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Kenneth Wideman is one of those chosen to be the first 16 recipients of local reparations in Evanston. Credit: Photo by Debbie-Marie Brown

Kenneth Wideman – a lifelong Evanstonian and sports lover – spent 30 years coaching basketball with the Fellowship of Afro-American Men (FAAM) Youth Basketball League; a program that offers basketball and cheerleading programs to middle-school children.

At one of their weekly winter season games, attendees might have caught a glimpse of the 76-year-old Wideman, who also happens to be one of the city’s inaugural beneficiaries of a $25,000 restorative housing grant. The program is Evanston’s first step in making amends for historical anti-Black practices.

Wideman grew up running track and field and playing basketball in Evanston. He recounted a memory from 1957 when he was on a track and field relay team.

“Me and these other guys won the Daily News relay down there at the Chicago Stadium,” Wideman said. “I had a chance to meet Jesse Owens … He was one of the biggest track and field athletes ever … and I got a ribbon.”

Wideman said he first heard about local reparations early on in December 2019, when actor and activist Danny Glover visited the First Church of God in one of the original town halls concerning the effort.

He is the only recipient who has not yet decided how to use his housing grant, but the city has given him one year to make his decision.

How the program works

Evanston’s Local Reparations Restorative Housing Program is the first initiative in the city’s $10 million commitment “to eradicating the effects of systemically racist past practices from city government and all city-affiliated organizations.” The first $400,000 of the reparations program is slated for housing.

Kenneth Wideman in his apartment. Credit: Photo by Debbie-Marie Brown

Applicants deemed eligible for the program and selected to participate can get up to $25,000 to buy or remodel a home or pay down a mortgage. The home must be in Evanston and must be the applicant’s primary residence. The $400,000 figure is enough to pay for 16 grants of $25,000.

To participate, Black Evanstonians must fit one of three categories:

  • Residents who lived in the city between 1919 and 1969, referred to as “ancestors.”
  • Direct descendants of a Black resident from 1919 to 1969.
  • Residents who submitted evidence they suffered housing discrimination due to the city’s policies or practices after 1969.

There were more than 600 applicants to the Restorative Housing Program, 122 of whom were ancestors. The Reparations Committee decided to prioritize that group for the first 16 grants.

Out of the 16 inaugural beneficiaries, Wideman is the only one undecided on how he will use his funds. He has one year to make his decision, but he told the RoundTable that he loves his apartment and doesn’t want to leave it. Unfortunately, the housing grant cannot be used toward a single rented apartment.

“I have a beautiful place. This is my home. I love this place. You see how convenient it is,” Wideman said. “I’m hoping that the people in charge can make some more recommendations on what a person can do with the money.”

Wideman offered a few suggestions for ways the program should be expanded. For example, he wishes they might give people $25,000 to go toward rent for a year, or furniture, food or bills for a year – instead of it only being able to go toward a home someone owns.

He also feels he is too late in life to want to purchase a new home.

Wideman’s background

Wideman was born in Evanston in 1945, and he lived in his aunt’s house on the corner of Dodge Avenue and Simpson Street from 1945 to 1991 with 14 other people.

He was raised by three women: his aunt, Viola Mims; his grandmother, Minnie Wideman; and his mother, Elizabeth Wideman. Both his mother and aunt did housework, working for another family during the day. His grandmother stayed home to watch the kids.

“I had a great childhood. I have no complaints. And I’m not going to complain,” Wideman told the RoundTable.

Wideman attended Foster School and Oakton Elementary, Nichols Middle School and Evanston Township High School before graduating ETHS in 1964.

He joined the military and served in Vietnam from 1965 to 1967. When he returned to the United States, he got married and had a son, currently 52 years old.

In 1972, Widman said he was invited to try out for the Chicago Bulls basketball team.

“Of course, I did not make the team,” he said.

Wideman worked at Northwestern for 33 years. Credit: Photo by Debbie-Marie Brown

In 1973, Wideman started working at Northwestern University, doing janitorial work in student dormitories. He stayed there for 33 years, cleaning washrooms, carpets, stairs, hallways, sorority buildings and sometimes student rooms.

“I enjoyed it, sometimes,” he said concerning his time at Northwestern. “They treated me really well.”

Wideman also is a proud member of the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the Second Baptist Church in Evanston.

Memories of old Evanston

Wideman says that when he was young in Evanston, the money was different, the cost of living was different and the people were different.

“When I was growing up, my family was pretty poor. But my mother made me think that I was a millionaire,” Wideman said. He said his mother always supplied him and his sister with food, housing and the best of clothes. He didn’t take it for granted.

“You know, some people used to wear one [outfit] of clothes for a whole week. “

As a kid, Wideman said he was a “real hustler,” specifically hustling bottle caps and golf balls to make a penny. He would go to a local golf course.

“They would hit the golf balls in places where they couldn’t get them back,” he said. “And since I was a young kid, I could go and get the golf balls, and sell them back to the store.”

Wideman doesn’t remember being subjected to discrimination as a child.

“To tell you the truth, this is going to sound hard to believe, but I did not experience discrimination,” he said. Wideman knew what discrimination was, he said, but since all the Black people in Evanston were in a certain section of town, he doesn’t remember being mistreated because of his race until much later in life.

Ultimately, Wideman plans to use the year he has been allotted to decide what he will do with his funds, and he’s still glad to have been selected.

“I feel good. I’m happy that I was one of the 16 people to be chosen,” he said. “And I didn’t know which way it was gonna go.”

Debbie-Marie Brown

Debbie-Marie Brown is a reporter and Racial Justice Fellow at the Evanston RoundTable. They cover the local reparations initiative, Black life in Evanston, and the 5th ward. Contact Debbie-Marie at dmb@evanstonroundtable.com...

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  1. This information is critical to demystifying the glorification of the terminology and industry marketing of “reparations”. It does our culture and community harm when the intent and impact of these financial and property,”programs” are peppered with detours, roadblocks and dead-ends. We must be as litigious in our initial challenge to prevent these maneuvers. Engage with the best legal scholars around all issues to navigate the reparation contract, construct and confines.

  2. I am happy that Mr. Wideman was provided with a grant. Unfortunately, he will never actually see any funds – they must go to a lending institution or a contractor. Mr. Wideman cannot use the funds in a way that he would choose. In addition, he was told that he has 1 year to make a decision on what institution would receive the $25,000. In what dimension are we living in that anyone would call such a program reparations? What exactly is being repaired? Evanston had a non-race based housing program that provided even more funding for applicants 20 years ago. This is simply a social equity housing program and nothing more. Stop the fraud. This isn’t reparations. It is an effort designed to derail the national cry and push for authentic reparations and legitimate repair. This is why I helped form the group Evanston Rejects Racist Reparations. The renaming of ordinary social equity programs reparations does nothing to close the racial wealth gap, has no substantive impact to reverse Evanston’s gentrification, further strengthens white supremacy, and does little to advance the movement for racial justice. Evanston’s “so called” reparations program has only served to confuse a public that is woefully ignorant regarding the Black liberation struggle.

    #EvanstonRejectsRacistReparations