"We need to heal as a community, but specific to reparations, the Black community needs to heal


About 30 Evanston residents gathered at Evanston's Civic Center last Thursday for the second meeting of the reparations subcommittee. They were joined by a film crew headed by Whitney Dow who is producing a documentary, in partnership with Erika alexander (best know at Pam Tucker on "The Cosby Show" and Maxine on "Living Single"), that will follow Evanston's journey to the implementation of reparations.

At the meeting, Robin Rue Simmons 5th Ward Alderman provided a timeline for next steps in the process with a goal of submitting recommendations to City Council in early June, and residents offered suggestions and asked questions during public comment.

Rue Simmons encouraged community groups to continue meeting to discuss reparations and to share their feedback with the subcommittee so that its recommendations to City Council will reflect the community's input.

Soon, Rue Simmons said, there will be a facilitator's guide available on the City's website so anyone who wants to run a discussion group will have the tools to do so--as well as a way to submit comments.

In addition, feedback that's already been submitted from community members will be available on the website, listed under categories such as workforce development, entrepreneurship, home ownership, education and infrastructure, and mental health.

TIMELINE, MEETING SCHEDULE, AND TOPICS

Each meeting will focus on a specific topic and will also include ongoing reports from community outreach groups.

-- Friday, February 21, 12:30 p.m. Focus on housing and redlining, and create guidelines for how housing funding will be spent and who will receive it.

-- Friday, March 6, 12:30 p.m. Include community outreach groups to gather information from their meetings.

-- Friday, March 20, 12:30 p.m. Focus on financing/local banks and discuss which banks the committee can parter with.

-- Friday, April 3, 12:30 p.m. Focus on mental health and emotional healing in Evanston, begin to develop an initiative or plan, and begin applying the plan to the community (possible forum or town hall).

-- Friday, April 17, 12:30 p.m. Focus on partnering with local businesses and discuss their involvement.

-- Friday, May 1, 12:30 p.m. Focus on all areas of reparations, confirm local business partnerships, discuss feedback from the mental health forum or town hall.

-- Friday, May 15, evening Community Town Hall to discuss community outreach outcomes.

"By the time we have the second town hall, we will have met with institutional donors, potential donors, and with banks, Northwestern University, hospitals, real estate," said Ald. Ann Rainey, who is on the subcommittee. "And we will be able to make a report on who’s inclined to support us and who needs a little more lobbying."

-- Friday, June 5, 12:30 p.m. Finalize reports and submit recommendations to City Council.

PUBLIC COMMENT

Here are some of the voices from the meeting. You can watch the whole meeting in the video below.

Cindy Levitt, a 44-year resident of Evanston who is white, offered to help reach out to banks and the Evanston Chamber of Commerce.

Cindy told the story about how she and her husband were unknowingly steered by a realtor when, in their 20s, they purchased their first house, and how learning about racism in Evanston led her to go back to school for a degree in multicultural education to teach people about racism and white privilege.

"I was renting a coach house at that point. I had identified a home that I liked on Asbury near Oakton. And I didn’t know what racial steering was at the time, but the realtor was like hmmm, I don’t know, I think you may never get your money out of that. I think it would be better if I showed you some houses in northwest Evanston. My ex-husband and I bought a house and lived in northwest Evanston for 29 years.

Fast forward to the early ‘90s I was recruited to be on the Evanston Human Relations Commission and got a really great education about a number of things, including fair housing. Because at that point, we were the administrators for the Fair Housing Ordinance, and it was like a bell rang in my head when we learned about racial steering. And all of a sudden, I was like, Oh my God, that happened to me and I didn’t even know it. That’s how smooth it can be for someone white who’s unaware and doesn’t have a lot of money. Didn’t even see it."

Carlis Sutton, lifelong Evanston resident

"I think the most immediate response would be to senior homeowners, and I think that by giving them incentives to repair their homes, or to help them with their taxes, like you do with businesses when they come here, would be much more effective at this time one, to continue with black ownership in Evanston and two, black residency in Evanston."

