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Imani Scott-Blackwell, a 22-year-old senior philosophy major from Lawrenceville, Georgia, holds up a sign in protest as UGA President Jerry Moorehead walks away from the memorial dedication at Baldwin Hall on Friday, Nov. 16, 2018, in Athens, Georgia. The memorial in front of Baldwin Hall is dedicated to those who were buried there, likely slaves, in the 1800s. (Photo/Gabriella Audi, www.gabbyaudi10.wixsite.com/mysite-1)

Yet again, Athens community leaders asked University of Georgia President Jere Morehead to recognize and redress the legacy of slavery.

A crowd of protesters congregated by the administration building on the morning of April 10 to ask UGA to do right by the Athens black community, who still feel the long-lasting effects of the history of slavery at UGA.

While UGA can’t change its past, it needs to stop presently ignoring Athens community leaders and make reparations. UGA must address its history of slavery to better the whole Athens community.  

Slavery in America has contributed to the impoverishment of communities of color. The poverty rate in Athens is 34.4% according to the United States Census Bureau. This rate is more than double the national poverty rate of 12.3% as the Census Bureau reports.

White supremacy kept black people enslaved for nearly 110 years, according to the New Georgia Encyclopedia.

After, racism during Southern Reconstruction and Jim Crow kept black communities out of America’s growing economic powers, which has led to the high poverty rates in Athens today.

In a primarily white institution, there is a lack of minority faculty members. However,  of all service and maintenance workers at UGA, the majority are black at 44.1%, according to the UGA Fact Book.

Most workers barely earn above minimum wage in this position, with families forced to work multiple jobs while still struggling.

This historical trend of black and brown bodies struggling to survive in an economic system that oppresses them needs to end. We need to pull everyone up from the quagmire of racist history. Since UGA has been a historically white supremacist institution involved in black oppression, it is responsible to make reparations for the Athens community.  

Among other requests, leaders from the Economic Justice Coalition, Clarke County NAACP, Athens Anti-Discrimination Movement and Athens for Everyone asked Morehead to provide scholarships for those whose ancestors were slaves at UGA and to ensure a $15 minimum wage for UGA employees.

Since the university earned more than $1.6 billion in 2018, according to the 2018 UGA financial report, the school can find the money to address these reparations.

UGA must right its historically racist wrongs. Just as all members of an ecosystem are afflicted by toxic pollution, so are all the present inhabitants of Athens affected by the toxic legacy of slavery.

The child who can’t become the next Bill Gates because they were born into racism-induced poverty affects all of us. If a struggling mother working two minimum wage jobs goes to the hospital and can’t pay for it, everyone foots the bill. Our society is made worse for their suffering, but our consciences are made dirty by repeatedly ignoring their issues.

While present-day scholarships won’t undo the historical harm of slavery, it sets in motion the ball for healing. Goodness knows we need it.

 

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