Michael Nabors, Andrea London: why Evanstonians should contribute to and support reparations.
Every year in January, for the past three years, I've mounted a fundraiser for Evanston reparations through the Evanston Reparations Community Fund held by the Evanston Community Foundation.
Last year we raised $20,000 in just under a week. This year, the goal is $50,000.
I encourage every white and non-Black Evanston resident to contribute here.
This past week, on Dr. Martin Luther Kind, Jr. Day, I interviewed Pastor Michael Nabors and Rabbi Andrea London about why Evanston's faith-based community should contribute to Evanston's reparations initiative.
Pastor Nabors is senior pastor of the second oldest Black church in Evanston, Second Baptist Evanston, president of the Evanston/North Shore Branch NAACP and founding member of the Reparations Stakeholders Authority of Evanston.
Rabbi London is Senior Rabbi at Beth Emet The Free Synagogue, and an outspoken leader when it comes to social justice issues in Evanston and in Israel/Palestine.
Both leaders spoke so eloquently, persuasively, and personally. You can watch our conversation here and read some excerpts below.
I also interviewed Evanston 8th ward resident Tom Mulhern about why he supports, contributes, and encourages others to financially support local reparations. You can watch our conversation here (it's a five-minute chat--also compelling).
My conversations with Pastor Michael Nabors and Rabbi Andrea London
Nina/DE: You've both been instrumental in bringing our faith communities together in Evanston to celebrate and support each other across race and religion, to rally and protest and mourn after tragedies. We also come together to celebrate and remember positive things like Martin Luther King's legacy.
Evanston has been considered a progressive city with progressive residents and values. We've come together to protest injustice. We've rallied after Charlottesville, after the police murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, after the police shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, and the terrorist shooting of Black church-goers at Mother Emanuel in Charleston.
But few white Evanston residents really know and acknowledge our own racial history and the quotidian racism that been a slow burn over many decades. We seldom own the privileges that we enjoy as a result of redlining, Jim Crow and other racism, both in law and in practice.
And it seems like it's harder to come together over this kind of insidious racism than it following a particular vicious act or act of terror or violence.
Do you believe that Evanston's reparations initiative offers an opportunity for us to come together across faith and race to to continue reparations happening in Evanston and also federally?
Rabbi London: Yes, I think that it is an important opportunity that we have in our community. You pointed out so powerfully that we're able to come together when something happens somewhere else. But when it hits close to home, sometimes it's a little more challenging, because then we have to really look inside.
And we have to address our own culpability and what has happened in our community. And that's much more challenging, but also very important. And I think that coming to grips with the racist policies within our own community is important.
So learning that history, understanding that history, and then making reparations, which is really taking responsibility for that history. That it's not just enough to say, 'Oh, yes, this happened, and now everything's okay.' This happened. And we know that the Black community has suffered financially and in other ways because of discrimination. And when that happens, it's our responsibility to make reparations. And the reparations, I think, need to be both financial and truth and reconciliation--that we come to grips with the fact that we have had a racist past where racism still exists within our community.
And that's much more painful and difficult to do it internally, but also very important.
Pastor Nabors: When you ask whether or not this is an opportunity for our community to come together, keep in mind, there are 100 or 1,000 entry points that people can make in this movement toward trying to repair damage. And reparations, of course, is one of those major entry points.
It is, of course, the first step on a thousand-mile journey. We're talking in Evanston now about $10 million over a 10 year period, through Resolution 126-R-19, through the City. And now we're talking about the Stakeholders Authority of Evanston (RSAE) raising more dollars.
Well, we know in reality that there are not enough dollars in the world to make up for the kind of repair that needs to be done, because it's not just economic damage that was done. It's not just social damage that was done. We're talking about emotional damage and years and years of trauma being passed on from one generation to another. So there's psychological devastation that's going on. And of course, there's there's the dynamic of spiritual damage that has occurred as well.
