Evanston’s Reparations Committee voted to release additional reparations grants when available to more recipients, expanding the number of people beyond the first 16. It also unanimously voted for Robin Rue Simmons to succeed Council member Peter Braithwaite (2nd) as chair.

Carlis Sutton, Robin Rue Simmons, and City Council member Bobby Burns (5th) at the Reparations Committee meeting. Credit: Debbie-Marie Brown

Additionally, city staff announced that the monthly donation report for the city reparations fund has been incorrect, overstating funds by more than $30,000 because of an accounting error. 

Tasheik Kerr, Assistant to the City Manager, told the committee that the recent monthly donation reports she’s given for the reparations fund have been inaccurate because of an administrative error that combined the donation total with revenue from the medical cannabis tax. 

There are $35,544 in donations to the fund, although the last inaccurate report stated $69,303 was received.  The city cannot report revenue from recreational cannabis sales because of an Illinois state law prohibiting cities from publicly doing so unless there’s a minimum of five dispensaries. To do so would be a breach of confidentiality under state law. 

The city currently has one dispensary and only has the capacity for three, Rue Simmons said. “So with that said,” she went on, “we’ll never be able to report based on our current capacity for dispensaries.”

Simmons appointment

Yet, it was Simmons’ appointment that was the first order of business at the Wednesday, July 13, in light of Braithwaite’s resignation as Second Ward alderman. Attorney and committee member Claire McFarland Barber nominated Simmons.

“I know that without your vision and foresight, we wouldn’t be sitting here,” McFarland Barber said. “I know that we have to share you statewide, nationally and internationally, but I know your heart is here with Evanston.” 

Rue Simmons accepted the nomination and thanked Braithwaite for his long service and early involvement in local reparations. In 2019, Rue Simmons said, Braithwaite was the only one on the City Council at the time to participate in the early community repair process. (Council member Bobby Burns (5th) participated before he was elected as a community member.)

City Council member Peter Braithewaite (2nd) addresses the committee at the Wednesday, July 13th Reparations Committee meeting. Credit: Debbie-Marie Brown

“Chairperson, can I tell you how much you will be missed?” committee member Bonnie Lockhart said to Braithwaite. “Your manner, your expertise, your experience … you just committed yourself to Evanston.”

Housing grants to be released incrementally

The committee also voted to release the housing grants to the remaining 106 ancestors in increments of $25,000, as cannabis revenue slowly rolls in. 

The money for the first 16 recipients has already been earmarked, so the vote will allow numbers 17 and onward to begin receiving benefits immediately. 

Burns insisted that whatever money the city has, “we should just get it out,” he said. “If we have enough for three [more] now, I will support just getting it out to those people. But after that, we should do it as it’s available.” 

Evanston’s Local Reparations Restorative Housing Program is the first step in the city’s $10 million commitment to deal with slavery’s continuing impact. Officials have slated 4% of the money, or $400,000, for housing.

Applicants who meet the requirements and are selected will get up to $25,000 to help buy or remodel a home or pay down a mortgage. The home must be in Evanston and must be the applicant’s primary residence.

To have been eligible for the current housing program (the application window closed Nov. 5), Black Evanstonians needed to fit one of three categories:

  • Black residents who lived in the city between 1919 and 1969 (called “ancestors”).
  • Direct descendants of a Black resident who lived here from 1919 to 1969.
  • Someone able to submit evidence proving housing discrimination due to the city’s policies or practices after 1969.

The first 16 beneficiaries were randomly selected from the “ancestor” category on Jan. 13, and the ancestor category is given priority for funding. 

Review of direct descendent applications completed  

City staff reported they’ve finished reviewing all 470 direct descent applications to the restorative housing program. Of those, they were able to verify 354 applicants.

In the verification process, staff must confirm the age and identity of applicants, as well as the applicant’s familial line of descent to a Black Evanston resident from 1919 to 1969.

Of the 470, 116 applications are missing verification, so the city is following up with these individuals by email, mail and phone for additional documentation. 

Officials said 11 direct descendent applications were improperly grouped as such, and the committee voted to move them to the ancestor category, where they belong. 

Evanston’s Reparations Committee was created Nov. 9, 2020, and is tasked with working with city residents and experts to “explore and identify programs and opportunities to be supported by the Reparations Fund,” according to the city website. 

The committee meets at 9 a.m. on the first Thursday of each month.

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...

2 replies on “Simmons named Reparations Committee chair”

  1. I would like, once again, to express what I believe would be helpful, particularly for interested senior citizens. And that is for the Reparations Committee meetings be presented online as well as in person. Making 9 am meetings at City Hall remains a challenge.

  2. It’s shameful to call this program reparations. Sadly, the program is also a poorly constructed social equity housing program. Evanston is not being celebrated for this meager effort of repair, but is being seen as an embarrassment in many circles where Black organizations are fighting for authentic reparations. What is even worse is how our community is ignoring the obvious conflict of interest making Rue-Simmons Chair of the reparations committee. She has formed a company that is being paid by municipalities to rename social equity programs reparations as was done in Evanston. To mix her business interests with the interests of Black residents is improper at best. Just sad to observe.

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