Critics of Restorative Housing Reparations Program Voice Concern and Anger Ahead of Vote by …

Residents who formed the group “Evanston Rejects Racist Reparations” staged a protest at 10:30 a.m. on March 6 in front of the Med/Men cannabis dispensary at 1804 Maple Ave., where 35 to 40 people gathered, including speakers, supporters and members of the media.

A drummer chants, “I have a voice. I have a choice,” as protesters gathered in front of Med/Men recreational marijuana dispensary on March 6. Photo by Heidi Randhava

The protest was first announced by former Evanston mayoral candidate Sebastian Nalls during a public Zoom forum hosted by the group on March 6, which drew 55 participants.

The group seeks to stop or at least delay the expected March 22 vote by City council on the Restorative Housing Reparations program, which is the initial phase of Evanston’s historic reparations resolution, passed in 2019. Funding for Evanston reparations will come from the City’s 3% tax on recreational marijuana sales, up to $10 million over the next decade. The State of Illinois sales tax, which customers also pay, is remitted proportionally to municipalities. That revenue does not go to the Reparations Fund. Currently, Med/Men is the only cannabis dispensary in Evanston.

Speaking at the protest, Mr. Nalls said that he took the time to go out into the community and talk to people who live in Evanston’s Fifth Ward.

“It was the consensus … that they felt that the current iteration of reparations was not enough – that they felt that they had been ignored and their voices had not been heard throughout the process. …

Sebastian Nalls served as moderator for a public Zoom forum on March 4. Photo by Heidi Randhava

“Ultimately, this housing program is not what reparations means. It’s not all inclusive. There’s no plan going forward. We ask that the City council either take the time to rename the current proposal from something other than reparations – or pass it on to the next City Council coming into office in May, so that we can expand the program and truly fight for what’s right. … We are fighting for something that’s greater than ourselves individually…This movement is not just here in Evanston, but nationwide. We are pioneers.

“I want to take the time to thank … all the creators of the reparations program, [Fifth Ward Alderman] Robin Rue Simmons, Dino Robinson, [Shorefront Legacy Center founder] …who put the work and effort and time into creating a program. It’s … magnificent that they were able to do such a feat, especially in such a tenuous time when it comes to racial relations.

“It’s important that we recognize that as pioneers we will make mistakes along the way … It’s imperative that we go forward and we create a reparations program that’s all inclusive … so that it can be a model that can be followed across the nation.

“If we only settle for housing … or say, ‘We don’t have a plan right now, but months, years down the line, we’ll do something else,’ we’re leaving the door open to a lot of interpretation on what reparations actually means, and that’s unacceptable,” said Mr. Nalls.

Members of the group say they represent a large number of Evanstonians, some of whom have not spoken publicly “because they’re afraid of reprisals and other sorts of negative things that happen when you defy something that the City council has come out with,” said speaker Rose Cannon, who is the oldest living member of a five-generation Evanston family.

Ms. Cannon said she qualifies as a legacy entitled community member for the Restorative Housing Reparations program, which is set to distribute up to $25,000 per eligible resident for housing this year. The City has dedicated the first $400,000 of the $10 million reparations fund to housing related assistance.

Those who are eligible for the program include Black residents who suffered discrimination in housing as a result of City ordinance, policy or practice; or are direct descendants of a Black Evanston resident who lived in Evanston between 1919 to 1969, and suffered similar discrimination.

“As you can see, this is a very narrow window of entitlement for people to be able to claim this $25,000 that they say they’re going to give to us. … We ask that everyone just go back to the drawing board. Make up a bill that’s inclusive of all the people,” said Ms. Cannon.

Speaker Kevin Brown said that he married into a “legacy family of four generations of Evanstonians” whose members would also qualify for the benefits offered by the program. Like Ms. Cannon, Mr. Brown spoke against the program as it is currently structured.

“Reparations is meant, not only to repair past harm for racial discrimination and white supremacy. Reparations are meant to close the racial wealth gap. …The program that the City of Evanston is offering does not do that at all. …

“We want a real program. We don’t want a fraudulent program that is going to be presented to the United States of America as real reparations. We don’t want piece-meal reparations. … We want reparations that will make a difference for Black people in Evanston, Illinois. … So we are here to represent our community. It’s important for African Americans all over the United States of America. And that’s what we’re representing today,” said Mr. Brown.

Evanston Fight for Black Lives organizer and Evanston Township High School alumna Sarah Bogan spoke on behalf of the group that she helped to establish, composed of recent ETHS graduates and current ETHS students.

“I second everything that was just said. I want to emphasize that this is serving as a model for the rest of the country. Major headlines are saying that this city is truly providing for its Black citizens. But the requirements to qualify are ridiculous.