Roberta Hudson, Evanston resident

"I’ve talked to a number of the seniors in our community and they’re struggling now to repair their homes. In fact, one told me recently, 'I’m going to have to leave Evanston.' We need to deal with that almost immediately because I can go within two blocks of where I live and there are people that are having problems."

Tina Paden, Evanston landlord

"Our neighborhood has changed rapidly, and it continues to change rapidly. We have about 5,000 affordable housing committees and meetings. But it’s not going to change unless you listen to the landlords that are providing in the affordable housing. These buildings that you approved only have 15 units with one bedroom or studios. That’s not going to help the families that need help in Evanston. There’s a lot of Black people that need housing in Evanston and have children in Evanston, and I’ve worked with a lot of the social workers and they don’t have any place to go.

Sometimes you give agencies money, and they can't find a place to place them. And you get money from developers because they don't want to put up affordable housing, and so then where are you going to put the people once you get the money? We've lost 7,000 affordable units in the past 10 years. How many have you put back into the community? How many affordable units do you have with two, three and four bedrooms? That’s what we need to address. And if you do not help the landlords like myself, you will have no one. Because I won’t be able to afford it either, because you’re not helping me or landlords like myself. You're saying, 'reparations,' but we won't be here soon and there'll be none of us here for reparations."

Ms. Brenda Greer, 71 years old, retired data entry worker

"I've lived in Evanston all but three years of my life. I did have to move when the rent started increasing. I left Evanston and I lived in Skokie. I didn’t like it. I got out of their fast and start renting from the Padens for 10 years. Due to the fact that I got Section 8 certificate, I ended up being able to find an apartment, but then I could not move into it. I had a certificate that would’ve paid for the first month’s rent, but I did not have the security. I could not move into the apartment and technically I would have lost it. Had it not been for Connections for the Homeless that put up my security and the first month’s rent for me, I would have lost it and I would have been homeless.

"So, I find that there is a lot of discrimination within finding apartments still. And then also there is embedded redlining within Cook County Housing Authority, because when I was looking for apartments, there was a program that would have given me the security deposit to move into the apartment, but I had to move to south Evanston. They would’ve paid my first month’s security, moving expenses, and security deposit had I moved over to Main and Sherman, but they would not give me the money for the unit at 1620 Foster. So a lot of discrimination within the government also."

Charlene Nyomo, lifelong Evanston resident

"My children are the fifth generation at Second Baptist Evanston. Often when I drive around, I drive at the pace of a horse and wagon, because I did that till I was 18 years old when my grandfather got rid of his horses. I have beautiful memories of Evanston. The one thing that I am glad about is that here in Evanston we do talk about things; that’s rare. That makes this special. The fact that this reparations thing came through.

We've [Black people] done a lot of things, but we don’t own ourselves. You know I love everybody. But I’m speaking from the perspective of our people. And in Evanston we should be able to tell the truth and deal with the truth. This is the only place I can speak up, and I traveled half way around the world."

Sarah Vanderwicken, Evanston resident

"Chicago has a reparations ordinance having to do with torture by John Burge [brutality in the Chicago Police Department]. And they’ve done a lot of work with mental health. And also one of the great things that they did was insist on curriculum being taught in the schools about what had happened. So much of reparations is needed because people don’t know. I mean, there’s a vast ignorance of what Black people have endured in this country. And there needs to be really good curriculum for everybody, adults and kids."

Ald. Ann Rainey

"The 2002 resolution that [former Alderman] Lionel Jean Baptiste had the council approve, said in its action statement that Evanston/Skokie School District 65 and Evanston Township High School (ETHS) must take up the issue of slavery and the history of Black Americans."

