The Episcopal Diocese of Maryland has awarded $175,000 in grants to six community groups in its first distributions from a historic $1 million reparations fund.
The diocese announced Thursday that it will present grants of up to $30,000 to groups dedicated to “restoring African American and Black communities.” Three of the winners are based in Baltimore and three in other areas of the state.
The city awardees are St. Luke’s Youth Center, a collaborative of families in the Poppleton and Franklin Square communities of Central Southwest Baltimore that provides young people with “resources, life-enriching experiences and a safety net of support”; the Samaritan Community, a nonprofit organization that operates a food pantry and clothing store and offers counseling and other services from an office in Bolton Hill in West Baltimore; and Next One Up, a nonprofit group based at Belvedere Square in North Baltimore that provides support services to young men experiencing “significant obstacles” on their paths to success.
The other recipients are Anne Arundel Connecting Together, a consortium of 24 organizations that works to encourage and empower volunteers as they press for community-service improvements; I Believe in Me Inc., which uses a mentoring program to provide “growth in self-esteem and build character” for at-risk youth between ages 6 and 16 in Frederick County; and Calvert Concept Charitable Corp., a Southern Maryland startup that aims to address social injustices by “facilitating home and business ownership to create family wealth across generations.”
The Right Rev. Eugene Taylor Sutton, the bishop of the archdiocese, and other officials presented representatives of the groups with oversized novelty checks in a ceremony at the seat of the diocese, the Cathedral of the Incarnation in North Baltimore.
The Samaritan Community won a grant of $25,000; the others received $30,000 each.
Sutton said this first round of awards represented a milestone in a process that began under his predecessor, the Right Rev. Robert W. Ihloff, who initiated discussions more than 20 years ago about how the diocese might contribute to a process of reparations for slavery and racial injustice.
Those conversations intensified when Sutton, the first African American to lead the diocese, took over from Ihloff in 2008.
At his direction, members of the diocese — an ecclesiastical body with roots in the 1600s that includes nearly 120 churches and 44,000 parishioners in Central, Southern and Western Maryland — embarked on a research campaign that fleshed out what officials had long known: the diocese was complicit in perpetuating slavery and the forms of racial injustice to which it gave rise.
They learned about the many white Episcopalian Marylanders who were slaveholders or openly supported enslaving Black people. Others, they found, helped foster racist practices such as redlining, the policies by which banks and insurance companies refused to lend to homebuyers in predominantly Black areas, and conspired to exclude Black Episcopalians.
Many new churches in the diocese — including the cathedral — were built with the aim of helping white congregants flee older parishes that were growing more diverse.
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Such practices, Sutton has said, established disparities of opportunity whose effects continue to reverberate through the culture. That leaves institutions such as the diocese, whose membership is 90% white, morally responsible for closing the gap.
“Many people in the United States wonder, ‘Why reparations?’” Sutton said. “’I did not own slaves. No one in my family owned slaves. And I love everyone.’ Today is part of that answer.
“The legacy of 350-plus years of discrimination against persons of African descent have taken a toll on this nation, and it has affected all of us. None of us may have been guilty, but all of us have a responsibility. Today is an indication of the responsibility that we are taking.”
To that end, the diocese 18 months ago set aside $1 million as a seed fund for supporting nonprofit groups within its territorial boundaries that work toward bolstering African American communities. The amount represented 20% of the diocese’s operating budget.
More than 30 proposals from across the diocese were submitted for the first round of grants, and an eight-member task force made the selections. Diocesan officials said they will use a similar process to distribute grants at least once a year for the foreseeable future.
Aje Hill, the founder and director of I Believe in Me, thanked not just the diocese and its members, but the other awardees.
“It’s ordinary people doing extraordinary things that make it possible for us to meet our mission and meet our students and our youth directly where they are,” Hill said. “To you other organizations, you are true heroes. ... Don’t take this lightly, because to be seen as worthy by a credible diocese like this means they truly believe in what we do. I commend you for the work, the consistency, and the love that you’re providing for others.”