The Reparations Committee, testing a new strategy, is carving out time in its monthly meeting for three residents to share the racial discrimination they have endured while living in Evanston.
“We have found that as we do this work, residents want to share,” said committee chairperson Robin Rue Simmons. “There’s oral history that is being captured at the Shorefront Legacy Center, and some of it is not being captured, and residents want to be heard.”
In these three-minute-long testimonies, residents can share how racist tactics such as redlining, segregation and the war on drugs harmed them and their families. These speakers, in turn, will contribute to the shaping of the city’s future reparations programs while also providing evidence of racial discrimination by the city, Rue Simmons said. The testimonies will assist in making a case for repair in the Black community.
“We have found that we can never have enough time to hear from residents to continue learning and to continue being informed,” Rue Simmons said. “This is more about continuing to be informed by our community, on what the lived experience is of harm, and what the expectation is of redress.”
The testimonies will not start until the Reparations Committee’s February meeting, but the committee will be announcing its plans to feature testimonies during its Thursday 9 a.m. meeting, which can be viewed virtually or in person. The three speakers are selected on a first-come, first-served basis before each meeting, Rue Simmons said. To sign up, submit this form online.
The committee will be discussing changing the time of its monthly meeting to accommodate more residents. The committee surveyed 68 residents and 50% requested the committee meet at 6 p.m. on Thursdays rather than 9 a.m. The survey also asked how the committee can get more residents to participate, and nearly 50 residents responded to the survey. Many wrote that meeting later in the days or on the weekends fit their schedules better.
The testimonials won’t be a point of dialogue, however, between the residents and committee members, Rue Simmons said. The committee members will listen to the testimonials with no obligation to respond to the residents’ questions or concerns – similar to the committee’s public comment period.
The reparations committee, as well as all city committees, boards, and the city council, aren’t required to respond to questions and concerns made during the public comment period. But they aren’t prohibited either.
Rue Simmons explained that the dialogue between committee members during the meetings answers people’s questions.
“If you’re following the meetings, you will see that those questions are answered in dialogue or in program changes in subsequent meetings,” Rue Simmons said. “So if we have an open exchange and public comment, obviously, we wouldn’t be able to control the timing of the meeting.”
The Youth Art Contest to answer “What comes to mind when you think of reparations?” is extended to Jan. 9.
The committee plans to foster dialogue with the community in a town hall meeting this quarter, Rue Simmons said. The date, time and location of the meeting haven’t been determined yet.