By Zak Yudhishthu, MCCD Policy Intern
On Tuesday, July 26th, MCCD hosted a member meeting titled “Reparations: Policy and Programs to Repair the Harms of Anti-Black Discrimination.” We were joined by the two leaders on the forefront of local reparations efforts, Robin Rue Simmons and Trahern Crews.
Robin Rue Simmons is a former Alderman for Evanston, Illinois who spearheaded efforts to establish the first local reparations program in the United States. Currently, Evanston’s reparations program is providing housing-related grants to Black residents of the city during the early 20th century. [insert a little background about the history of Evanston here]. Recently, she founded the nonprofit FirstRepair, an organization focused on informing local reparations efforts across the United States, and she now chairs the Evanston Reparations Committee.
Robin talked about the extensive network that fought for to Evanston’s successes. A wide swathe of members from the public and private sectors contributed to establishing Evanston’s reparation’s program, which is "the nation’s first municipally-funded reparations legislation for Black residents.”
From Robin’s presentation, we gained actionable takeaways about how to build a movement for reparations. A successful reparations program builds on a deep base of support. Researchers detailing anti-Black discrimination, activists and allies educating residents and pushing political leaders, elected officials working to craft policy, foundations and corporations channeling resources – each of these pillars is essential to successful reparations programs.
We’ll also be keeping an eye out for the public release of The Big Payback, a documentary on the work that Robin led in Evanston to pass a reparations program that recently premiered at Tribeca Film Festival.
Trahern Crews is the chair of the Saint Paul Recovery Act Steering Committee, which advocates for reparations at the local, state, and national level, and part of the Minnesota Council of Churches Reparations Task Force. He was also a co-convener of Reparations Legislative Advisory Committee for St. Paul, helping produce an ordinance to establish a permanent reparations working group in the city.
During his presentation, Trahern told us about the great work that’s been contributing to reparations efforts in St. Paul. In part inspired by Trahern’s work, in January 2021 members of the St. Paul City Council passed a resolution recognizing both the city and the country’s past roles in anti-Black discrimination. This led to another resolution establishing a legislative advisory committee to consider how a permanent reparations plan might work in St. Paul.
As a co-convener on the city’s legislative advisory committee, Trahern helped lead engagement efforts talking to community members about what reparations could look like. He shared survey response data indicating that people are interested in a wide range of policies that includes formal government apologies, direct cash payments, and specific provision of services such as education, housing, and business services.
From Trahern, we were also able to see a local example of the widespread support that is necessary for successful reparations efforts. Just as in Evanston, there have been many contributors to St. Paul’s ongoing reparations efforts, and it’s clear that the community development field can help contribute.
After hearing from our speakers, meeting participants were moved into breakout groups, for small-group discussion. Conversation prompts focused on the roles organizations might take in supporting a larger reparations effort. Participants discussed the importance of constructing new visions for reparations instead of channeling resources through existing, extractive institutions. For example, some of MCCD’s members run cooperatively owned housing or community land trusts, promising models that move beyond the often-exploitative institution of traditional homeownership and mortgages.
MCCD is looking forward to continuing this work and thinking about how we can hold discussions with community members and policymakers.
Watch the presentations from Robin and Trahern below!