A group of descendants of Jesuit-enslaved African Americans will host a town hall tonight at 7pm CST to discuss (and critique) the headline-making $100M deal (and billion-dollar Descendants Truth and Reconciliation Foundation) with the Jesuits that seems to grow more controversial by the day.
Among them are some of the half-dozen former—and some founding—GU272 Descendants Association board members who published a statement three weeks ago alleging other members’ backdoor negotiations with the Jesuits concerning a 2019 memorandum of understanding that established the foundation.
“I had no knowledge of the memorandum [at the time of its signing],” said Karran Harper Royal, former executive director of the GU272DA and organizer of an informal descendants group on Facebook. Her husband is a descendant of the GU272.
“I’ve talked to other board members and they don't remember seeing it either. So we were part of an organization for which inaccurate information was put out under [our] name.”
This week marks two months since the order announced their pledge, meant to benefit descendants of 272 people they sold in the mid-19th century. The story broke in the New York Times, which later followed BCM in putting out a story featuring descendants who were less than pleased by the deal.
In both stories, it was made clear that the GU272DA and the foundation are more limited than many were led to think. Both stories also featured Royal and GU272 descendant Chanda Norton, both of whom will speak at the event tonight.
“I consider myself a convener and a conveyor of information,” Royal told BCM this week.
She and the other former board members alleged in their statement that the MOU, signed by the GU272DA president and two other board members, was never approved (or even viewed) by the rest of the board, the descendants’ community, nor the association itself—which at the time had no official members.
“We didn't have the process in place,” said Royal, whose job it was at the time to handle such matters.
“There were 48 people who had applied for membership, None had been approved.”
Even so, the MOU claimed in its opening line that “a majority” of descendants had “organized” into the GU272DA by the time of its writing.
(There are said to be roughly 5,000 living descendants of the GU272.)
According to Royal, when current GU272DA president Cheryllyn Branche was asked about membership numbers at a town hall of their own on March 28th of this year, she claimed not to know, noting that they had more than 350 people show up to a reunion event held in 2018.
“There were people who attended that event who are not even descendants,” Royal told BCM.
Fr Tim Kesicki, SJ, president of the US/Canada province of the Jesuits, claimed a not long after that town hall that the GU272DA is “the largest descendants organization in the United States”, in a letter replying to a communication from the former board members.
“Any of our family groups are larger than what the descendants association was at the time of the signing of the MOU,” Royal says.
For these and other reasons, descendants like her and Norton feel the need to speak out. They will be joined tonight by two signers of the letter to Fr Kesicki: Sandra Green Thomas, former president of the GU272DA, and Negest Rucker; as well as Julia Battle and Curtis Harris.
“We just want to share what the truth is about the association and the foundation, and to give people the opportunity to actually get answers for their questions,” Royal said.
“If there is a quest for a true truth, as God sees the truth, then other descendant voices should be heard.”
Tonight’s event will stream live on YouTube.
Nate Tinner-Williams is co-founder and editor of Black Catholic Messenger, in priesthood formation with the Josephites, and a ThM student with the Institute for Black Catholic Studies at Xavier University of Louisiana (XULA).