U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, who is spearheading the reparations movement at the federal level, will be speaking here at the Reparations Town Hall this Friday as part of the Second Annual National Symposium for State and Local Reparations Leaders.

U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas, will be speaking at the Reparations Town Hall Friday

The symposium, hosted by Robin Rue Simmons’ organization, First Repair, and the National African American Reparations Commission, was at the top of the agenda at the city’s Reparation Committee morning’s meeting Thursday, Dec. 1.

Lee is also the lead sponsor of H.R. 40, which would create the Commission to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African Americans.

Erika Alexander, the director of The Big Payback, a documentary about the city’s reparations program, and civil rights attorney Areva Martin will also be speaking.

The town hall meeting, from 7:30 to 9:30 p.m. at Evanston Township High School, will be on the second day of the symposium that runs Dec. 1-3.

Reparations leaders from San Francisco, Detroit, Tulsa and other cities across the country will also be at the town hall to share progress in their efforts to replicate Evanston’s reparations program. It will also include time for public comment.

“Evanston is very much in the lead,” said Ron Daniels, the convener of National African American Reparations Commission, in an interview before the reparations committee meeting. “Evanston is seen as an example of reparations being possible for not only the United States but around the world.” 

Real estate transfer tax revenue

Rue Simmons also announced at the beginning of the meeting a recent victory: The City Council approved allocating to the reparations fund the Real Estate Transfer Tax revenue for properties sold at $1.5 million or more. The tax will be deposited into the reparations fund beginning Jan. 1.

“So make sure everyone’s selling those million dollar properties, you know, the sooner that happens, the quicker we can fund our work,” Rue Simmons said with a laugh.

This second revenue stream is estimated to bring in about $10 million in 10 years or $1 million annually, Rue Simmons said. That would be in addition to the the 3% Municipal Cannabis Retailers’ Occupation Tax, which was the funds’ first source of revenue. It is projected to raise another $1 million annually. 

The two taxes will collectively raise $20 million in 10 years, doubling the committee’s goal to collect $10 million in 10 years, Rue Simmons explained.

Former Fifth Ward Council member addresses the City Council Monday night in support of the Reparations Committee’s request for $5 million in federal American Recovery Protection Act funds. Credit: Bob Seidenberg

As of Dec. 1, the reparations fund was at $37,024, including a donation of $500 in November. 

More city funds could be headed to the reparations fund in the new year, Eighth Ward Council Member Devon Reid said. The council is considering contributing funds directly to reparations so the program can make more progress toward taking care of its “ancestors,” as Black residents who lived in the city between 1919 and 1969 are called. 

The real estate tax isn’t on the same pay schedule as the cannabis sales tax, and the funds from the real estate tax will be coming in on a rolling basis, Rue Simmons explained. 

“It’s like our cannabis sales tax in that it is tax that is coming in,” Rue Simmons said. “We can’t exactly project it. We can come up with some summaries based on past years. But it’ll be coming in as it’s collected.”

The committee also requested the City Council allocate $5 million in federal American Rescue Plan Act funds to the reparations program, but the council denied the committee’s proposal. Yet, it scheduled a wider discussion on reparations funding for its Dec. 12 meeting.

Reviewing 2019 recommendations 

Also on Thursday’s agenda, the committee reviewed the Equity and Empowerment Commission’s 2019 recommendations for reparations.

The commission recommended the program serve seniors first and also address housing. The reparations program’s first initiative is focused on assisting qualified seniors, the so-called ancestors, with housing.

Rue Simmons said she felt the reparations program is on target based on the commission’s recommendations, which were formulated through community engagement.

She also suggested everyone look it over to remind the community why the program is prioritizing housing, economic development and educational initiatives.

The next priority recommended by the commission is economic development. The potential of cash payment continues to be brought up.

Reid asked if, in 2019, the community wanted reparations to be paid in cash. Rue Simmons explained that people on the committee support cash payment and are looking for ways to achieve that.

The committee asked for city Corporation Counsel Nick Cummings to prepare an outline of the reparations ordinance’s parameters for it to review in the January meeting. 

The committee also voted to continue meeting on the first Thursday of each month at 9 a.m. 

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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