos and photography on its Facebook page, which has gained more than 1000 followers since its April 1 launch.
Sponsored by the Clinton Global Initiative University, the page has featured eleven posts to date, including interviews with Food & Service Worker at Leo O’Donovan Dining Hall José Manzanares and Food & Service worker at Leavey Center’s Grab & Go Station Javier Reyes. The posts follow a similar style to the photographs on popular Facebook page Humans of New York.
Febin Bellamy (MSB ’17) initially founded the project as an assignment for philosophy professor Jason Brennan’s “Moral Foundations in Market Society” class last spring. Since then, Bellamy and his team, consisting of 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), have been working on reaching out to campus workers and creating posts.
Bellamy’s inspiration came during a three-week period of studying in the Hariri Building until the early morning, when he began to notice a facilities management worker who cleaned the windows each night. Bellamy eventually became friends with the cleaner, Oneil Batchelor.
Bellamy said his interactions with Batchelor encouraged him to start the Facebook page.
“I started started making conversations with Batchelor every day and got to know him really well,” Bellamy said. “I thought, ‘Why don’t all students get a chance to know their stories as well, and more than just facilities management workers? What about the people at Elevation Burger or the people at Leo’s?’”
After pitching the idea to his classmates, Bellamy began conducting interviews with Georgetown employees from various departments, including facilities management, utilities plant, cleaning and maintenance, transportation and food and service.
Before they launched the Facebook page, Bellamy and his team had archived 60 interviews. Since then, over 15 additional employee interviews have been conducted.
Bellamy said he selects unique parts from the conversations and includes photographs of the individuals, often in their respective work environments, when he publishes a post. He also aims to have conversations that gradually bring out an employee’s story instead of formal interviews.
“We try to talk broadly at first,” Bellamy said. “Then we ask them about what they do on the weekends or in their free time, which is when they [are] talking about their kids or things that are important to them. I don’t even call them interviews. I just ask if I can talk to them for a few minutes.
According to Bellamy, potential subjects were apprehensive toward being featured when the project began, but are now more willing given the page’s positive reception.
“A lot of times, these workers are just looking for someone to talk to and want someone to hear them out. For students to show that they’re actually interested in getting to know them, that’s very different from what they’re used to,” Bellamy said.
Among Unsung Heroes’ most popular featured workers are Frankie Capers, a food and service worker at Einstein Bros. Bagels who discusses her life-long commitment to the truth, facilities management night worker Memuna Tackie, who discusses passing her citizenship test and learning English from Katherine Leopold (COL ’18) and facilities management night worker Vernetta Butler, who helped three girls who were being followed by strangers. Capers’s feature received around 900 likes.
Bellamy said the employees’ responses to questions give insight into ways Georgetown students can be more supportive of workers.
“One question that I always ask is, ‘What does a thank you mean to you?’” Bellamy said. “I also usually ask what the most memorable moment they’ve had at Georgetown is. One time someone said it was when a student bought her coffee. She had been here for 20 years and the most memorable moment she had was when a student bought her a coffee. If we can do more of that, we can really make these lives and experiences much better.”
Georgetown Individuals Vocal and Energetic for Service President Lauren Bachmann (SFS ’18) said the mission of Unsung Heroes is important in supporting workers.
“It is important to recognize those people who work behind the scenes because they are most often forgotten and deserve appreciation — we are all Hoyas. A simple act of kindness can go a long way, and the goals of Unsung Heroes are really wonderful,” Bachmann said.
Bellamy said he hopes the project can move beyond interviews to finding ways to help workers.
“The style that we have used so far is just to get students to understand that [these workers] are human beings — they have stories. I think once students start seeing that, we’re going to continue doing that but it’s going to also be more action. Sort of like, now that we know that they exist, how do we give back to them?” Bellamy said.
Unsung Heroes recently secured funding from StartupHoyas to purchase equipment and fund its expansion to other campuses, after Bellamy and his partner Harrison Williams (COL ’16) presented their idea during the StartupHoyas Challenge earlier this semester. Unsung Heroes was selected as one of eight finalists from an original pool of 80.
Williams said he is not surprised by the project’s success.
“You have to give this issue a humanizing touch and make students think, ‘Wow, these are people that have the same experiences and thought processes as me and I shouldn’t look at them any differently because I go to Georgetown and they don’t,’” Williams said. “They’re not our maids, they’re not our servants. I think the popularity comes from the emotional connection.”
Unsung Heroes also recently teamed up with Georgetown Individuals Vocal and Energetic for Service, which seeks to spread happiness in the community, to make posters for university workers. The team filmed the project and featured it on the Unsung Heroes page.
Bellamy is currently working to expand Unsung Heroes beyond Georgetown. While Unsung Heroes will remain the parent organization, Georgetown’s chapter will eventually change its name to Unsung Hoyas.
Bellamy said he is pleased with the positive feedback students are giving.
“I hear a lot of students already saying that they see a change in myself and that they think twice when they see a worker and walk past them. That makes me really happy because that’s our whole goal as an organization,” Bellamy said. “Just say thank you. That’s all we want.”
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