-- Kamm Howard, National Co-Chair, NAARC, on the local and national push toward reparations.
Housing and education reparations, funded by weed tax, discussed at third Town Hall.
Evanston's third Town Hall on Reparations took place last Thursday, August 27, in the shadow of the police shooting in Kenosha, WI, of Jacob Blake, whose grandfather Jacob Blake served as pastor of Ebenezer AME Church and who was a civil rights activist for fair housing in Evanston.
The event, hosted by Robin Rue Simmons 5th Ward Alderman, included speakers:
Dino Robinson of Shorefront Legacy Center;
Oliver A. Ruff and Henry Wilkins of STEM School- Evanston;
Kamm Howard of National African American Reparations Commission - NAARC;
Rev. Dr Iva E. Carruthers, Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference (SDPC);
Dr. Ron Daniels, Institute of Black World 21st Century and administrator for NAARC;
Attorney and social justice leader Nkechi Taifa;
Actor and UN Ambassador Danny Glover;
Spencer Jourdain, sustainability consultant, author, and son of the late Edwin B. Jourdain, Evanston's 5th ward Alderman
In November of 2019, the City of Evanston passed a resolution restricting the first $10 million of cannabis sales tax--three percent on every sale of adult cannabis--to fund reparations for the Black community in Evanston. Adult-use weed became legal on January 1, 2020.
The City also established a fund for individual contributions to its reparations initiative.
At last week's meeting, more specific plans were announced to advance the first remedies, beginning with housing and a 5th ward STEM school, with hopes, said Ald. Robin Rue Simmons who has spearheaded the initiative, of awarding benefits in early 2021 at the latest.
"Until recently when you heard reparations, it generally referred to HR 40, a federal slavery reparation goal," Rue Simmons said at the start of the town hall, "but recently cities across America have begun to take local actions to repair damages in the Black community from years of institutional and structural Black racial oppression. Our city has led the way."
There's a $46,000 economic divide or household-income divide between black and white Evanston, Rue Simmons said, which is expected to grow given the devastating impact of Covid-19.
Speakers, including Rue Simmons and NAARC's Kamm Howard, emphasized that local reparations initiatives are not at odds with the push for federal reparations.
"As we work towards repair in Evanston, we are in full support of HR 40 and Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee’s leadership," said Rue Simmons. "I'm really excited to share that HR 40 has more sponsors in the House and the Senate than ever in its history."
In fact, Rue Simmons said, in 2002 then-Alderman Lionel Jean Baptiste, now a NAARC commissioner, led the passage of a resolution in support of HR40.
"Today, more and more Americans are coming to the realization and understanding that a tremendous debt is owed to the African American community," Kamm Howard said. "In a recent national poll, 90 percent of Democrats and 50 percent of all Americans favor some form of reparations."
Rue Simmons emphasized that Evanston's reparations initiative is not just about compensation, though financial repair is crucial to make up for the wealth that has been stripped from Black Evanstonians. But, she said, "we're also pursuing full reparations, which includes cessation, assurance of non-repetition, restitution, compensation, rehabilitation, and satisfaction."
After several community meetings last summer the reparations subcommittee--Ald. Rue Simmons, Ald. Ann Rainey, and Ald. Peter Braithwaite--received feedback from residents on what reparations in Evanston would look like to them.
"Due to housing zoning policy that discriminated and oppressed the Black community that stripped away wealth, we advanced housing as a priority," said Rue Simmons.
Ald. Braithwaite describe the subcommittee's proposed housing remedy, which will offer up to $25,000 in assistance to eligible residents to use to purchase a home in Evanston, or to rehab a home in Evanston, or to help qualified residents catch up on their mortgage or abate their taxes.
"We still have some some work to do to finalize the program," said Ald. Braithwaite, "the administration, the application process, and finally a presentation to our city council."
Eligible residents, Braithwaite explained, are Black Evanston residents who have experienced discrimination or are tied to families that have experienced discriminations at the hands of the City of Evanston. They must be direct descendants of those Evanstonians who lived in town between 1919 and 1969 when the City, either discriminated or failed to stop housing discrimination.
Oliver Ruff and Henry Wilkins, members of the Education Subcommittee, offered an update on educational repair.
Ruff said that for the short-term, the education subcommittee will push to bring Black history to the classroom.