And what I love about our gathering together this afternoon, Nina, is that you have two clergy persons coming together representing faith communities. And the idea of us being able to come together is that we're looking at reparations in the largest perspective. So it's not it's not just money, but how can we truly improve our relations? And how can we forge our way into the Black community where so many generations of damage has been done, and begin to unpack that, and to move that away so that new generations will not have to bear the baggage of decades before?
Nina/DE: Some people believe that the onus [of repair] is exclusively on government entities. And you mentioned the RSAE, which is a private entity. Some people even believe just the federal government should pay reparations for systemic harm.
Why do you think it's important, or even critical and urgent, for Evanston's faith community particularly, to collectively support local reparations by encouraging individuals and congregational contributions, if we're talking specifically financially, and we can talk about other ways -- educationally, Truth-and-Reconciliation-wise?
Pastor Nabors: It seems to me that looking at reparations from a national perspective through the federal government is one thing. I do think that HR 40 is critical. And at some point, it needs to pass both both the House and the Senate and to be approved by the President.
But that does not put a face on reparations; it just becomes another federal program. It's an important program, don't get me wrong, but it becomes a federal program. It's not a program where you're putting human faces and a human touch on it.
Locally, we're able to put faces and names to people so that we're building partnerships and collaboration and building friendships. And when you talk about houses of worship and faith communities, then we have an opportunity to come together in so many ways around reparations ... new opportunities for our houses of worship to gather together in ways that we haven't done before. And I think that's important. This is a small community; it's only eight square miles. Everybody ought to know everybody, but but we don't. And this is an opportunity for us to begin to forge ahead and make those kinds of relationships that really work towards building Beloved Community.
Rabbi London: When people think they know each other, they don't really know each other's deep stories. I think that's what Pastor Nabors is talking about. We go to school together and we socialize together, perhaps, and work together. But we don't necessarily know people's personal stories of racism, of trauma. And part of the local reparations movement is to really be able to hear those stories and understand those stories ... and for us to sit with that--that this is not something that happened far away. This something happened right here in our community, to people that we really know.
I think that when people really hear personal stories, it has an impact on how they work towards reparations on a federal level as well. If it's just something ... abstract -- another program for some people who were discriminated against, it doesn't really hit home, and we don't really understand it.
I think that starting with reparations on a local level is the right way to go, that if communities do this on a local level, then they're going to say we need to do this on a federal level as well. Because we know that financially, we can't provide everything that's needed. But we're beginning to be able to provide the the spiritual and the ethical backing for reparations. I don't think we're going to see it the other way around.
You don't get something from the abstract to the particular, you go from the particular to the larger, to the abstract. And that's exactly what we're doing here in Evanston.
What can we learn from the two different faith traditions, the Jewish tradition,
the Black Baptist tradition that makes supporting reparations imperative?
Rabbi London: In Judaism we have a concept of T'shuva, which we sometimes translate as 'repentance.' And it's something that we focus on during our High Holy days. We look internally, and we try to see what we've done over the past year, and how we can make amends for what we've done in the past.
The word T'shuva in Hebrew means to 'return,' or 'to go back.' And we know that we can't move forward without going back, which is exactly what we're talking about in terms of reparations: You can't just gloss over something that's happened in the past and say, Oh, wow, I hurt somebody's feelings last year, and I don't need to do anything about it.'
When you've done something wrong, you have to go back and make amends for it, you can't just say we're just going to move forward from here. And so that's a very important part of the Jewish tradition, so important that we spent an entire season of year just focused on that idea.
And I think that's exactly what reparations is about. We have to go back, and we have to look at the past, and we have to make amends. You can't just say sorry.
We also know that from the story of the Exodus from Egypt, which the Jewish community is now reading as part of our annual Torah reading cycle. In the book of Exodus and reading about our slavery and our freedom from Egypt, God made the Egyptians ... open their wallets to us. And so they gave us jewelry and other kinds of precious things. These have been seen later in Jewish tradition as reparations -- that the reason we got these things is because we had been enslaved and we deserved something as we were leaving in order to start our life.
