The current state of reparations: case studies from key American cities

The demand for reparations is not merely a call for monetary compensation; it is a fight for recognition and justice and for the country to live up to its ideals of equality and liberty The post The current state of reparations: case studies from key American cities appeared first on San Francisco Bay View.

The current state of reparations: case studies from key American cities
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Robin Rue Simmons is one voice out of many urging the implementation of reparations for Black Americans. – Photo: Institute of Politics

by Kahfre Jay

In the United States, a country still profoundly marred by the scars of its racist past and present, the fight for reparations is a glaring testament to the ongoing struggle against white supremacy and historical illiteracy. The stark reality that four out of five white Americans oppose reparations is not just a matter of differing opinions – it is a reflection of a pervasive and insidious racism that continues to permeate American society.

This resistance to reparations is a clear indicator of the nation’s reluctance to confront and rectify its legacy of slavery and systemic racism. It’s a bitter reminder that, despite advancements in civil rights, the country is still entrenched in the ideologies that have oppressed Black Americans for centuries. This opposition is not rooted in a lack of understanding; it’s grounded in a willful ignorance and a deep-seated resistance to acknowledging the benefits reaped from centuries of exploitation and injustice.

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According to the Pew Research Center 77 percent of African Americans are in favor of reparations. This supports the faith and determination behind the demand for reparations, which expands nationwide.

The demand for reparations is not merely a call for monetary compensation; it is a fight for recognition and justice and for the country to live up to its ideals of equality and liberty. Yet, the Black community continues to bear the burden of advocating for this cause, tirelessly working to educate and combat the ignorance and bigotry that persist in white America, and we are tired.

The ongoing struggle for reparations is emblematic of a broader battle against systemic racism and white supremacy in the United States. It’s a struggle that the Black community should no longer shoulder; it demands a collective white reckoning and a radical transformation of white people’s values. Reparations are about white people, at the very least, acquiescing to the idea of racial inequality, investing in the future of Black communities, and breaking the cycle of poverty and disenfranchisement that has been perpetuated for centuries.

As we delve into the stories of cities leading the charge in reparations, we are not just exploring policy initiatives but witnessing the unfolding of a critical chapter in the fight for racial justice. This movement is a rallying cry for recognition, redress and the reclamation of dignity for Black Americans.

Evanston, Illinois – a trailblazer in reparations

In 2021, Evanston, Illinois, marked a significant milestone in the reparations movement by adopting the Restorative Housing Fund. This initiative was a response to a history of redlining and segregationist policies that significantly widened the racial wealth gap in homeownership between Black and White residents of Evanston. The fund aimed to address these historical injustices by providing financial assistance for home improvements, mortgage payments or down payments for Black residents.

Evanston’s reparations program was primarily funded through taxes collected from the sale of recreational marijuana. The city initially set aside $10 million for the reparations fund, estimating significant revenue from marijuana taxes. However, due to the slower-than-expected opening of dispensaries, the actual funds available were less than projected. By 2023, only $400,000 had been disbursed to 16 Black residents, each receiving $25,000, despite the city’s expectation that around 400 Black residents would benefit from the program.

The Restorative Housing Fund has faced criticism and scrutiny from the Black community in Evanston. Some residents have argued that the program’s narrow focus on housing-related assistance must fully encompass the broader concept of reparations. They contend that the $25,000 offered may not significantly impact homeownership or wealth-building in the current market. Additionally, the restriction of the funds to housing-related uses has raised concerns, as it may not address the diverse needs of all Black residents in Evanston, particularly renters.

Despite these critiques, Robin Rue Simmons, the former Evanston alderwoman who spearheaded the initiative, has defended the program, emphasizing the urgency of beginning reparations efforts and acknowledging that, while not perfect, it is a crucial first step in a complex and ongoing process. She stresses that reparations are an emergency, given the dire conditions faced by Black Americans and Black Evanstonians in particular.

The Evanston case highlights the complexities and challenges involved in crafting and implementing reparations programs at the local level. While it represents a significant step in acknowledging and addressing historical racial injustices, the program’s scope, funding and impact continue to be topics of debate and evolution.

St. Paul, Minnesota – comprehensive reparations approach

In St. Paul, Minnesota, the movement for reparations is taking a comprehensive approach, addressing various issues from homeownership and healthcare to education and employment. The city has established the St. Paul Recovery Act Community Reparations Commission to guide this ambitious initiative. This commission is expected to advise the city council and the mayor on addressing racial disparities for American descendants of chattel slavery across various sectors.

However, the city’s efforts have been subject to controversy. A critical issue in St. Paul’s reparations efforts is the leadership of the reparations program. Members of the Black community in St. Paul, including influential local figures and organizations, have voiced strong concerns about the appointment of a non-Black individual to manage the city’s reparations efforts. They argue that the role should be filled by someone who is a descendant of American chattel slavery, possessing lived experience and a deep understanding of the racial wealth gap and its impact on descendants of enslaved people in Minnesota. This criticism underscores a broader concern about representation and authenticity in the leadership of reparations initiatives.

The reparations program in St. Paul reflects the complexities and sensitivities involved in addressing historical and ongoing racial injustices. The community’s response highlights the importance of inclusive and representative leadership in reparations efforts, ensuring that those most affected by historical injustices have a central role in shaping reparations policies and programs. As St. Paul moves forward with its reparations commission, the city’s approach and response to these critiques will be critical in setting a precedent for how reparations can be effectively and equitably implemented at the municipal level.