"With the recent police killings, folks are more empathetic to teaching more Black history, to increase individual's understanding and appreciation of Black people," he said.
The education subcommittee's long-term goal is to see a STEM Community School located in the 5th ward. Efforts to get a school into the 5th ward have been going on for decades, most recently in 2012, when a referendum failed to pass.
The 5th ward is Evanston's only ward without a school, since Foster school closed in the late 1960s as a result of desegregation, and today Black students in Evanston travel further to school than any other race and any other demographic.
"The intention of this STEM Community School is that it be a remedy for the damage that was caused as a result of Foster school being moved out of the fifth Ward and kids being forced into a one-way busing situation," said Henry Wilkins, who has been working for the past two-and-a-half years to make the school a reality.
Need weed to seed
Ald. Rainey reported that weed sales from Medmen, located at 1804 Maple and currently the only dispensary in Evanston, had generated $35,000 in July for reparations, the first month that Cannabis taxes were collected, and $40,000 last month. She said it's anticipated that those numbers will exponentially increase going forward as Medmen announced plans to double in size over the next month, and because Governor Pritzker will soon release new licenses.
"We are very hopeful that some of our residents who are social-equity participants in these licenses will be setting up shop and adding to our reparations budget," she said.
Special guest Spencer Jourdain, son of the late Edwin B. Jourdain, Jr., Evanston's first Black alderman, spoke about his father's legacy in the fight for Black rights in Evanston from 1939 to 1947--preventing redistricting of the 5th ward, desegregating movie theaters and sports parks, and fighting housing discrimination--and praised today's reparations work as an extension of his father's efforts.
"What he had was a holistic vision for the future of the city. And my goodness, that is exactly what I heard all night from this committee," Jourdain said. "He would be absolutely so elated to see and watch what has come out of his early efforts. You, I think, are the exemplification of the culmination of his dream. I know he’d use his favorite expression, 'Why, that’s mighty, mighty fine," Jourdain said.
Praise for Evanston's reparations initiative
Actor Danny Glover, who is also a United Nations Ambassador for the International Decade for People of African Descent, commended the Evanston community for its work.
"As my grandmother said, when the overseer came to pick up her and her children to go to work in the field in early September, and the overseer said to my grandmother, 'Where the children at?' and boldly my grandmother said, 'My children are in school, they don't go work in the fields when they're school.' Consequently, my mother graduated from Paine College in Augusta, Georgia in 1942," Glover said.
"Those are the stories that will go down in all our collective memories as you begin to move forward ... and give other cities, other communities, the courage to raise it to its highest level as we fight around education, as we fight around mass incarceration, as we fight around community to develop and redistribution of wealth in this country. Those are the kind of battles that await us."
Nkechi Taifa, a human rights attorney and activist who serves with NAARC, praised Evanston as a trailblazer in the fight for reparations.
"Reparations was once, in the not too distant past, unthinkable by mainstream America as viable public policy," she said, "but Evanston was a trailblazer and was on the map early on in 2002, when ... the City Council passed legislation to endorse ... HR40. And today, a historic milestone marker and possible blueprint for other jurisdictions has been advanced: the first time public dollars have been specifically set aside for reparations."
Dr. Iva Carruthers, also of NAARC, and who was raised in Evanston, said, "In the midst of all the current and bad news, and the convergence of systemic past trauma and harms, we come to this Town Hall with a gaze towards hope, reparatory justice, and the claim of reparations. Four generations ago, my great-grandparents chipped in their little dimes to contribute to the stained glass windows at Ebenezer and 50 years ago, the pastor of Ebenezer was Reverend Jacob Blake. Today his grandson is struggling for his life as he lies victim of racialized state violence against yet another Black man. Evanston was appointed and destined for this epic moment."
Local advisors to the reparations subcommittee are: Dino Robinson of Shorefront Legacy Center, Reverend Dr. Michael Nabors, Second Baptist Evanston and Evanston/North Shore Branch NAACP; Pastor Monte' L. G. Dillard, Sr., of First Church of God and Judge Lionel Jean-Baptiste, NAARC commissioner.
In addition to Judge Jean-Baptiste, who lives in Evanston, NAARC commission members assigned to guide Evanston's efforts are: Dr. Ron Daniels, Dr. Iva Carruthers, and Nketchi Taifa.