... If that's our origin story, then maybe when we see the origin story here of our own country, of our Black citizens, our origin story is slavery. Well, then the next part of the story needs to be reparations. So clearly, the Jewish community has seen that in its own past and knows that it's important when we see it in our country, that we need to live by the values of our tradition.
Pastor Nabors: Rabbi, I really appreciate your sharing your story out of the context of your faith community, and also bringing up the fact that it really does parallel to a large degree the story of what we would call the African American experience ... the African diaspora.
It's not just those who wound up on the North American continent, but we're talking about those who wound up in the Caribbeans, those who wound up in South America, Central America ... and the umbrella, the institution of slavery.
We don't believe that [slavery] is our starting point. We have historians and scholars who are insistent upon going back prior to slavery where our people actually lived on the continent of Africa and thrived and succeeded ... and then slavery came.
I do think that that coming of age is where we are right now, after so many years of slavery, 240 years, over 100 years of separate-but-equal through Jim Crow, and after these other 100 years of just general suffering because of discrimination and different forms of racism. There's there's a lot to be made up. There's so much damage that has been done. And one of the things that I want to share with you ...
I've been trying to finish writing a book for the last couple of years. It's historical fiction, but it is also very much based upon the life of my own family. I'm able to go all the way back to the Revolutionary War, which many Black families are not able to do.
My great-grandmother, who was the one that wound up in Evanston, in 1893 -- her family came from Indiana, and her father fought in the Civil War along with a brother, [her uncle]. They both fought in the battle at Fort Wagner, with the 54th regiment out of Massachusetts that's made famous in the movie 'Glory," starring Denzel Washington. Of course, her father lived, but her Uncle Thomas Ampey was killed.
We were looking for the rest of her siblings. There were 11 of them all together, and we found everybody but one. And last week, one of my cousins who's on this effort found out about the one sibling that we were not able to find. They came from Richmond, Indiana, and I just want to share with you what my cousin sent me.
It's the form of a newspaper article from the 'Indianapolis News,' Marion County, June 30 1885:
'The dead body of James Ampey, who disappeared from Richmond on Friday the 19th, was found yesterday afternoon, nine miles north of that place. From appearances, Ampey had gone from a field in which he had been working, climbed a tree, fastened one end of a two-foot rope to a limb, and hung himself. He evidently remain hanging until the heavy rains rotted the rope and his body slumped to the ground.'
Obviously, we do not believe that James Ampey hung himself during a time when Indiana, right after Reconstruction, became filled with as much racism as any of the southern states.
But that's just one story from one Black family.
And, I'll tell you, it's a sobering story. Because so many of us, like so many of our Jewish brothers and sisters from the Holocaust, have family members that suffered in such a way that again, no amount of reparations can make up for that.
I also want to state, which is very important, my family is able to trace their connection to literally every war that was fought, all the way back to the Revolutionary War. So, fighting in the war for the independence of America. Fighting to protect the rights of America and the freedom that America espouses thereafter. And yet always coming home to face a more bitter enemy and adversary in the form of racism. It's just absolutely incredible.
And I think that's why in Evanston we're doing something so tremendous that can be a pioneering model and example for other communities around the country.
Rabbi London: To add to that: Pastor Nabors was talking about the Holocaust. And we certainly know that Jews who survived the Holocaust received reparations. So it's another time in our history in which we received reparations. It certainly doesn't take away the trauma. It doesn't bring back the 6 million people who died. We can't do that through reparations.
So when people say we shouldn't do reparations because it doesn't take away the trauma, and it doesn't bring people back, that doesn't mean we shouldn't do it. We still need to do it.
Acknowledge that it doesn't take away the loss, the pain, the suffering, and the trauma. But it begins the process of healing. And we need to begin that process of healing.
