The meeting Friday night at Evanston Township High School’s auditorium was billed as a town hall on reparations.

U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee greets people. Credit: Richard Cahan

But the event, part of a national symposium meeting here in Evanston, was more of a celebration of Evanston’s reparations work and less of an interactive forum as no audience members spoke.

The crowd, while a mix of people of different races, was predominantly Black. And the program included 15 academics and activists from across the country who gave short reports about their work. All were here to attend the National Symposium for State and Local Reparations Leaders.

Evanston’s work honored

But the focus was Evanston, the first U.S. city to offer reparations to Black residents, and the reason the symposium has been held here for the past two years.

Robin Rue Simmons has led that fight, first as a member of the Evanston City Council, and now as the executive director of FirstRepair, a not-for-profit organization that informs local reparations programs nationally. At the meeting here she was given the Rosa Parks Award from the American Association for Access Equity and Diversity.

Ron Daniels of the National African-American Reparations Commission said Evanston’s work on reparations has made the city known across the world. Credit: Richard Cahan

“Because of what you have done, the word has spread all over the world,” said Ron Daniels, of the National African-American Reparations Commission. He said Evanston is a model, which he has seen attending reparations conferences in South America. “Evanston was on the map.

“The world is looking to Black people, Africans in American, people of Africa decent,” he said. “They are looking at us and our allies to lead the way to cleanse this nation of its original sins.”

U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) praised Evanston Mayor Daniel Biss for “taking the torch” and promoting the city’s reparation program since his election in 2021.

Powerful beginning

The event began with a sobering invocation by Rev. Michael Nabors, senior pastor of the Second Baptist Church and president of the NAACP’s Evanston/North Shore Branch.

Babu Atiba, of Muntu Dance Theatre of Chicago, plays the African drum called the djembe to start the Town Hall. Credit: Richard Cahan

“My God, we simply take a moment to thank you,” Nabors began. “For lost bodies and bones of those who started the journey from the western shores of Africa into the western hemisphere of the world who were lost in the waters of the Atlantic by the hatred and violence of inhumanity. We thank you.

“For those hundreds of years of forced free labor pouring forth from the blood, sweat and tears, brutally treated, mocked, maimed but never yielding. We thank you. For those mothers and daughters, aunts and nieces who suffered so greatly as victims of greed and lust, whose womanhood was crushed, whose femininity was abused. Whose legality and godliness was ridiculed. We say thank you.

“For the fathers and sons, uncles and nephews who were targeted with jealousy and the venom of envy, whose manhood was demeaned, whose person was attacked, whose loyal godliness was mocked. We say thank you.”

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The main speaker was Jackson Lee, who is exhorting President Biden to issue an executive order to enact HR-40, which would create a commission to study and develop reparation proposals for African Americans. She also took the lead in a news conference prior to the town hall.

Biss said Lee’s work is essential. “It is not enough for municipalities alone to act, as important as it is for municipal governments and other local institutions to take stock of the harm that we have done and begin our walk down the path to repair that harm,” he said.

“We don’t have the capacity. We don’t frankly have the budget to repair the magnitude of harm that was done by the foundational crime of slavery in this country. And so we need the federal government to join us in acting. And the federal government is closer today to active than it has ever been.”

Richard Cahan

Richard Cahan takes photos for the Evanston RoundTable. He also is publisher of CityFiles Press, a small but mighty media company that believes in the power of words and pictures. You can reach him at...

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