Evanston’s interfaith community is the first non-governmental institution in the city to join the local reparations movement.
A group of 16 faith community leaders gathered at Fountain Square at noon Monday to formally announce their intent to participate in local reparations – both in community education and fundraising.
Evanston Mayor Daniel Biss spoke to a crowd of slightly less than a hundred, saying that he intends for the city to be the focal point of the work of the local reparations effort.
“But I’m also going to say we welcome all the help we can get,” he said. “Because the magnitude of the task is such that it helps the point to be needed. And so thank you to everyone who is here today, offering to step up to be a part of that work.”
The event was moderated by the Rev. Eileen Wiviott of the Unitarian Church of Evanston and included recorded messages from Biss, Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-9th), Dino Robinson and former City Council Member Robin Rue Simmons, who was instrumental in launching the city’s reparation initiative.
The clergy presented a statement – one that each leader took turns reading a part of – about their renewed commitment.
“For more than 50 years, a faith-based movement has been growing in this country in support of reparations for Black Americans,” the statement read. “We can educate our community about the history of racism in our country, including the racism in our own community … [we can] raise money to support the reparations efforts in Evanston, including the Evanston Reparations Community Fund.”
The faith groups that participated in the event were:
- Beth Emet The Free Synagogue
- Buddhist Council of the Midwest
- Evanston Bahá’í Community
- Evanston Friends Meeting
- First Congregational Church of Evanston
- First United Methodist Church
- Grace Lutheran Church
- Immanuel Lutheran Church
- Jewish Reconstructionist Congregation
- St. John’s Evangelical Lutheran Church, Wilmette
- Lake Street Church of Evanston
- St. Luke’s Episcopal Church
- Northminster Presbyterian Church
- St. Paul’s Lutheran Church
- United Catholic Youth Ministries (Catholic parishes)
- Unitarian Church of Evanston
Each of the congregations present signed a document as a show of unity, and the event ended with singing from the Unitarian Church of Evanston choir.
Pastor Laura Harris-Ferree at Grace Lutheran Church in Evanston said the church joined because Grace Lutheran was encouraged by the reparations fund but wanted to contribute to repair beyond what the city of Evanston could offer.
“I had one of my members say to me about 100,000 more people needed to be here to hear this,” Harris-Ferree said. “But … we’ve been saying it’s the beginning point … And so I thought it was a good start.”
Alexa Bezjian-Avery, who has lived in Evanston for 30 years and is associated with the Unitarian Church, said she attended because she wants to get more involved with local racial justice work. She came to the event to “ figure out what are some next steps.”
“It was good,” Bezjian-Avery said of the event. “We need more [people]. We need a lot more.”
The money donated will be collected through the Evanston Reparations Community Fund, housed by the Evanston Community Foundation and overseen by the Reparations Stakeholders Authority of Evanston – a collaboration of prominent city leaders established by Rue Simmons, Robinson, the Rev. Michael Nabors, Pastor Monté Dillard, Second Ward Council Member Peter Braithwaite, Henry Wilkins and Spencer Jourdain.
While many faith institutions have already contributed to the reparations fund, Monday will mark the first time members of Evanston’s interfaith clergy and leaders announced a joint financial commitment. They hope to encourage other faith groups in Evanston to join the effort.
Monday’s announcement, it is hoped, will reinvigorate the financial momentum of other faith institutions’ donations. The group hopes that, by the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., Day on Jan. 16, 2023, they can reflect on months of significant donations.
At the end of the event, Wiviott told attendees to raise money in whatever way makes sense and is possible for their faith communities.
“You may gather funds among your members, you may donate one lump sum, or you may encourage your members to contribute to the fund directly,” Wiviott said.