Two Students Chatting: A Conversation with the Founder of Unsung Heroes
by Max Rosner
As Georgetown University embarks on a prolonged conversation regarding work, dignity, and justice, Max Rosner (SFS’18) sat down with Febin Bellamy (B’17), founder of Unsung Heroes. Unsung Heroes is a non-profit that promotes awareness and appreciation for university employees through storytelling and social impact initiatives. Here is an excerpt from their conversation.
Where did you get the idea to start Unsung Heroes?
I was inspired by an interaction with one of the workers, Oneil Batchelor. At the time I met him, he was a night facilities worker. I remember studying late in the business school during my second semester of college, and I would always see the same worker come by and clean up. Oneil was the worker who kept cleaning the room where I would always study. After a while, I would just give him an awkward head nod. Eventually we kept seeing each other again and again. I wanted to get to know him. I was curious. The moment we began to talk, we really hit it off. It went from cordial conversations to a friendship. I got to learn about his dream to start his own business. He had been working on it for 10 years. He had a pocket full of business cards that he never gave out. His business wasn’t going anywhere. His passion never took off.
Here is a man who a lot of people would not consider a part of our community like so many others like him. The whole point of Unsung Heroes is to show that workers are no different than us—students, faculty, and administrators. I wanted to start learning about other workers, which I considered and consider to be unsung heroes. I learned that there are so many people with such cool stories. I had a class project which was to “do something good.” Here was an opportunity to take my idea into action. I pitched the idea to a few friends and coined it as Unsung Hoyas (now Unsung Heroes). We started interviewing and people loved it. After the class, I wanted to keep doing it. I had a larger vision.
Your work intrinsically revolves around the dignity of workers and their respective rights. Typically, Catholic Social Thought perceives those rights in economic terms, such as fair living conditions and the right to join a union. What do you envision the right of a worker to be?
Workers should definitely have the right to a fair salary and fair living conditions. I agree: those are rights, not privileges. Throughout the world that is not the case, even universities. The goal of Unsung Heroes is to recognize workers as human beings. It’s almost an emotional code. The right transcends the transactional. They are members of the community, and they are Hoyas. We want to bridge the gap between students and workers. Our work is about the community. What is the point of a fair salary if you are rejected from the community? Integration is a goal and a basic human right. We want to continue building bridges and facilitating interactions.
In Catholic Social Thought, every right has a corresponding responsibility. What are the responsibilities of students as well as workers?
Students take their lane. Workers take their own lane. The duty and responsibility for everyone is to get to know each other, regardless of what position you occupy. What would happen if we had a culture and community where we were all responsible to know each other? It sounds idealistic, but that is our vision. We need to push beyond our own boundaries.
What has been your favorite moment thus far?
There are so many! One worker, Abigail, works in the McDonough Gymnasium. She said the most amazing thing that happened to her over her 12 years at Georgetown was a student buying her a cup of coffee. Imagine being here for 12 straight years and the best moment was an act of gratitude from a student. I hope events like this can happen more on a daily basis, such as students and workers enjoying lunch together. Our main goal is to transform storytelling into action. Why is this so rare?
Max Rosner is a junior in the School of Foreign Service (SFS'18). Febin Bellamy is a senior in the McDonough School of Business (B'17).