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At 8:50 p.m. on March 22, City Council adopted Resolution 37-R-27 authorizing the implementation of the Evanston Local Reparations Restorative Housing Program and the initial program budget of $400,000.
The majority of the public comments at the City Council meeting were in response to Special Order of Business SP3, adoption of the nation’s first local reparations program, with some residents voicing strong support for the resolution and others saying that the program is unfair, incomplete, and/or does not qualify as “true reparations.”
The historic 8-1 vote took place four days after former mayoral candidate Sebastian Nalls led a live-streamed event, “E3R’s Reparation Seminar.” Nine aldermanic candidates and incumbent Tom Suffredin responded to questions that focused mainly on whether the Restorative Housing Program is an appropriate first step toward repairing damages to Evanston’s Black community.
A number of residents who spoke against the Restorative Housing Program made comments that echoed those in recent weeks from Mr. Nalls and other members of the group “Evanston Rejects Racist Reparations” (E3R) – namely that reparations should give individuals the flexibility to decide what to do with the funds that are designated for repair of harm to the Black community in Evanston. Under the current plan, reparations are tied to housing and mortgage assistance, at least in the initial phase of the program, and would benefit only a small number of people, based on eligibility requirements.
The group E3R has taken the position that the current iteration of the Restorative Housing Program will subject “qualifying Black residents to processes that perpetuate harms, where those processes continue to be rooted in anti-Black racism (e.g. credit checks, bank loans, real estate practices),” one of seven points outlined in a statement posted by the group on Facebook on March 2.
Yet there is common ground in some crucial areas.
The E3R’s Reparation Seminar on March 18 was one of many meetings, events, and community conversations that point to community-wide support for reparations, and a deep appreciation for the work that was spearheaded by Alderman Robin Rue Simmons, with the help of many people who worked alongside her and those who initiated the work before her.
The seminar also spotlighted ongoing frustration among community members who feel that their voices have not been heard, even though they and/or their family members suffered from policies that were put in place to marginalize and disenfranchise members of Evanston’s Black community from the rights and privileges that white residents take for granted, many of which continue to this day.
Mr. Nalls was assisted by Meleika Gardner, founder and host of Evanston Live TV, in asking at least four questions of each candidate who attended the E3R’s Reparation Seminar” on March 18. Audience members were also invited to make statements or ask questions of the candidates.
“The purpose of this event is to educate and engage in discussion on the meaning of reparations and the current proposal’s impact locally and nationally for the Black community,” said Mr. Nalls, adding that candidates running for local office and incumbents were invited to the event, along with Mayor Stephen Hagerty, Mayor-Elect Daniel Biss, and Ald. Simmons.
Mr. Nalls noted that some incumbents and officials who received invitations “had prior commitments, and others did not respond to our invitation.”
In addition to Alderman Thomas Suffredin (6th Ward), those who attended included aldermanic candidates Bobby Burns and Carolyn Murray (5th Ward), Darlene Cannon (2nd Ward), Nicholas Korzeniowski (3rd Ward), Jonathan Nieuwsma (4th Ward), current City Clerk Devon Reid (8th Ward), Mary Rosinski (7th Ward), and Katie Trippi (6th Ward).
“Why do you believe we need to take efforts to repair the damage done to our Black residents? And do you believe that the proposed draft on the March 22 City Council Agenda is enough to fulfill that repair?” was Mr. Nalls’ first question. Excerpts from the responses made by the candidates and officials are found below. The event in its entirety was recorded and can be viewed on the Evanston Live TV Facebook page.
Mr. Nieuwsma: “Why are we doing reparations? Because it’s the right thing to do … How can we right the wrongs of history? It’s an immense and overwhelming concept …The journey to start to repair the damage that has been done is a long one, and we’ll start with the next step. I think we need to acknowledge that what we’re doing here in Evanston is on the cutting edge of reparations in the country.
