Evanston’s reparations program is back in the national spotlight. The Big Payback will premier on PBS on Jan. 16, Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

The documentary follows Robin Rue Simmons on her journey to implement the nation’s first municipally funded reparations for Black residents.

The national broadcast on PBS will premiere at 10 p.m. Chicago time.

In celebration, the Evanston AMC 12 will be screening the film for free at 6 p.m. the same day, Jan. 16.

A Q&A discussion featuring the directors of the documentary, Erika Alexander and Whitney Dow, as well as Pastor Carlis Moody Jr. and Rabbi Andrea C. London will follow.

Those interested in attending the screening and discussion can reserve a seat on Eventbrite. Doors are set to open at 5:30 p.m.

The Reparations Committee’s first meeting of the year Thursday morning didn’t have a quorum. The committee wasn’t able to work its way through its hefty agenda packet with only three members present at the Morton Civic Center. 

The committee will be scheduling another meeting this month to address the agenda, committee Chair Robin Rue Simmons said. No date has yet been determined. 

Survey for meeting times

Committee members Krissie Harris, Claire McFarland Barber and Rue Simmons spent an hour reviewing the Reparations Committee meeting feedback survey. They also mentioned some upcoming events. 

Credit: Gina Castro

The one-minute survey was shared by the city on Dec. 21. The majority, 50%, of the 68 respondents, said they preferred the committee meet at 6 p.m. on Thursdays rather than 9 a.m. The results were almost split between the two other options, 9 a.m. and 10 a.m. There were 18 votes for 9 a.m. and 16 for 10 a.m. 

Rue Simmons proposed reevaluating the time for the committee meetings in December to accommodate residents who aren’t available in the mornings. But city council members on the committee don’t have much flexibility for rescheduling, Harris said, who is the city council member for the Second Ward. 

“We have so many events that we have to be present at…, so evening events, or evening meetings are going to be virtually impossible,” Harris said. 

Harris explained that she already made schedule adjustments to her full time job, which is in addition to her part-time council member position. 

The Reparations Committee Meeting Feedback Survey also collected nearly 50 responses to the question: What other suggestions do you have to improve residents’ participation in the Reparations Committee meetings?

The three committee members who were presenet reviewed the comments and suggestions. Many of the suggestions asked for more efforts to notify the public of upcoming meetings. Some others asked for weekend meetings. Rue Simmons said she is opposed to weekend meetings and doesn’t think there is city staff to accommodate that option.

One survey comment referred to Rue Simmons’ position on the committee as a “conflict of interest” and requested that she be removed. Rue Simmons is the founder and executive director of FirstRepair, a nonprofit organization teaching cities across the country about ways to implement local reparations.

Rue Simmons addressed the comment during the meeting. 

“Before I accepted this work and made the transition into doing reparations work full time, now internationally and nationally and beyond my city – I did have approval from our corporation counsel,” Rue Simmons said. “Nothing has changed with my work outside of Evanston, and I am of the opinion that it’s an added value for me to be able to share what’s happening in the world as it relates to reparations here in our community.”

Committee member Barber added that all committee and boards members have to submit an annual conflict of interest check to the city. This process evaluates whether members have any conflicts of interest between their work outside and inside the city government.

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. It seems quite ironic to have a movie announcement and buried inside the article the news that the committee has low participation and lack of quorum of committee members.