It started with a nod.
That was all it took to break down the barrier of silence that had stood – like a chasm, like a wide and yawning gulch – between the student and the janitor.
It’s not that the other college students here were mean or exclusive. But when the janitor came to the library at Georgetown University each night to do his cleaning shift, where students were hunched over books and laptops, nobody really paid him any attention. They were just too busy: studying, cramming, tapping their fingers on the polished desks the janitor had wiped clean.
That’s why the janitor, Oneil Batchelor, was caught off guard one night when a student gave him a pleasant nod. Then a day or so later came a “hello.” A conversation began, a back and forth over the coming weeks. Eventually, as the Washington Post reports, they were talking about their shared entrepreneurial dreams, about politics and history, and the student even went to Batchelor’s church and met his daughter.
As the student, Febin Bellamy, would later tell the Washington Post: “Everybody’s in their own world. A lot of students have good hearts and were raised right. It’s just not always easy for them to get to know people around them.”
He made an effort to do so, and it began to pay off through the stories and the life he learned about from Batchelor.
That would be the spark that created “Unsung Heroes,” a group that raises funds to help campus employees such as janitors, bus drivers and security guards.
From this point onward, the stories and profiles of campus employees were posted online, and students began learning about who it was washing their windows, cleaning their library, cooking their cafeteria meals.
It revealed the humanity beneath the silence, the shared experience of life that drew everyone together.
And results followed. A cash register attendant was able to visit his family in South Sudan for the first time in 45 years thanks to donations from students. Batchelor himself was awarded $2,500 to get his own catering business up and running.
It’s the kind of story that reveals some good even in the yuck of this year’s election season.
And Bellamy hopes to spread this movement nation-wide.
Head over to the Washington Post for the full story.
Evan Smith is a Staff Writer for Opportunity Lives. You can follow him on Twitter @Evansmithreport.