“We are past the question of if we should do [reparations]. We’ve answered that. Yes, in a small way, we’ve committed $10 million dollars in 10 years here [from the City’s 3% tax on cannabis sales] in Evanston to start to redress some of the wrongs. But to think that $10 million is enough to redress … the tragedy of racism over history – no way – $10 million is not even a drop in that bucket. …We’re into the question of how we should do it.
“The fact that disagreement exists as to how reparations should be enacted is normal and to be expected. … I’m committed to this conversation being led, not by me as a white alderman. The eligibility and the compensation mechanisms for the $10 million. …Those ideas need to come from the Black community. My commitment as an alderman is to ensure that that discussion is engaging everybody that needs to be engaged in the community, that the discussion is open and fair. Whatever proposal results from that discussion is one that I will be committed to implementing at the City and making sure that it’s institutionalized within the City.”
Ms. Murray: “When the proposal was first introduced to Council, I made strong statements about how I purchased my home through the First Time Buyers Program. There was no clear establishment on how these funds would be distributed, and that concerned me at that time. So to look at this a year-and-a half later – and see that there is not a full push or acknowledgement for those residents who would directly benefit from this to be heard…and to be acknowledged in the proposed distribution of [funds].
“Are we looking at it … to be centered as a plan to re-establish wealth? I am calling for the banks to be Black; I am calling for the investment of the proposed amount of money for this year to look into another opportunity with the dispensary – to look at established minority companies throughout the nation that have had marijuana distributions, and to go into some type of contractual agreement with them. So the profits that are made will go back into a fund that generates on its own.
“That is the way that we establish building wealth within the Black community. That we have control of the destiny of the financial funds that are created through our own businesses, similar to what we look at with the Native American Indians owning their own casinos. … I want to make sure that this fund will never go away.
“How it’s determined that we will distribute the [funds] – if it’s housing, if it’s education, if it’s cash … if it’s training, if it’s repair to housing, if it’s even repair to the lead pipes that are in some of the older homes – we definitely agree to move forward with a collective committee that involves people who are actually invested in the distribution of this plan.”
Mr. Reid: “We know that in Evanston, this isn’t necessarily about slavery. This isn’t about anything that happened outside of the scope of the City of Evanston, and what it’s responsible for. So we know that has to do with housing. We know that has to do with access to City resources. We know that has to do with policing here in Evanston. We know it has to do with a whole host of policies that disproportionately brought the weight of the government down on Black folks, and caused an impedance to folks to be able to … acquire wealth.
“Does the resolution that’s proposed for Monday meet the requirements of satisfying that harm? To me, that answer is no. And I don’t think it’s meant to, according to the folks who are putting it forward. I think there’s work to be done, and I’m committed, if elected alderman to Eighth Ward, as a member of that subcommittee. I’m committed to expanding the reparations program to increase the eligibility of folks so that we’re providing more holistic repair.”
Mr. Burns: “Early on, before the discussion was even a public one, I was asked by Clerk Reid as well as Dino Robinson of Shorefront [Legacy Center] to make the first case, drafting the memorandum that went on to become the first position paper in Evanston on the case for local reparations here in Evanston. So I’ve been a part of this conversation from the beginning, and I feel I can continue to hopefully weigh in on this issue.
“Clerk Reid talked about a few of the needs. I think another more targeted need is harms based around redlining. When African Americans first started to migrate to Evanston, they settled all throughout Evanston. When the population began to rise, through racially restrictive covenants, racial steering in real estate, through zoning policies targeting the African American community, they were forced into the Fifth Ward. And the real estate was arbitrarily de-valued, so it was hard to get loans to purchase homes. It was hard to get loans for remodeling. And if you did get one, it was a predatory one, with a high interest rate.
“We know the assessed value of the homes in those areas aren’t what they should be. Still to this day, people in that area are not getting equal delivery of public services. So I think the harm has been well documented. And now we have rightfully moved towards repair.…
“They released the guidelines for the program. The reality is that we’re not going to get full repair out of any program. I have not heard of any idea that will lead to the immediate full repair of the injury to our community … It’s a step in the right direction, which I think is in line with other reparations programs I’ve seen.
