Reparations organizers discuss initiatives in Evanston and Congress


Daily file illustration by Emma Ruck

Organizers of local and national reparations efforts spoke about the importance of reparations and why they should be implemented at a panel hosted by Beth Emet The Free Synagogue.

Katrina Pham, Assistant City Editor

A few weeks after applications opened for the first facet of Evanston’s reparations program, city organizers and congressional representatives discussed the importance of both local and national reparations efforts Thursday.

Beth Emet The Free Synagogue’s Social Justice Coalition hosted the panel on Evanston’s Restorative Housing Reparations program and national reparations efforts. Rabbi Andrea London moderated the conversation. 

Second Baptist Church Senior Pastor Rev. Michael Nabors explained the purpose of reparations: to repair damage done to the Black community. He said this harm has compounded across time, and action to implement reparations is necessary now.

“There’s been an urgency for 245 years,” he said. “I can’t say that there is a more urgent time in 2021 than there was in 1921 or 1821. The urgency is there and the compilation of the history of discrimination, and the damage that has been, just continues over and over again, and it gets larger and larger.” 

Former Ald. Robin Rue Simmons (5th) said Evanston officials first committed to reparations in 2002, when City Council adopted a resolution supporting the H.R. 40. The resolution, if passed, would establish the Commission to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African Americans. At that time, the city also acknowledged the harms it inflicted upon Black residents and community members, she added.

Evanston finalized an official reparations fund and subcommittee in 2019, committing $10 million to fund local reparations efforts. Residents can apply for the initial $400,000 allocated to the housing program, which has already received at least 146 applications, by Nov. 5

Residents are eligible based on three categories: ancestors, meaning Black residents who lived in Evanston between 1919 and 1969; direct descendants of those ancestors; and those who experienced housing discrimination from city policy after 1969.

Simmons said her firsthand experience led her to work for local reparations. 

“As a Black woman in Evanston living in a segregated west end of the 5th Ward, I saw the difference in access and quality of life that I had versus my white friends and neighbors at my school,” Simmons said. “I knew that we had to do something radically different.”

Some Black community members have pushed back against the program’s execution.  

Ald. Cicely Fleming (9th) voted against the resolution to pass the Restorative Housing Reparations program this spring. She said it should be called a housing program instead of a reparations program and that it didn’t give Black residents enough say in how the reparations would be distributed. Residents organized ahead of the vote, asserting that enacting the city’s housing reparations program would set the wrong precedent for reparations initiatives across the country. 

London, the moderator, addressed the pushback. She asked the panel to respond to those who say the effort should not be classified as reparations. 

Nabors said reparations can come in a variety of forms and that the current housing initiative is only a first step toward a larger reparations effort led by the city.

“This first initiative is geared toward housing,” Nabors said. “The community overall, and the Black community especially, will be able to make a determination about how the $9,600,000 is going to be spent in the future.”

U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas)[ spoke about the effort to implement reparations on a national level through H.R. 40, which she reintroduced in 2019. 

She said reparations is an international concept of repair and restoration. 

“I wish we could go across the nation to soften the third rail that people believe H.R. 40 is,” Jackson Lee said. “It is only trying to make people whole, not to take away from anyone else.”

Email: [email protected] 

Twitter: @KatrinaPham_

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