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This Wednesday, April 14 will be a momentous and historic day for Reparations.

At 9 a.m. Chicago time, the U.S. Congress will bring reparations bill H.R. 40 to a vote in the House Judiciary Committee to send H.R. 40 to the floor of the House of Representatives.

It will stream live here.

The vote comes amid an acceleration in the reparations movement’s success at the state and local levels, and just three weeks after Evanston led the way after City Council voted 8-1 to distribute $400,000 to eligible black households to receive $25,000 for home repairs or down payments on property.

Introduced by Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee and joined by almost 180 cosponsors--including Evanston's own Rep. Jan Schakowsky (IL-09)--H.R. 40 would create a commission to study:

-- the history of slavery in the United States and in the American colonies from 1619 to 1865;

-- the role of the federal and state governments in supporting slavery;

-- federal and state laws that discriminated against the descendants of African slaves;

-- other forms of discrimination against the descendants of African slaves;

-- and the lingering effects of slavery on African Americans.

The commission would also make recommendations as to appropriate ways to educate the American public about its findings and appropriate remedies in light of the commission’s findings.

Since 1989, H.R. 40 has been introduced at every congressional session, but has never before reached a committee vote, normally the first step toward passing legislation.

Though there are still many hurdles to jump before Reparations can become national law, Wednesday will mark a significant step forward.

I asked Congresswoman Schakowsky how she felt about Evanston's reparations initiative, and where H.R. 40 has come since it was introduced.

“I'm proud to represent the only jurisdiction that has passed a reparations law, my hometown of Evanston," she told me. "I'm proud to cosponsor H.R. 40, and I am pleased that the House Judiciary Committee is moving it forward. It's well past time for our country to reckon with its history of slavery and systemic racism," she said.

"Part of that process must include reparations to help address the devastating and compounding economic losses that have been suffered by Black Americans as a result of this stained history," Rep. Schakowsky added.

"I truly believe that the work being done on the local level, like in Evanston, is a driving force behind this federal initiative. I am proud of my community for its efforts to help us heal as a nation and build a free and just society for all.”

Kamm Howard, national co-chair of N'COBRA, told me this morning that the upcoming vote is the progression of years of work.

"It's a statement the nation is moving closer to reckoning for the crimes and injustices committed against people of African descent. Witnessing recent major events, like the protest of George Floyd's murder, the January 6 insurrection, and the City of Evanston's own initial reckoning, Congress has been pushed to move in this right direction," he said.

N'COBRA (The National Coalition of Blacks for Reparations in America), founded in 1987, is the premiere mass-based coalition of organizations and individuals committed to obtaining reparations for African descendants in the United States, and Howard, along with other N'COBRA leaders were instrumental in working with Evanston's 5th Ward Alderwoman Robin Rue Simmons in guiding Evanston toward it's local reparations initiative.

On Wednesday evening at 6 p.m. Chicago time, N'COBRA, in partnership with the National Black Cultural Information Trust, will host a forum with leaders who are crafting the national strategy to pass HR 40 to discuss the vote.

Register here.

"I'm feeling proud to be an Evanstonian and to serve a community that has shown we believe in reparations for the Black community since 2002. We are one step closer to justice for people of African decent in America," Ald. Rue Simmons told me earlier today.

"Immediately, I think about my ancestors, the Balanta people who were kidnapped from Guinee Bissau and enslaved, our foremothers and fathers who were lynched and raped, my grandparents who were Jim Crowed, my parents who were redlined," she said.

"I think about the impact of predatory lending as I've attempted to build wealth for my family, my children who experience trauma, from racial terror, and my grandson who does not have a neighborhood public school because we desegregated schools prioritizing white neighborhoods' satisfaction of diversity.

"Chattel slavery has been abolished but with each generations, new editions of Black oppression are enforced in this nation.

"I'm encouraged that the next historic step will happen on Wednesday. I feel strong appreciation for 35 years of reparations advocacy and education from N'COBRA, the strategic leadership of NAAARC, and for Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee and the 174 of her congressional colleagues who have the will and heart to move us closer to justice."

In a news release on Friday, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) said the historic markup of H.R. 40 is intended to continue a national conversation about how to confront the brutal mistreatment of African Americans during chattel slavery, Jim Crow segregation, and the enduring structural racism that remains endemic to our society today.

"We still live with racial disparities in access to education, health care, housing, insurance, employment and other social goods that are directly attributable to the damaging legacy of slavery and government-sponsored racial discrimination. The creation of a commission to study these issues is not intended to divide, but to continue the efforts commenced by states, localities and private institutions to reckon with our past and bring us closer to racial understanding and advancement," Nadler said.

Bill sponsor Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX) said that since HR40's introduction in 1989 by the late Chairman John Conyers and now, with its continued introduction, it has galvanized governmental acknowledgement of the crime of slavery and its continuing societal impact.

"Reparations are ultimately about respect and reconciliation — and the hope that one day, all Americans can walk together toward a more just future," she said.

Jackson Lee and Kamm Howard will be among the speakers at N'COBRA's Wednesday night forum.


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