“I 100% have some concerns. … I’m looking forward in this leadership role as alderman to working on those issues … I want to make sure that we have a commission of elected officials along with members of the injured and harmed community. We want to make sure we have a participatory budgeting process that allows for ideas to be vetted … so people feel like there’s a clear way to get involved and stay engaged in the process.
“At this point we are funded by one source. There’s organizational and individual support, but only one contribution, which is coming from sales tax of cannabis. We want to try to expand that.”
Ms. Trippi: “I think this conversation has allowed many of us in the white community to understand more deeply and further our own personal journeys in understanding the harm and the repair that is needed for our Black community. I so appreciate being involved in this conversation. That honestly is the reason I chose to get into this race. …
“One of the things I am most proud of in being part of this community is the fact that we have engaged as the cutting edge community in this country, in this aspect. And it is a tough conversation, but it is so important. … But we have to take both the good and the hard decisions in putting this program together. To me, it is a commitment of our entire community to address reparations.
“I don’t believe that this first attempt is the be all and end all, and I don’t think it was designed to be. I heard a current alderman explain that one of the criteria that they thought was most important was that it should be judicially bullet-proof, that it would not easily be contested in a court of law. And that makes sense to me – at least as a starting point. I honestly believe that the intent is for there to be an entire menu of possibilities for reparations … which includes education. It includes predatory lending. It includes environmental racism.
“There’s such a broad spectrum of repairs to be made, and to be truly a reparation, the person who is being repaired has to feel that the compensation or the repair is correct for them. And I, as a white woman, cannot tell you what that correct reparation is. And I agree that there is not one single program or fund that is going to be able to repair all in one fell swoop.
“I’m happy that we have started the discussion; I’m happy that we are moving forward. I will lift up the voices of those who are making the decisions. I will lend my own expertise in fundraising in helping to expand the reparations fund, and I will support all of our efforts toward reparations.”
Ms. Cannon: “I applaud the efforts that were made with the draft [of the proposal]. I don’t think it’s reparations. When I think about reparations, I think about repair from harm that was caused. Black people endured 400 years of chattel slavery, Jim Crow – and that repair should come from the federal government.
“What happened here in Evanston was redlining, and the City participated. The realtors, the banks all joined in. Yes, I think we can label this as more or less a first-time home buyers program. I just don’t think it should be labeled reparations. We’re using white banks – the same white banks that were predatory towards Black people, preventing us from getting loans from the get-go. Who is going to help us? The same realtors who steered us to the Fifth Ward?
“We’re using marijuana sales tax, but do we have any provisions in place to help Black folks be able to join in and make money by owning our own dispensaries? Is there anything in place? I think this is a start … and I think that there’s no need to rush this. We can wait for next Council, if we want to get it right.
“We have an affordability issue. So … $25,000 is nice, once I go through all the loopholes. But what can I buy with $25,000? I need to be able to have additional funds to be able to add to that. … I applaud what has been done … but I don’t agree that it should be called reparations. I think it should be renamed and every person, our elders, people whose families have been here for generations, their voices need to be heard. They need to be on these committees and in these discussions.”
Mr. Korzeniowski: “Devon [Reid] is right that this program is not intended to solve the sin of the nation as much as it is a need to address what the City itself has done. But that doesn’t mitigate the deep need to put every resource we can into this work, especially when repair has been done in other communities before. This isn’t something that’s a national first-time, period. It’s a national first-time for the Black community specifically. So … it begs the question, ‘Why not this time?’
“In response to the question about the Council vote on the 22nd rising to that challenge: NO, all caps, bold, underlined. It will not rise to that challenge. In my view it will do harm to that work. I’m sure folks who go ahead with that vote are going to say, ‘Look at progressive Evanston leading the charge, leading the way.’ Let’s see how that ages, when you take reparations and offer 15 people some money for their mortgage … Let’s see how that sits with folks nationally. The word ‘reparations’ is not a trophy.
