The city’s groundbreaking reparations program continues to generate questions and comments from the community, as 38 petitions poured in at the town hall hearing on Saturday, October 22.
A panel of community leaders answered questions only from Reverend Dr. Michael CR Nabors of the Second Baptist Church. Questions from the public will be answered at the next meeting of the Repairs Committee on Thursday, November 3, said Robin Rue Simmons, Chairman of the Repairs Committee.
“It’s hard to celebrate when our racial gaps persist, and in some cases they widen,” Rue Simmons said. “But know that we are on the right track and on the road to repair. Our efforts have inspired the nation with more than 100 cities and towns taking action to repair – modeling what we have done here in Evanston. And we have also inspired international efforts.
In the first round, 600 applications were filed for a share of the reparations fund. The first $10 million of cannabis sales tax will go toward funding repairs in the city. The Restorative Housing Program, the first initiative of the reparations program, has already selected 16 beneficiaries and the funds have been distributed.
Gathered around the pulpit of the Second Baptist Church, leaders of the reparations community hailed the triumphs of the black community while acknowledging the miles still to go.
“I think it is very fitting that this gathering is taking place in a church,” Reverend Nabors said. “I think it’s important that it’s a black church in particular.
“When I think of (Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity, the first intercollegiate Greek letter fraternity for black men), celebrating their centennial celebration dating back to 1922 – I think of Northwestern University which made it very, very difficult for students who are accepted as undergraduate and graduate students to enroll due to the problem of racism that existed at that time.
“And in those difficult times, it was the black community of Evanston and often the black church that stood its ground.”
History of Northwestern University
Northwestern’s history of mistreatment of its black students was brought up frequently at the town hall. Northwestern allowed few black students.
Prior to 1966, Northwestern averaged just five students enrolled in their incoming classes. The university had policies that prohibited black students from living on campus, participating in Greek life, and entering swimming pools.
But in situations where institutions marginalized black people — black churches and black-led organizations like Alpha Phi Alpha protected the black community, Reverend Nabors said.
The program was organized in partnership with the fraternity, which provided a free breakfast for participants, and black businesses exhibited their products, among others. Black-owned banks like Seaway, there to discuss home loans with residents.
Three panelists took questions from Reverend Nabors: Fifth Ward Council member and Reparations Committee member Bobby Burns; Shorefront Legacy Center founder and former Evanston History Center president Morris “Dino” Robinson Jr.; and Chairman of the Buddhist Council of the Midwest Asayo Horibe.
Horibe was the only panelist to say that not all black people should receive reparations. She doesn’t know how black people today will be able to prove discrimination and whether they would feel comfortable sharing their experiences of discrimination.
“Not all African Americans have experienced discrimination or redlining or all the other issues that have arisen in racism,” said Horibe, a Japanese American whose family received 20,000 US government dollars for internment camps set up on US soil during World War II. She remembers what a difficult feat it was to have the United States acknowledge its misdeeds to the Japanese-American community.
Some people think of the reparations as a handout, Horibe said, which may make them reluctant to support them.
“We have to help with healing, and helping with healing is about helping them through this and supporting them,” Horibe said. “Because they’re going to say, ‘No, no, I don’t want to take it. No it’s OK. Go see someone else. People are going to be like that. So we need to help them remember that this is justice.
The panelists all agreed, to some degree, that more time needs to be spent educating everyone about what reparations are and why black people deserve them.
“We are not a monolithic community,” Robinson said. “I think people are for repairs but don’t know what the road to repairs will look like, what it is or what it will be. I think the educational process plays a part in that.
Robinson, a well-known historian in Evanston, particularly on black history, has researched and shared his knowledge through avenues such as Shorefront has made possible the documentation of the history of discrimination against the black community of the city.
Once people learn about repairs, they realize they want to be part of the solution, not part of the problem, Robinson said.
Although many believe the reparations relate to slavery, the practice of redlining, the systematic denial of loans or insurance to people living in racially segregated or impoverished areas, has also reinforced discrimination.
Since late September, Evanston Cradle to Career and the city have been data walk hosting to show how redlining in the city dating back to 1935 still impacts the health and well-being of the black community.
The next Data Walk presentation will be on Monday, October 24 from 5-6:30 p.m. at the Lorraine H. Morton Civic Center.
Council member Burns, who represents a historically black neighborhood still suffering the consequences of redlining, said that despite the rhetoric and efforts of some politicians, the repairs are working,
“I’ve been privileged to be able to work alongside reparations recipients and support them here in Evanston,” Burns said.
“This has been one of the most amazing works I have been involved with in my time. So I can tell you it’s real, it’s happening. It’s helping people, that they’re grateful, and it’s transformative.
Evanston’s reparations plan began in 2002, when former Second Ward council member Judge Lionel Jean-Baptiste introduced and passed a reparations resolution, to pay for the crimes of the transatlantic slave trade.
In 2019, Simmons Street and other city leaders passed a redress resolution that would undo the damage of discrimination that extended beyond slavery.
“There is wrongdoing, terror and anti-black racism present in our community that we need to repeal,” Rue Simmons said.