California – setting a statewide precedent

California’s establishment of a statewide reparations task force represents a significant development in the U.S. reparations movement. In June 2023, the task force released its final report to the California Legislature. This comprehensive report examines the multifaceted impacts of slavery and its enduring effects on African Americans, proposing a detailed reparations plan. The report delves into a wide range of areas, including enslavement, racial terror, political disenfranchisement, housing segregation, inequality in education and more.

The task force’s work in California sets a precedent for other states. It provides a model for addressing the complex legacy of slavery and institutional racism by thoroughly documenting the historical and ongoing harms experienced by African Americans and suggesting a broad reparations framework; California’s task force has laid the groundwork for reparations discussions and policies at both state and national levels.

However, as with all pioneering efforts, California’s approach to reparations will likely evolve as it faces the challenges of implementation and adaptation to meet African American communities’ diverse needs and histories.

New York – recent entrant in the reparations movement

New York has recently taken a significant step in the reparations movement. In December 2023, Gov. Kathy Hochul signed a bill authorizing the creation of a reparations commission. This commission is tasked with exploring policies that address the long-standing impacts of slavery and racial disparities in the state.

The commission’s mandate includes examining the impact of slavery, which existed in New York from 1624 until 1827, and subsequent injustices such as mass incarceration and housing discrimination. By 2025, the commission will deliver a report with recommendations for remedies, including statutory changes and potential payments. These recommendations must then be passed as legislation by the New York state government.

Gov. Hochul, in acknowledging the state’s history with slavery, emphasized that New York flourished because of this practice and that it’s essential to confront this truth. Rev. Al Sharpton, present at the bill signing, underscored the importance of this commission as a step towards healing the wounds of slavery.

Despite this progressive move, the initiative faces challenges. The governor has expressed concerns about budgetary limitations that could impact the resources available for reparations policies. Additionally, there has been some political opposition, notably from Republican Senate Minority Leader Robert Ortt, who has signaled resistance to a reparations plan.

New York’s efforts in establishing this commission are seen as a critical move towards acknowledging and seeking to address the long legacy of slavery and racism in the state. However, the journey ahead will likely be complex, requiring careful navigation of political, social and economic landscapes to achieve meaningful reparations.

This development in New York follows the footsteps of other states like California. It represents a growing acknowledgment at both state and city levels of the need for reparations to address historical racial injustices. As it embarks on this path, New York joins a more extensive national conversation on reparations and racial justice.

Other notable cities

Various cities across the United States are at different stages of implementing reparations, each with their unique approaches:

  1. Asheville, North Carolina: Asheville’s Community Reparations Commission is making strides in addressing the historical injustices faced by the Black community. Since the Asheville City Council passed a resolution supporting community reparations in September 2020, the commission has been working on short-, medium- and long-term recommendations. Their focus areas include criminal justice, economic development, education, health and wellness, and housing. The commission, composed of members appointed by the Asheville City Council and the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners, meets regularly and involves the public in their discussions and planning. The commission’s approach reflects a commitment to acknowledging and addressing systemic racism’s impact on the Black community in Asheville.
  2. Berkeley, California: In Berkeley, the reparations initiative focuses on a holistic approach encompassing reckoning, acknowledgment, accountability and redress. The city is considering hiring a consultant to develop recommendations for reparative policies. The process envisions community gatherings and “truth-telling” events to discuss the impacts of slavery, structural racism and other forms of discrimination that have affected the Black community. This includes addressing issues such as redlining, environmental racism, high arrest and incarceration rates, economic injuries and more. The community-led discussions aim to build a shared understanding of the history of Black Americans in Berkeley and develop recommendations for redressing the harms caused by racism and discrimination. The initiative underscores the need for a public process to openly explore the ills of racism and discrimination and their profound impact.


The reparations movement in the United States, spearheaded by cities like Evanston, St. Paul, Asheville and Berkeley, is not just a call for financial restitution; it is a demand for the nation to confront and rectify its legacy of slavery and systemic racism. These cities are pioneering a path toward acknowledging and repairing the profound injustices and inequalities that have been inflicted upon the Black community for centuries.

However, the stark reality is that a significant majority of white Americans, approximately four out of five, remain opposed to reparations. This resistance is not just a matter of differing opinions; it is a reflection of a deep-seated unwillingness to confront the brutal truths of America’s history and the ongoing racial disparities that continue to shape the lives of Black Americans.

It is time for white Americans to take on the responsibility of educating their communities about the enduring impacts of slavery and systemic racism. The burden of dismantling these oppressive structures should not rest on the shoulders of the Black community. We are tired. White Americans must actively engage in the reparations discourse, not as bystanders, but as allies committed to making amends for past and present injustices, or this will not work.

The reparations movement calls for more than just acknowledgment; it demands action. It is a call to all Americans, mainly white Americans, to work towards making the country live up to its professed ideals of equality and justice for all. This is not just a fight for the Black community but for the soul of America. It’s about transforming a history of inequality into a future of equity and justice.

The path forward requires continued support and advocacy for reparations. It requires a collective effort to educate, understand, and take action. The cities leading this movement are not just addressing past wrongs but setting the stage for a more just and equitable future. The time for reparations is now, and it begins with a commitment to understanding, acknowledging, and acting upon the truths of our shared history.

Khafre Jay is a hip hop organizer and business consultant, educator, keynote speaker, dope emcee and the founder of Hip Hop For The Future SPC, his latest venture, committed to weaponizing Hip Hop as a tool for social change and community upliftment. Reach him at 

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