Prepared text of a statement delivered Thursday by Robin Rue Simmons, founder and Executive Director of FirstRepair. She is the former Evanston alderman who led the push for the city’s municipal-funded reparations legislation while on the City Council:
“In 2002, our city passed a resolution supporting HR 40, which would establish a commission to study the impact of slavery and develop remedy proposals. Next month, we recognize the 20-year anniversary of the passing of our local resolution and 33 years since its congressional introduction. All while continuing to grapple with a declining Black population and widening race gaps.
“While we boast of our city’s progressive values, we cannot erase our history of anti-Black laws and culture, but we can repair it. In November 2019, we passed resolution 126-R-19, committing the first $10 million of our cannabis sales tax that establishes a fund to begin the process of reparations in and for our Black community. To be clear, our call for HR 40 has only become more resolute, but we recognize the city of Evanston, Illinois, is also responsible for harm in our Black community. We are moving forward with tangible repair that is within our purview and in direct correlation to the harm enforced by the City of Evanston.
“Today we take an important step in selecting the first reparations recipients. We are prioritizing our residents that suffered direct harm, Black residents that lived in Evanston between 1919-1969 and suffered from discriminating zoning laws that stripped away wealth and opportunity. This is a commitment not only made by a series of legislative actions, but most importantly it started with the priorities of the Black residents.
“Today, we deliver only the 4% of our initial budget, and it should be noted that the reparation fund is growing with private contributions and the commitment is growing citywide with an additional reparations fund managed by the Reparations Stakeholder Authority of Evanston. There are additional commitments being made by our faith community and foundations.
“We all have more work ahead of us. The committee, the City Council and staff and our entire community. There were dozens of recommendations for reparations, some the responsibility of the City of Evanston but many are the responsibility of other institutions in town who I challenge to join in our community commitment of repair.
“To those that are concerned this is not enough, I believe we are all in agreement with you, as you know this is not a settlement. If the goal is in fact to improve our efforts, the most productive use of time and resources is to engage in the process to inform the 96% of the budget yet to be allocated with stakeholder feedback. This work is being done by selfless leaders truly committed to stretching themselves and advancing unprecedented policy. This work is complex and protracted and uncomfortable and necessary.”