Ald. Robin Rue Simmons

"I’ve just asked for a report on what they did do in response to that 2002 resolution. I spoke to the superintendent at District 202 who said that they do have Black history education, which we’re aware they have. But we want to learn more about what it is. So, we’ll share a report on that update. And in fact, I’ll share the 2002 reparation resolution that Judge or Jean Baptist led and had passed. It was in support of HR40 and it spoke to education."

Dino Robinson, executive director, Shorefront Legacy Center

"When developers come in with a multi-unit building and if there’s a set aside for affordable housing, and the developer opts to pay out of that so to speak, where does that money go then? Does it go to a general fund and is used for something else? What happens with that?

Ald. Rainey: "It goes to affordable housing."

Dino Robinson: "And so does that build up over time, do you do something with that?"

Ald. Rainey: "We now have three million dollars in the fund."

Dino Robinson: "Could that be partnered in some way with reparations?"

Ald. Rainey: "One of the recommendations that I’m going to make after seeing how some of it is being spent--it’s being used for affordable housing in some cases. I want to make sure that we’re going to really focus in on creating housing or sustaining housing. I think there has been some spending that I don't think should have been--small amounts. But small amounts can chisel away at it. But it is a reserved fund."

Bennett Johnson, 91-year-old lifelong Evanston resident and activist

"I think what we need to do is think in terms of capitalism. The Real Estate Investment Trust is an instrument that could not only be used to solve problems, but could gather and gain wealth and create more wealth than it had to start off with.

The other fact is that when I was with the Department of Commerce, one of my friends introduced a regulation setting up the Minority Enterprise Small Business Investment Corporation, which is, in effect, a venture capital corporation that can be used to finance businesses. And both of these things grow based on starting at point A and ending up with a lot of money. Capitalism is about creating wealth. We need to use the techniques that are available in our economic system that will work to make $10 million become $100 million and even more."

Abigail Stone, board member, Connections for the Homeless; former Evanston resident who lives away from Evanston because she can't afford it

"I’ve been working on what’s called the Cook County Conveners Project. We’re gathering information from the community about barriers to affordable housing. I have learned quite a bit about the discrimination people are facing and the barriers that people are facing to fair and affordable housing.

I would like to ask--that as this process of considering housing with reparations proceeds--that the concern for low- and even very low-income people be a priority. I also ask for families to be a priority. And I also ask for seniors to be a priority.

This problem is very expansive, wide, complicated. There are other issues that intersect, such as a lack of a livable wage. All these things need to be addressed, and I know you can say, 'Well this person wants seniors, and this person wants family;' they’re all important. We have to have our minds open for solutions no matter how big this is. We can be the David against this Goliath of a problem. I believe that everybody needs to be able to afford to live here or we’re going to have treasures lost."

Renee Stone, parent of students in D65 and D202

"About Black history in the District: I can tell you that your report is going to come back saying that they have done nothing regarding Black history. The efforts that they have made in the last couple of years is this 'Black Lives Matter in Action' week, and I will say that it is traumatic.

I have twin daughters at Lincolnwood--two different personalities. One of them is Black Girl Magic, unapologetically Black, doesn’t care whose feelings she hurts if she is speaking her truth. The other twin is Black Girl Magic, but she’s more empathetic, and she worries about how people will feel.

So she came home Monday, and I asked her how Black Lives Matter at school went, and she was kind of embarrassed and sad about what they were learning. And I asked her, I said 'Well, why are you sad? And she said, because while they were talking about stuff, all the white kids were looking at them. And so, I said, 'Okay well, when you’re learning about white history, are the white kids in your class embarrassed?' And she said, 'Well, we’re learning good things about white history.'

So, that raised my awareness that they’re not talking about the history of Black people and their contributions to America. They’re talking about Black people being killed by white people. They’re talking about Black families that are growing up without a mother/father structure. They’re talking about things that for some kids in the classroom are traumatic, and it’s not something that should be getting reinforced.

They do talk about slavery, but there’s more to Black history than slavery. The richest man in the world, Mansa Musa, was from Africa and none of the kids know that. Both districts need to be aware of what they're doing.

