Reparation Subcommittee meeting Jan. 10 RoundTable photo

On Jan. 10, the Evanston Reparation Sub-Committee held its first meeting at the Aldermanic Library of the Lorraine H. Morton Civic Center. At this point there are only two members: Alderman Robin Rue-Simmons (5th Ward) and Alderman Anne Rainey (8th Ward). Alderman Peter Braithwaite (2nd Ward) also attended. Deputy City Manager Kimberly Richardson and other City staff attended, as did about 15 community members.

In November, a Reparations Fund was created and adopted as part of the City’s 2020 Budget. City Council committed to use up to $10 million in tax revenues collected from the sale of recreational cannabis to support reparations in Evanston.

City Council is scheduled to meet on Jan. 13 to discuss expanding the Reparation Subcommittee. In a statement issued on Dec. 19, the City said the Subcommittee will be expanded to include subject matter experts and additional members of the community.

The statement also said, “The Subcommittee will work with residents, City staff and experts to explore and identify programs and opportunities to be supported by the Reparations Fund, including initiatives related to workforce development, entrepreneurship, home ownership, education and infrastructure. The process has just begun to consider many important issues, including the scope of funding opportunities, criteria and qualifications for participation, and level of funding.”

On Jan 10, the Subcommittee approved a schedule of 11 meetings through June, and the aldermen present gave some preliminary views on expanding the Subcommittee and on how the Reparations Fund might be used.

Ald. Rue Simmons said she would like the Subcommittee to present a proposal for the use of some of the funds by July, and to begin using the funds starting in the fall of 2020 or early 2021, depending on when the State remits the sales tax revenues to the City. City Council will need to approve any proposal.

Ald. Braithwaite emphasized that this process will all be done in a public way, and that notices and agenda of all meetings will be posted on the City’s website. “It will be a community wide effort,” he said.

Preliminary Views on Expanding the Subcommittee

One issue is who else should be on the Subcommittee and how many people will be members of the Subcommittee. ’

Ald. Rainey said, “I have promised that I will not allow anything to take over the funds that we have approved – and that is the City cannabis tax. We will take it upon ourselves to go to the community to secure comparable funding from them and others who really have an obligation in this community to make a commitment to reparations.

“I know I’m the white lady on the committee. I know that I don’t have the feelings that everybody else does and I know my place here. My place is to get as much money as I can to take care of Evanston. So that’s my job.”

Ald. Rainey added, “What I would like to add to the committee is a professional in the development area to work with me. … I have the clout, but they have the professional experience in the area of development.”

Ald. Rue Simmons said she would like to add someone to the Subcommittee to fit that profile. She added that several organizations had volunteered to help. She added that the Subcommittee should take advantage of the expertise and input available from local organizations, Northwestern University, banks and others, but it did not necessarily mean that representatives of these groups needed to be on the Subcommittee.

The alderman present at the Subcommittee meeting did not suggest any names of potential members.

What Form Will Reparations Take?

Ald. Simmons said, “We have yet to establish the initiatives and how to use the funds and who qualifies for the funds. We have a long road ahead of us.”

The aldermen present gave some views on the purpose of the Reparation Fund in Evanston and its possible uses.

Ald. Rue Simmons opened the discussion saying that when people think of reparations they often think of reparations for slavery, and think of HR 40, a U.S. House of Representative resolution to form a commission to study reparations for black people in the United States.

“In our case, we have a local reparations here in Evanston,” Ald. Rue Simmons said. In Evanston, she said, her goal and that of many of her colleagues is to focus on “the impact of redlining and how that impacted our community.”

She said she had heard from some people that Caribbeans should not get reparations. “That’s not where we’re at here, in my opinion. In my opinion, we have to agree on this as a Council. This is a local reparations that is based on damages that were specifically done in Evanston. This is not to compete with or replace HR 40. This is specific to Evanston, and we have a rich and extensive Caribbean community here in Evanston, and I have no intention of trying to exclude that community.

“We have to define that as a community. This is not a slavery reparations. There is much overlap because our discrimination is rooted in slavery because of the color of our skin. It dictates some of the discrimination that we have received, and it dictates the redlining and those damages for reparations in Evanston. That’s something we need to discuss more … “

Ald. Braithwaite said, “I would agree in support of a lot of what you just said. “We have to stay focused on our local effort.

“There’s really two areas I want to see us focus on. One is housing and redlining. One issue is the black population is decreasing.” He said this may be happening because some black people may be moving out of Evanston because they want larger homes and to reduce the cost of housing. “My concern is what are we doing to retain people who want to stay and attract others to come. I would love to focus on housing and prioritize that.”

The other thing of concern, Ald. Braithwaite said, is business development and helping people find a job at a living wage. “I would like to see some funds go to support local business development in town, particularly those in areas where we have large communities of black folks”

Ald. Rue-Simmons said, “That’s completely my hope and my intention – consider housing as a priority to reduce the decline of the black population.”

Ald. Rue Simmons added, “One thing I don’t want us to miss is the healing, the emotional trauma, and the emotional repair.” She said COBRA (the National Coalition of Black for Reparations in America) may be able to help with “the emotional repair that is needed, the health, the trauma that we deal with, the trauma that is in our DNA that we carry – from our foremothers, our forefathers, but even the trauma that we incur today with over-policing.

“I would like for us to follow up and see if there’s any opportunity and maybe we could hand that to the Equity Empowerment Committee.”

Ald. Rainey said there was a need to address the disparities of health care between black and white people.

Some Additional Issues

Ald. Simmons said some groups in the community have already held meetings to discuss reparations and that these meetings were happening “organically.” Subcommittee members said the community should know about these meetings, and they asked Ms. Richardson to list on the City’s website the time and place of these meetings.

Ald. Rue-Simmons said, “I am very encouraged for our journey ahead, and hopeful that we will do right for our residents and our policy here.”

Ald. Braithwaite said, “I’m looking forward to the work ahead, as well as to working with the larger community…” He added that he appreciated the community support shown to date. “One of the things we will continue to hear – and where we will be challenged – is educating the community and bringing everybody onto the same page.”

The next two meetings of the Subcommittee are scheduled for Jan. 24 and Feb. 7.

Larry Gavin was a co-founder of the Evanston RoundTable in 1998 and assisted in its conversion to a non-profit in 2021. He has received many journalism awards for his articles on education, housing and...