To say, 'We don't need to look at the past or to make amends for it,' or, 'We can just move forward and heal in that way,' is not right. As I said, that's not how we see things from a Jewish, a spiritual, perspective. So I really am troubled when people say we don't need to do reparations because it's not going to really do anything.
Nina/DE: Or, 'I wasn't here when it happened.'
Rabbi London: Or, 'I'm not responsible, I didn't do anything.' You know ... I can't trace my family back nearly as far as [Pastor Nabors].
Nina/DE: My answer to that is ... history is with us, it's not the past, it's also the present.
What do you both consider the most appropriate role or roles for the faith community to help advance reparations in Evanston?
Pastor Nabors: I think, as I said before, that there are 100 different starting points for folks to come into this concept of reparations at the local community level. And one of them is simply in beginning the process of forming relationships where there haven't been relationships before.
I think that faith communities may be the best organizations or institutions to be able to do that, and lead that charge. I think as diverse as Evanston is, and as progressive as we are, we still live in silos. And for the most part, there's a large swath of folks in this community that don't know anybody else outside of their own concentric circle -- whether that be their faith community, or whatever.
I would love to see other houses of worship form relationships in the way that Beth Emet and Second Baptist have formed a relationship ... I think that we have moved beyond Black and white in terms of forming this relationship. And even beyond faith. Even though we're part of the Judeo-Christian heritage, we have two distinct different faith communities, and that has not impinged our opportunity to develop relationships and friendship.
So I think that's the most important thing that houses of worship can do. I think there are other things as well, though, and if we are talking about financial consideration or economic opportunities, I think houses of worship can give what they can. We're in COVID, we're definitely experiencing hard times. But I think in giving they might be able to look at the outcome of what that giving is.
So it's not just a payout to individuals, even though individuals may deserve that, they may want it, and that may be one step. But I think other steps are opportunities for programs to be developed to break the the wealth gap that exists between Black and white, and to break that curse, of family poverty that many families of color are experiencing. And one way of doing that is education ... for every single Black and brown child to have an opportunity if they want to, to go to college, without worrying about acquiring so much debt that they'll never get out of.
Rabbi London: I think there are a few things that the religious community can provide. Sometimes people want to criticize organized religion, and I say, well, it's better than disorganized religion.
And what I mean by that is that [a religious community] is like communities that know each other, that spend time together, can organize, can do things together. And because of that, we can mobilize people.
So organized religion has the advantage of people already in relationship with each other. When you're in a relationship and you know each other's stories, you can mobilize and do things. I think that we've been able to mobilize within our community to do educational programs, both with Second Baptist and also on our own, to teach people about the history of our country, to think about white supremacy, and to grow in our understanding. And that has been very powerful.
If we're gonna have reparations -- people donating money -- why do we donate money unless we understand it? That's number one.
Number two, I think that we really offer the ethical imperative that a religious community says this is why we need to do this, and I think that is important and it really does move people. I also think that people are moved to do something, not just when they're told intellectually. Religious communities understand that we when we marry the head and the heart and the soul together, we really can be a powerful force.
We live in a society in which sometimes we want to separate the head from the heart. And the soul goes over here. A religious community says, no, we are a whole human being. And we are going to treat the whole human being. We're going to do education, and we're going to do prayer, and we're going to develop relationships with each other.
And through all of those things we are going to be this powerful force that can make a difference in the world.
And I think that that's what we see from the religious community.
At Beth Emet, we have really worked on educating our community regarding the history of our country and racism for many, many years. And then we've really added this layer of reparations, and why we think it's important to do reparations within our community. And we are about to also embark on fundraising as a community. We've also talked with the other religious institutions in town and said, 'You know, what if we got together as all of the churches and synagogues and mosques and other other religious institutions and said, we're going to put a goal out there, we're going to raise money together.'
