The Episcopal Diocese of Maryland has set aside $1 million to create a reparations grant program for the church’s role in slavery and systemic racism, and the first grants have just been awarded to several organizations across the state of Maryland.
“We know the involvement of our church, first in slavery, that all of our clergy in the 17e century and 18e century, early 18e century, owned slaves, including the early bishops of Maryland,” said the Most Reverend Eugene Taylor Sutton, Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland.
Aje Hill founded I Believe in Me in 2016, promising to mentor children so they don’t walk down the same dark path he did.
“I was a convict, a degenerate, a thief, a liar,” Hill said.
He was sentenced to eight years of a 20-year prison term for drug trafficking.
“That time in prison saved my life,” he said. “It helped me find myself; it helped me believe in myself.
Now he calls himself a merchant of hope.
I Believe in Me received a $30,000 grant from the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland. The repair grant will provide funding for summer programs, field trips, social experiments, financial literacy, and other activities for children ages 6-16.
“This grant, it just fuels our fire, keeps us motivated, makes us realize that it’s bigger than us,” Hill said.
Program director Monte Williams spent part of his teenage years behind bars. He met Hill when they were both locked up.
“Well, my first crime, I was about 9 years old, and it got worse and worse. It started to progress,” he said.
Williams was involved in a shooting and spent over a year in jail.
He started with I Believe in Me as soon as he was released to give back to his community.
“I just knew there was something in the universe that was better than just continuing to get in trouble,” Williams said.
This is what they teach the young people in the program: there is a better way and to believe in yourself.
The organization operates out of a small office in a building in downtown Frederick, but is trying to raise $2 million to build space for the program and the students it serves.
The church gave $175,000 in grants to six organizations in this first round.