Amherst will petition state for reparations initiative 

  • A car rolls past a rusted town line sign, Friday, Jan. 15, 2021, in Amherst, Mass. Amherst is on a path toward providing reparations to Black residents for past injustices following the town council's adoption of a resolution calling for the community to become an anti-racist town. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa) Charles Krupa—AP FILE PHOTO/CHARLES KRUPA

Staff Writer
Published: 3/9/2022 8:48:18 PM
Modified: 3/9/2022 8:47:45 PM

AMHERST — Amherst’s Town Council is pursuing a home-rule petition through the state Legislature that will allow a reparations initiative for Black residents, aimed at ending structural racism and achieving racial equity, to get underway.

Councilors Monday voted 12-0, with District 5 Councilor Shalini Bahl-Milne absent, to work with its legislative delegation, including Rep. Mindy Domb and Sen. Jo Comerford, to file special legislation so money or other benefits can be sought by and given out to people of African heritage.

“This is a tool for distributing benefits for when the time comes,” District 1 Councilor Michele Miller said.

The idea of the legislation, Miller said, is to define reparations as a public purpose. It is one of three paths for a successful reparations initiative that town attorney KP Law has recommended, but the only one that would benefit a special minority population, Miller said.

In a memo to the council, Miller wrote that drafting a home-rule petition is “perhaps the most direct process, and that which, in my opinion, is most protective of the town and the work it wants to do.”

The other ways of doing reparations would be funding a community development corporation that might provide and develop affordable housing for low- and moderate-income families, or contributing to a nonprofit organization that aids targeted communities. In both cases, though, the reparations would likely go to a larger population than what the Town Council has intended.

In June 2021, the Town Council voted to establish a reparation fund and to create the African Heritage Reparation Assembly. Since then, $206,000 has been put into the fund. These actions followed from a December 2020 resolution affirming the town’s commitment to end structural racism and achieve racial equity for Black residents, and a report from the Reparations for Amherst group that documented harms that have occurred in town, from racist deed covenants to incidents in the public schools.

“It’s essential that the town prioritize activities that will ensure reparation benefits can legally be distributed, and provide the most possible agency and flexibility with respect to reparative initiatives chosen by the African-American/Black community,” Miller wrote.

Amherst has modeled its reparations after Evanston, Illinois, which this year has qualifying households receive up to $25,000 for down payments or home repairs.

Prior to the vote, members of the African Heritage Reparation Assembly spoke to the Town Council to remind councilors of the resolution that has been adopted, focusing on the racial equity gap that exists in the community and how white supremacy causes physiological harm.

Assembly member Alexis Reed, who has lived in Amherst her entire life, told the Town Council that sharing space without sharing power is tokenization, and half of the town’s Black population lives under the poverty line.

“Anti-Blackness permeates every aspect of a Black person’s life starting from the moment they take their very first breath to the moment they take their very last,” Reed said.

She provided examples from her own experience, including in an African-American literature class at Amherst Regional High School in 2009 when the use of the n-word was put to a vote of the class, despite Black students expressing discomfort.

“The harm is consistent and persistent, it’s often unintended, but I hope that we are really committed to unpacking that,” said assembly member Hala Lord.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at


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