As Abraham Joshua Heschel said when he was with Martin Luther King and marching down in Selma, 'When I was marching my feet were praying.' And our two congregations really believe that when we live by our values, that's how we implement our prayer. That prayer is something that gives us strength when we walk out to actually do something in the world.
We say in our morning service, 'Ani Tefilati lecha,' which means, 'I am my prayer to you, Oh, God.' It's not just words; I ... I have the ability to live as a prayer. And I think this is one of the ways in which we really implement prayer and make prayer real.
Nina/DE: Pastor Nabors, I mentioned that you are one of the founding members of the Reparations Stakeholders Authority of Evanston.
Can explain what the RSAE is and how it's how it complements the City's reparations initiative?
Pastor Nabors: I think it's important to make the distinction between what's happening with the City, which is so important, and RSAE.
The RSAE was developed about a year ago, when a group of folks started talking about what more needed to be done. And we were able to surmise that, while $10 million sounds like an awful lot of money over a 10 year period, it's not a lot of money for the thousands of African Americans and Blacks who live in the Evanston community. And so we decided that one of the things that might be helpful is starting a nonprofit organization that really is reflective and representative of the larger group of African Americans in the community.
So we started the necessary paperwork to put together a 501(c)3. And the first person that we talked to was the former president and CEO of the Evanston Community Foundation, Monique Jones, when she was president. She loved the idea and ... she said, 'We will help you.'
So we have been able to partner with the ECF. They've been especially prodigious in lending human resources to us in terms of aiding our our effort at starting the nonprofit.
We have been forming a board that represents the wider [Black] community. We have representatives from several of the historical African American churches, and also what we call the 'Divine Nine,' which are nine sororities and fraternities that are historically Black. I sit on that board and other folks as well.
We've decided that we need maybe between 18 and 25 members to reflect the larger community. And we're not quite at that number yet. But we'll probably get that in the first few months of this year, and then the board will be responsible for determining how funding will be given out to the Black community with regard to reparations.
The money with the City is money that comes through the taxation of cannabis from dispensaries that are in the Evanston community. And that money is solely shelled out under the auspices of the City ... The City Council [with input from the Reparations Committee] will have the final say on how that money is being disbursed, like the restorative housing program that started on Friday.
The RSAE doesn't have that kind of that kind of hierarchy. So we have our board that is working with the community that will determine how that that money can most effectively assist in the repair of damage that has been done to blacks as a result of racism.
Nina/DE: People -- individuals and organizations -- can also contribute to the City fund. I've chosen to focus on the RSAE fund (the Reparations Community Fund of Evanston) because it complements the City fund, and because once the money from the City is no more -- [the RSAE] will go on. And, I just wanted to clarify that even though it's held at the ECF, the money is administered completely by the RSAE, the decisions about how that money is used is is entirely up to the RSAE.
Another thing I want to add is that when I talk to people about contributing to to reparations in Evanston I ask people not to take a tax benefit from it, because it is reparative money. It's reparations. And so, to me, I feel that a white person contributing shouldn't benefit in any way. It should be a clean cut contribution.
And then I believe that contributing to the reparations fund, whichever one you choose to do, should not replace any other contributions you're giving to organizations in Evanston that are working on racial equity issues -- that it should always go above and beyond and should not replace.
Rabbi London: Pastor Nabors, if people are going to give money, should they give it to the City fund or the RSAE, do you have a preference?
Pastor Nabors: I don't think I have a preference because both of them are working hard to engage in repairing the damage. I think both of them are worthy to receive contributions.
What do you consider to be the most compelling reasons that white and non-Black Evanston residents should contribute to reparations in Evanston?
Pastor Nabors: I think that it all has to do with what kind of community you want to live in. What kind of town do you want to best reflect your perspective about how a town should be? For me, ever since I arrived in Evanston, I've always talked about the possibility of it being a beloved community, much more than any community that I've ever been in -- maybe with the exception of Princeton, and Princeton only because it's much smaller, and doable, with only about 20,000 people, but it's not nearly as diverse as Evanston.