The City’s Reparations Subcommittee held a Town Hall meeting by zoom on Aug. 27 at which members of the City’s Reparations Subcommittee, the Education Subcommittee for Reparations, and others made presentations outlining efforts to seek reparations in Evanston.

Ald. Robin Rue Simmons (Fifth Ward), Chair of the Reparations Subcommittee, led off, saying “Until recently, when you heard reparations, it generally referred to HR [House Resolution] 40, a federal slavery reparation goal. But recently, cities across America have begun to take local action to repair damages in the Black community from years of institutional and structural Black racial oppression. Our City has led that way.

“Generally when you heard of reparations, you hear compensation; and compensation, of course, is a significant component of reparations because our wealth has been stripped away from us. Our goals include compensation, but we are pursuing full reparations or full repair here in our City, which includes cessation, the assurance of non-repetition, restitution, compensation, rehabilitation, and satisfaction.”

Ald. Simmons and the other two members of the City’s Reparations Subcommittee – Aldermen Peter Braithwaite (Second Ward) and Ann Rainey (Eighth Ward) – summarized the Subcommittee’s progress in developing a plan to distribute $400,000 in referendum funds in a housing assistance program to qualified Black residents in Evanston. The next morning, Aug. 28, the Subcommittee formally approved the housing assistance program, and it also approved guiding principles to use in distributing reparation funds in the future. An article is available here. 

Oliver Ruff, a member of the Education Subcommittee for Reparations, said the education subcommittee has agreed to support two objectives based on input received at a reparation meeting held last summer.

In the short term, Mr. Ruff said, the education subcommittee is pushing educators to bring Black history to the classroom, leveraging the work that has been done by Shorefront. “With the recent police killings, folks are more empathetic to teaching more Black history to increase individuals’ understanding and appreciation of Black people. Covering the Black history will help to educate and to enlighten folks on why reparations are needed,” he said.

 “For the long term,” Mr. Ruff continued, “the education subcommittee supports the vision of opening a STEM community school located in the central core. In a reparations community meeting last summer, it was said that the Fifth Ward was a priority for having that school.

“This pursuit has been going on for decades, and most recently, the effort has been with the 2012 referendum. The school will make the central core more appealing and relevant to live and to invest in, and there could be more opportunity to collaborate with the Housing and Economic Empowerment subcommittees.”

Henry Wilkins, a member of the Education Sub-Committee who has been working on bringing a school to the Fifth Ward for several years, said the vision is “to open a public community school located in Evanston’s central core where children excel via deep engagement in all academic disciplines, especially in STEM – science, technology, engineering and math – and firmly placed on a path to positively shape their lives and impact the world. Parents, educators and community organizations will work together to develop a holistic, caring environment dependent upon high family involvement at both the government and classroom level.

“I would also like to go on record and say that the intention of this STEM community school is that it be a remedy for the damage that was caused as a result of foster schools being moved out of the Fifth Ward and kids being forced into a one-way busting situation.

“Some of you know this, but in 2020 Black kids have to travel further than any other race in any other demographic in Evanston.

“Also we know that by not having a school makes it difficult for kids’ educational experience. In addition to that, there's been a loss of $3 million of educational supports over the span of four years. And the opportunity gap has been prevalent for decades.

Mr. Wilkins acknowledged “there is gentrification occurring in the Fifth Ward,” but he said, “We're constantly thinking of ways to ensure that this school will serve the community and the families that we intend to serve.”

Mr. Wilkins said the STEM focus was chosen for three reasons. First, he said there is a high demand for STEM careers. “Over one million jobs are open right now in the United States, looking for individuals with STEM backgrounds.

“The second reason is that the United States lags other developed countries in terms of math and science. So this pursuit is also about helping increase America standing in the world.

“The third reason is that STEM provides a lifetime love of learning. So no matter what career you pursue or what your interests are, kids are excited about learning and it lasts a lifetime.”

Mr. Wilkins said he and other members of the education subcommittee have talked to the leaders of many organizations and community members, and have been working to increase awareness and build support. After looking at the voting patterns in 2012 referendum, he said they plan to take a different approach than that taken in 2012.

“Our last major phase is what is kind of in its infancy stage of development and that is to perform community research. We want to ensure that the STEM community school vision aligns with the community. We already know that a Fifth Ward school will address the repair. We already know that bringing a school to the Fifth Ward is important. However, for example, consideration may need to be done in regards to potentially adding arts as a major focus for the school.

Mr. Wilkins said they plan to conduct a feasibility study of establishing a school in the Fifth Ward, to consider how to do so in a way that has “little impact on Evanston taxpayers,” and can be done “without a need for a tax referendum.”

Their website is https://stemschoolevanston.net/

Mr. Wilkins also introduced a video in which many Black leaders in the community read a proclamation for Black justice which was announced at Fountain Square on Aug. 23. An article is available here.

Dino Robinson, the founder of Shorefront, said he and Dr. Jenny Thompson, Director of Education at the Evanston History Center, were preparing a historical report for the Reparations Subcommittee that discusses redlining, segregation, employment in public and private schools in Evanston, housing and zoning policies, policing, lawsuits, and current protests.

It is anticipated that this report will form the justification for the City to make reparations.

“Both Dr. Thompson and I are very excited to continue working on this document and hoping it becomes a very valuable asset for the community and work toward the initiatives at the City of Evanston and the community,” said Mr. Robinson.

 Spencer Jourdain, the youngest son of Evanston’s first African American Alderman, Edwin B. Jourdain, Jr., outlined many of the accomplishments of his father to seek racial justice in Evanston.

Representatives of the National African American Reparations Commission attended the meeting by zoom and praised Ald. Simmons and others for their work in seeking reparations for the Black community in Evanston, as did Danny Glover, who also voiced his support for the efforts.