The city’s ground-breaking reparations program continues to prompt questions and comments from the community, as 38 queries flooded into the town hall hearing Saturday, Oct. 22.

From left: Dino Robinson, Assay Horibe, Rev. Dr. Michael Nabors, Reparations Committee Chair Robin Rue Simmons and Fifth Ward City Council member Bobby Burns.

A panel of community leaders addressed questions only from Rev. Dr. Michael C.R. Nabors of the Second Baptist Church. Questions from the public will be answered at the next reparations committee meeting on Thursday, Nov. 3, said Robin Rue Simmons, chairperson of the Reparations Committee.  

“It’s hard to celebrate when our racial gaps remain, and in some cases, they are widening,” Rue Simmons said. “But know that we are on the right path and on the path to repair. Our efforts have inspired the nation with over 100 cities and localities taking steps towards repair – modeling what we’ve done here in Evanston. And we’ve also inspired international efforts as well.”

In the initial round, 600 applications have been filed for a share of the reparations fund. The first $10 million from cannabis dispensary sales tax will be used to fund reparations in the city. The restorative housing program, the reparations program’s first initiative, has already selected 16 recipients and the funds have been distributed. 

Gathered around the pulpit at the Second Baptist Church, reparations community leaders praised the Black community’s triumphs while recognizing the miles still ahead to go.

“I think it’s very appropriate that this gathering is in a church,” Nabors said. “I think it’s important that it’s a Black church in particular.

Rev. Dr. Michael Nabors addresses the crowd. Credit: Richard Cahan

“When I think about [the Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity, the first intercollegiate Greek-letter fraternity for Black men], celebrating their centennial celebration going all the way back to 1922, I think about Northwestern University that made it very, very difficult for students who are accepted as undergraduate and graduate students to matriculate because of the issue of racism that existed in those times.

“And in those difficult moments, It was the Black community in Evanston and often the Black church that made a way.”

Northwestern University history

Northwestern’s history of mistreatment against its Black students came up frequently during the town hall. Northwestern permitted few Black students.

Before 1966, Northwestern had an average of just five students enrolled in its incoming classes. The university had policies that prohibited Black students from living on campus, participating in Greek Life and entering swimming pools.

But in situations where institutions marginalized Black people, Black churches and Black-led organizations like Alpha Phi Alpha protected the Black community, Nabors said.

The program was hosted in partnership with the fraternity, which provided free breakfast to attendees, and Black businesses displayed their goods. Black-owned banks like Chicago-based Seaway were there to discuss home loans with residents.

Robin Rue Simmons talks at the Second Baptist Church. Credit: Richard Cahan

Three panelists answered questions from Nabors: Fifth Ward Council member and Reparations Committee member Bobby Burns; the founder of Shorefront Legacy Center and former president of the Evanston History Center Morris “Dino” Robinson Jr.; and the president of the Buddhist Council of the Midwest Asayo Horibe.

Horibe was the only panelist to say all Black people shouldn’t receive reparations. She is unsure how Black people today will be able to prove discrimination and if they’d feel comfortable sharing their discrimination experiences.

“Not every African American was subjected to discrimination, redlining or all the other issues that reared its ugly head in racism,” said Horibe, a Japanese American whose family received $20,000 from the U.S. government for the internment camps set up on U.S. soil during World War II. She remembers how difficult it was to make the U.S. acknowledge its wrongdoings to the Japanese American community.

Assay Horibe answers questions. Credit: Richard Cahan

Some people think that reparations are a hand out, Horibe said, which can make them hesitant to support it.

“We have to help the healing, and helping the healing is by helping them get through it and support them,” Horibe said. “Because they’re gonna say, ‘No, no, I don’t want to take it. No, that’s all right. Go to somebody else.’ People are going to be like that. So we have to help them remember this is justice.”

The panelists all agreed, to some degree, that there needs to be more time spent educating all people about reparations and why Black people are deserving of it. 

“We’re not a monolithic community,” Robinson said. “I think people are for reparations but are not sure what the path of reparations will look like, what it is or what it will be. I think that the educational process plays a part in it.”

Robinson, a well-known Evanston historian, especially on Black history, has researched and shared his knowledge through avenues like Shorefront, which has made documenting the city’s history of discrimination against the Black community possible.

Once people are taught about reparations, they realize they want to be a part of the solution, not the problem, Robinson said.

Although many think reparations are about slavery, the practice of red-lining, the systematic denial of loans or insurance to people in racially segregated or poor areas, has also resulted in discrimination.

Since late September, Evanston Cradle to Career and the city have been hosting Data Walks to show how redlining in the city dating back to 1935 still impacts the Black community’s health and well-being.

The next Data Walk presentation is scheduled from 5 to 6:30 p.m. Monday, Oct. 24, at the Morton Civic Center, 2100 Ridge Ave.

Council member Burns, who represents a historically Black ward that is still enduring the consequences of redlining, said that despite rhetoric and efforts by some politicians, reparations are working.

“I’ve had the privilege of being able to work alongside and support reparations beneficiaries here in Evanston,” Burns said.

“This has been some of the most amazing work that I’ve been a part of in my time. So I can tell you that this is real, that it’s happening. It’s helping people, that they’re thankful, and that it is transformative.”

The Evanston reparations initiative began in 2002 when former Second Ward council member Judge Lionel Jean-Baptiste introduced and passed a resolution for reparations to pay for the crimes of the trans-Atlantic slave trade. 

In 2019, Rue Simmons and other city leaders passed a reparations resolution that would repair the damage of discrimination that extended beyond slavery. 

“There are ongoing harms, terror and current anti-Black racism in our community that we must repeal,” Rue Simmons said.

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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