Earlier this year, Evanston, Illinois became the first city to offer its Black residents reparations, now those residents are rejecting the program. “It’s not reparations,” longtime Evanston resident Priscilla Giles told NBC News. “And that’s for sure,” Giles, a retired Chicago Public Schools educator, added.
Giles automatically qualified for the $25,000 reparations payment since she lived in Evanston between 1919 and 1969, but she, like many other eligible residents, are hesitant because of the program’s racism and lack of community input.
Hundreds of Black residents have shown their support for an online group called Evanston Rejects Racist Reparations, where they’ve demanded the program stop and go under re-evaluation.
The city’s push for reparations began almost 20 years ago when former Alderman Lionel Jean-Baptist first proposed a reparations program to city council. Reparations came back to the city council floor when Aldermen Robin Rue Simmons, Peter Braithwaite and Ann Rainey reintroduced a proposal in 2019. Their plan differed from Jean-Baptiste’s in the source of funding for the program –– marijuana sales tax.
Residents say the plan was changed from cash payments to the $25,000 payout specifically for home improvement or house down payments under the city’s guidance and there's too many restrictions on how they can use the money. Organizers have also pointed out how the program excludes renters, since the money can only go to current or future homeowners.
“We were very excited,” 73 year-old resident Rose Cannon said. Cannon contacted a broker to see about using the $25,000 to buy a home, but was told it wouldn’t be enough to cover the average-priced home in Evanston which is more than $400,000 at the moment.
“This is a housing voucher program, not reparations –– and calling it that does more harm than good,” A. Kirsten Mullen and William Darity Jr., authors of From Here to Equality: Reparations for Black Americans in the Twenty-First Century, wrote in an opinion article for The Washington Post. Darity, a Duke University economist, estimates true reparations would cost the federal government upwards of $11 trillion and that local governments can’t flip the bill for Black reparations.
HR 40, a federal bill that would commission a study on slavery’s impact on Black Americans is inching its way to the House floor for a vote, and would be a major step in getting federal-level reparations to Black people.
For residents in Evanston, organizers are working to raise awareness about what they see as the program’s shortcomings while lobbying city officials to pause the program.
“Black Evanston residents need to be determining their own repair,” organizer Sebastian Nalls said.
Photo: Getty Images