Northampton reparations commission getting to work


Staff Writer

Published: 08-24-2023 11:00 PM

NORTHAMPTON — The city’s new reparations commission met for the first time Thursday night, six months after its creation and a week after the City Council approved $30,000 to help pay for a staff member to help the panel complete its work.

Members of the 11-member Commission to Investigate Racialized Harms, appointed in July, are expected to spend the next nine months crafting a preliminary report detailing what initiatives to ameliorate past racial harms should be funded by the city.

The commission includes Ward 4 city councilor Garrick Perry and at-large councilor Marissa Elkins. Other members include Sarah Lynn Patterson, an assistant professor of English at UMass Amherst and a member of the Northampton Reparations Committee, and Ousmane Power-Greene, an associate professor at Clark University and a member of the David Ruggles Center in Florence.

Eight of the 11 members of the commission are Black, fulfilling a requirement that Black members need to make up at least half of the commission.

To help the commission fulfill its charge, the council last week approved a financial order from Mayor Gina-Louis Sciarra to give $30,000 to the commission, to be taken from the city’s stabilization fund. Perry said the money will go toward staffing that would assist the commission in ways such as taking minutes during meetings and other administrative duties.

“The work we’re doing is going to be very broad and expansive, so having people to help up with the little minutiae is very important,” Perry said.

Council members also unanimously voted to suspend the rules in order to approve the order the same night it was introduced, rather than wait until the next council meeting.

“This is a commission that has the desire of the community behind it,” Ward 2 councilor Karen Foster said. “They have a tremendous amount of work in front of them, and knowing this support is in place may help the commission to launch their work.”

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The City Council unanimously passed a resolution in February to create the commission. The resolution calls on the city to acknowledge and apologize for past actions and legislation that entrenched systems of racial discrimination and segregation in the city.

The commission’s preliminary report is due by May 24, 2024, with a final report to be submitted in early October of the same year.

Northampton is joining several other communities across the nation that have taken steps to attempt to redress past harms committed against marginalized racial groups. That includes Amherst, which created a seven-member commission known as the African Heritage Reparation Assembly, or AHRA, in 2021. Other major New England cities, such as Boston and Providence, Rhode Island, have also formed their own commissions.