“It is to insinuate that racism has stopped after 1969 or that the people who live here currently aren’t experiencing racism – by their police, by their schools, by their banks, by the housing of this entire City. Just putting money into a loan is not true reparations, …This [vote] should not be rushed. … Alderman who are not going to serve [in the] next [City council] should not still be making decisions for the community,” said Ms. Bogan.

Former mayoral candidate Lori Keenan said, “I don’t want to, as a white woman, presume to tell the Black Evanston community what reparations is. But from what I have seen, this is not true reparations. This is not what the people of Evanston want.”

“I want you all to understand the courage that it takes to step up and talk about a topic like this. Before the [public] Zoom meeting even began, we had individuals coming into our meeting, throwing racial slurs at me and other individuals in the meeting. …These are some of the things the Black community here in Evanston has been fighting against for generations,” said Mr. Nalls.

Evanston has for months been in the national spotlight as the first city in the country to establish reparations to begin to financially repair the damages that stem from the legacy of slavery and continue to impact Black Americans.

The Reparations Resolution spearheaded by Ald. Rue Simmons was furthered by Mr. Robinson’s work in creating a report documenting Evanston’s discriminatory practices and policies. Evanston’s Reparations Resolution has also been endorsed by the National African American Reparations Commission (NAARC).

Both Ald. Rue Simmons and Mr. Robinson participated in the Zoom forum organized by the Evanston Rejects Racist Reparations group on March 6. They responded to some of the questions and concerns voiced by a wide spectrum of community members.

“I appreciate hearing all these diverse comments and observations. I think it’s a very important part of this process. …When I got involved, I immediately saw the limitations of what the $10 million tax reported cannabis monies can actually do,” said Mr. Robinson.

He said that when they learned the City’s $10 million reparations fund is limited to use for housing programs and economic development, there was discussion about how to create a fund somewhere else, where the harmed community has autonomy and control over it.

“Out of that came the process known as RSAE [Reparations Stakeholders Authority of Evanston]. We’re working on the application to certify it as a nonprofit,” said Mr. Robinson.

The RSAE will establish an Evanston Reparations Community Fund, housed at Evanston Community Foundation, and the fund will allow the community to pursue other avenues of repair in addition to housing programs and economic development.

“I don’t want to serve on the fund; I don’t have roots in Evanston. The reason for setting up the RSAE is so that members of the community like Rose Cannon can be on this committee – so they can make determinations of how the money can be utilized,” said Mr. Robinson, adding that the RSAE fund is independent of the City of Evanston, and committee members have to sign a conflict of interest statement.

The RSAE will be responsible for fundraising, developing grant processes and administering grants toward reparations work. Black residents will serve on the RSAE with term limits.

Ald. Rue Simmons responded to some participants who said they believe repair should be in the form of direct payments, and others who said that reparations should not be tied to housing and mortgage assistance. Still others said there was confusion about how they should proceed if they believe they are qualified for the housing assistance.

She said the first phase of the initiative is on housing because the case for Evanston reparations is very specific. She made a distinction between local and federal reparations.

“This isn’t a reparation for chattel enslavement. This isn’t for Jim Crow, This is for housing initiatives that impacted the Black community, which is well documented.,” said Ald. Rue Simmons, who encouraged residents to learn more at the City of Evanston or Shorefront Legacy Center websites.

She said has joined the national movement to support H.R. 40 [a bill introduced in the House in 2019 – after decades of attempts to do so – to establish a Commission to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African-Americans] “with hopes that we will have some option of repair on a federal level that is overdue.

“We want to acknowledge that everyone may not want to purchase a home, but this $400,000 is only the first 4% of a minimum of a $10 million fund that is now growing by private contributions, organizational contributions and family foundation contributions as well,” said Alderman Rue Simmons, adding that many residents have told her and other members of City council that they look forward to applying for the $25,000 housing benefit as an opportunity to buy a home in Evanston, improve their existing home or even buy down their mortgage.

“There are no restrictions on how the funding is used, as long as it’s used to build wealth in your home. …We have more work to do. …This is only one initiative out of many to come. There will continue to be a public process, just like there was in 2019 for us to get to this point…We’ll come up with a more efficient community process so that we can hear from the residents.

“Acknowledging that the senior community was here during the period of harm, we look to share more about how we can prioritize seniors on March 22 when we have the meeting,” said Alderman Rue Simmons.

She said the Reparations Subcommittee is working on other things “in hopes to bring some type of a cash program,” but that they do not have any details yet.

“I hear your frustrations. We all are frustrated as Black folks. We’ve been disenfranchised. We have been oppressed. We have not had access to opportunity and wealth and education. …The only place I disagree is that we stop the momentum that we have here. We are very close to delivering a reparative benefit to the Black community,” said Alderman Rue Simmons.

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