The city wants to hear Evanstonian opinions on reparations.

The Reparations Committee set a town hall for next month. And Northwestern University will be evaluating the community’s opinions on reparations in the city.

Northwestern University Professor Alvin B. Tillery, Jr. (left) talks about the study he will be spearheading as committee members Devon Reid (8th Ward) and Claire McFarland Barber listen. Credit: Gina Lee Castro

The town hall to discuss reparations was tentatively set for Oct. 22 and no location has yet been chosen, city officials announced Thursday, Sept. 1 at the monthly Reparations Committee meeting.

Northwestern Professor Alvin B. Tillery, Jr., who will be conducting the survey, explained the process and also said it is important for Northwestern to be the first to conduct this study.

“The choice to not do this would leave Evanston vulnerable to the interpretations of people who just want to extract data from you,” Tillery said.

This meeting marked Robin Rue Simmons’ first time as chairperson. The committee tackled several topics, including a discussion on cannabis licenses and actions for deceased ancestor recipients. Additionally, Tasheik Kerr, assistant to the City Manager, announced the city received $35,643 in donations as of Aug. 31.

Reparations study

This study will be the first of its kind. It will provide a comprehensive look at the way the program is being viewed by Evanston residents. 

“I’m hoping that we learn more about how [the committee] has positively informed and advanced Black inclusion and reduced anti-Black racism,” Tillery said.

Reparations Committee Chairperson Robin Rue Simmons listens to Northwestern University Professor Alvin B. Tillery, Jr. “I’m interested in doing something that will help our community where I live,” said Tillery. “Passing this ordinance has frankly, boosted my sentiments about the city.” Credit: Gina Lee Castro

The survey will be conducted in-person and at random by 20 Northwestern students. Tillery aims to sample 4,000 residents. But the Fifth Ward will be oversampled to make sure those residents’ voices are heard, he said.

Tillery is the founding director of the Center for the Study of Diversity and Democracy and the author of Between Homeland and Motherland: Africa, U.S. Foreign Policy and Black Leadership in America.

Anti-racism projects, like this survey, are his passion. As a child, Tillery was almost lynched by older white children in New Jersey.

“I survived,” Tillery said. “I became an anti-racist educator, as a result of that experience. In 2016, I became really nervous that my little Black son and Black daughter are going to grow up in a country similar to the one that I grew up in.”

Funding

Recreational cannabis funds reparations in the city, but Evanston has only one cannabis dispensary. However there is hope that second round of conditional licenses issued by Gov. J.B. Pritzker in July might net more dispensaries in Evanston.

The city sent a letter to the 119 people who were awarded conditional cannabis licenses in the region early this August to encourage them to take the next steps to open a cannabis dispensary here. Yet, only one responded, confirmed Paul Zalmezak, the city’s senior economic development coordinator.

The letter to the conditional cannabis license holders included an Evanston zoning map indicating where dispensaries are allowed as well as a list of available spaces, according to Zalmezak’s memo.

Zalmezak recommended the city host a maximum number of three cannabis dispensaries before the market is saturated. “We went through a very difficult time with the pandemic, and people are not making big decisions like that,” Zalmezak said. “So it’s been slow.”

Another issue possibly preventing dispensaries from opening is the city’s regulation of cannabis. “In order to make Evanston a community where dispensaries want to locate, I think we have to truly make our city a welcoming city,” said City Council member Devon Reid (8th Ward).

Honoring ancestors

Six of the people designated as ancestors who were selected for Evanston’s Local Reparations Restorative Housing Program died before receiving their $25,000 grant. (The Reparations Committee prioritized people who lived in the city between 1919 and 1969, referring to them as ancestors.) 

Six ancestors have died before receiving their grants from the Evanston’s Local Reparations Restorative Housing Program. Committee member Claire McFarland Barber (speaking) requested that the committee send condolences to the families. Credit: Gina Lee Castro

But, as of right now, the committee doesn’t have steps in place to address what happens when a reparations recipient dies before receiving the grant. Simmons asked for a legal ruling on the best practice.

Evanston Corporation Counsel Nicholas Cummings suggested that the committee add a requirement for ancestors and descendants to list a beneficiary so that if they were to die, the grant could be passed to the beneficiary of their choice. 

Committee member Claire McFarland Barber also drafted and introduced an ancestor acknowledgement that praises Black ancestors for their sacrifices. 

The committee voted to take turns reading this acknowledgement at the start of each meeting beginning at its October meeting. Committee member Carlis Sutton will be the first to read the acknowledgement since he is the eldest.

Gina Castro

Gina Castro is a Racial Justice fellow for the Evanston RoundTable. She recently earned a master’s degree from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism where she studied investigative...

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  1. I have always said that the reparations cannot atone for what happened for over 300 years and several generations by simply offering a “grant,’ without taking into consideration the time factor. If a “grant” is the way to go, then it has to be over the same period from slavery up to and including the abolition of Jim Crow and other discriminatory laws in the 1960s, which is some 400 years and several generations long. The time factor should be agreed first before moving forward, otherwise it would not be reparations but a joke.