“We are on the verge of watching it become a housing program, which is not to say housing programs are bad. But a lot of folks are saying, ‘Don’t call that reparations. Call that a good housing program. There’s no problem then. …
“We aspire to $10 million, but we only have one dispensary. We committed $400,000. We would like to commit another $10 million. When that money shows up, sure, we can say we committed to that. But right now, we’ve made a lot of rhetoric that doesn’t replace results.
“I don’t know that this issue is ever done, given the magnitude of the harm that needs to be repaired. There’s not one thing that’s going to cause full repair. That’s the nature of a systemic issue. You’re not going to have a silver bullet that knocks it right out.
“I’ve talked about aligning public policy that’s not necessarily under that umbrella of reparations – like home renovations to upgrade for climate needs. Someone mentioned participatory budgeting – that’s a great step that will help. Voter initiatives can help. … Every single thing we can do towards this work needs to be done, with the same urgency as a housing program.”
Ms. Rosinski: “Do we need reparations? Yes, I think that goes without question. I think we need more education for people who aren’t affected by it so they understand that, just because laws were passed back in the 1950s, 1960’s and 1970s, that didn’t stop the consequences of systemic racism. … I don’t think personally that it should be a housing program the ways it’s set out. I would love to see a … plan that involves the understanding that the denial of housing and education and good jobs created the denial of generational wealth. …So if we say we’re going to give 16 people $25,000 towards housing – and I’m in the housing industry – I question whether or not that’s good enough to start depleting the fund right off the bat.
This is such a critical issue that … for everyone who is impacted by it, it’s going to be a tough discussion. I don’t know at this point if that list of people who were impacted has been created. … I’ve heard so much divisiveness and it feels sad. … Everyone in the country is looking at how we do it. … We’re going to have so many changes that are going to happen. I would love to see that fund built up a little more.
If someone who is in that group that’s going to be receiving reparations, it’s up to them to say, ‘Do I need it for school? Do I need it for housing? Do I need it to invest in something else so that, I too, can create generational wealth?’ One thing that we know in the City of Evanston is that we have a huge wealth gap. There is $40,000 between white and non-white, so I would think that reparations should be addressing that also, and we should be talking about that.
I also think there have been great, thoughtful comments here. I know there’s been good discussions in the Reparations sub-committee, but I’m not sure that’s where you stop the conversation and go public with a plan – if the people who are impacted aren’t at the table in the discussion.”
Ald. Suffredin: “I have looked at the draft. I think I’m the only person on this screen who has a vote out. So I have a platform there. … I’ll listen and follow the conversation, because that’s one of the most important things someone in my position can do on this – is listen.
“This is not about white people feeling good about what they’re accomplishing. We need to listen. … In terms of why we need to make repairs, it’s quite obvious what role Evanston has played in discriminatory practices.
“I understand and agree with some of the reasons why people say this should not be labeled as reparations. … I think that there’s validity to that. So in terms of [voting on Resolution 37-R-27] on Monday, it’s a step in the right direction. But I think presenting it as anything more than a step forward in a much longer journey is false advertising.
“I look forward to hearing what others have to say tonight. I’m here to listen. That’s the role that I should play. People know that I voted ‘no’ on going forward [with the local reparations program]. The discussion that’s come up over the last few weeks illustrates why. A lot of these issues that have been raised could have been addressed on the front end. … We are on the verge of doing something we should all be excited about, and there is a lot of consternation about whether or not it is what it was promised to be. So I’m looking forward to listening.”
As promised, Alderman Suffredin listened at the City Council meeting on Monday. He voted to adopt Resolution 37-R-27, as a first step in the long journey toward repair for generations of harm and building a more just community.
Note: The map used in this story, a part of the Fifth Ward, is not intended to denote a limited geographic area for reparations eligibility.