Yes, ETHS has an African American studies class. They do have a semester-long class that my daughter is currently enrolled in, and they have a year-long dual-enrollment class. And my daughter, who's been in advanced classes most of her high school career, is very happy that she is able to go into that African American class, because for her it is where she can exhale and be around Black students. Because she has been that on or two student that’s been in honors and AP classes the whole three years that she’s been at ETHS.

So, yes they’re doing something, but it’s not enough.

Carol Nielson, Evanston resident

"I’m in the 7th ward and there are a number of vacant lots in our ward. And I spoke to Ald. Eleanor Revelle and I said, 'Why can’t the three million dollars be used to buy some of these lots, build some affordable townhomes? If we don’t integrate our community and not just say 'Oh, we’re going to focus on affordable housing in the 5th ward,' let’s have some affordable housing in the 7th ward. And let’s teach people that they can have neighbors who are different. And we can all get along.

I walk my dog every day. There’s four vacant lots I pass. I size them up and say, we could put eight townhomes here. And if somebody can figure out the math and the financing, instead of dribbling away the three million supporting a rent payment here and that, let’s invest in something that’s solid."

Ndona Nyomo, lifelong Evanston resident

"Last night my mother and I went to the Affordable Housing meeting here at the City, and I learned that there are certain districts in Evanston that they voted are R1, where you’re not allowed, even if there are large parcels, even the homeowner cannot subdivide that parcel to be able to create a new housing unit.

And there are certain sections in Evanston that enable families to be able to live in multi-unit buildings. But it’s only in the 5th ward, parts of Central Street, parts of Dempster, where there’s more traffic. So even though there might be empty lots, there might be large parcels where even the homeowners want to subdivide their units, but the City is not allowing them to.

So, the Committee is trying to put forth something to the City of Evanston to allow these empty lots and these larger parcels to be subdivided to create more affordable housing.

So, my question to them last night was, 'Okay, if you are just now realizing that this has been an ongoing issue for decades, what is the City doing in order to make a change? And they don’t have an answer.'"

Ald. Rue Simmons: "So, reparations is what we’re doing.

But also, to your point, that’s where the defense came up and that’s where the boldness to be able to move forward is: that we have racism still in our existing policy. Our policy was offered in a time that we had Jim Crow, and redlining, and so on. There's a need to update that.

So, we have organizations like Evanston Development Cooperative and others that are working on policy change as it relates to housing development opportunities. That’s something that we have to continue to work on and improve."

Ald. Rainey: "There are communities all over the country that are working on outlawing or changing the zoning code to eliminate R1 zoning. R1 zoning permits only single-family homes. And in Evanston, an R1 lot has to be 5,000 square feet. And that came into effect in 2003. There’s a movement across the country, and it has to do with affordable housing to eliminate R1 zoning.

But just to clarify, to say the City of Evanston doesn’t want to eliminate it is not quite accurate. What you should say is that most people who live in an R1 district don’t want to eliminate it. And very decent people in that neighborhood are fighting it."

Darlene Murray-Cannon, lifelong Evanston resident

"I would really like to see those houses that they’re building at ETHS--put them somewhere besides in the 5th Ward. Ideally in the 7th Ward, because if we are truly concerned about equity and the diversity that we’re talking about, then we would put these throughout the city and just not simply put them in the black neighborhood."

"It is so important that we have this discussion and we get outside of ourselves and our feelings and we have the heart to be uncomfortable and challenge one another and get some remedy," said Ald. Rue Simmons. "And it’s not going to be easy. All eyes are on Evanston right now. But we just need to worry about Evanston and what we need to do for our families to keep our Black community thriving and to invite many of them to come back.

We have families that have been here for generations that are now moving outside of the city. We all know somebody in this room, we all have some family we know that now has moved outside of Evanston because of lack of affordability, which is rooted in redlining. And now we have all the consequences."

-- Ald. Robin Rue Simmons


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