On Tuesday, First Repair hosted a panel discussion between: Executive Director Robin Rue Simmons, Chair of Michigan Democratic Black Caucus Keith Williams, California Reparations Task Force Member Dr. Cheryl Grills, and Reparations United founder Kamm Howard on the state of the local reparations movement.
The talk, which was moderated by Senior Fellow at Brookings Metro Dr. Andre Perry, centered the practicality of reparations moving forward. “States like California, Maryland, as well as cities like Evanston, Illinois and Ashville, North Carolina are examining and passing policies that seek to redress the harms of slavery and anti-black discrimination. What we’re going to do is talk about those local efforts in context of the national movement.”
“Local reparations propel the federal movement. What we do on a local level historically has always pushed the needle toward federal legislation,” Howard explained. “As we begin to add on cities and states to the movement, more congressional representatives signed on to HR40 [a bill that studies reparations proposals].”
Simmons insisted that we must keep this momentum moving forward.
“When this version of the local reparations movement was initiated, there were far fewer supporters in the house. Right now, there are 218 sponsors in the house, a Senate companion bill and more of an appetite and political will to advance reparations. It is important that we are advancing local because there’s local harms specific above and beyond federally enforced policy. And Evanston, sometimes it’s looked at as a redlining policy that’s actually federal. Evanston had specific harms that were anti-black laws, zoning programs, actions that harmed. And so we have to lead within our purview, every level of government, every institution that has a history of anti-blackness should be advancing some form of local reparations.
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Dr. Grills expanded on this. “What we’re talking about is that investigation of reparations at the local level can reveal the pervasiveness and the machinations of anti-blackness in various localities. This begins with acknowledging not just the national harms, but how local entities colluded with the national harm, abated it or exacerbated it.”
Those who want to get involved in the reparations movement can work with places like First Repair, N’Cobra (National Coalition of Blacks for Reparations in America), Reparations United and Institute of the Black World. When asked about if reparations using tax money made sense in a city like Detroit that is mostly Black, Williams retorted:
“In Detroit, we fund everybody else’s operation with our tax dollars. So why not fund black folks and their economic development? I just think now we got to repair the harm that was caused by [politicians] who had the city and currently who have it—harm is still being done.”
As far as payments go, the California Reparations Task Force will face difficulty with what form they should take. “There are certain mindsets that say cash is the only is the only form of reparations that make sense. There are many others who say reparations should not be limited to cash.
Payment is not against cash payment, but if we really want to create change, if we want to really address the multi-generational mindset and policies and practices that are anti-black in this state and in this country, cash is not going to cut it,” Simmons said.
Juneteenth, the panelists agreed, is a small part of the acknowledging the harm done to Black folks in America. There’s clearly still a long way to go.