Reparations forum set for Tuesday in Amherst

  • A car rolls past a rusted town line sign, Friday, Jan. 15, 2021, in Amherst. AP FILE PHOTO/CHARLES KRUPA

Staff Writer
Published: 4/23/2021 10:17:14 AM

AMHERST — Historic and ongoing racial disparities among Amherst residents uncovered by a group seeking to find a way for the town to offer reparations to Black residents will be presented at a forum next week.

A virtual “Symposium on Reparations” takes place Tuesday from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. featuring brief research presentations and talks by Reparations for Amherst co-founders Michele Miller and Matthew Andrews.

Miller said that discrepancies between Black and white residents in areas such as housing, education, health, transportation and upward mobility have been identified by participants, but that it was often a struggle to get statistics and only came after extensive digging.

“We feel we dug up some really important information,” Miller said, adding that the information is specific to Amherst, but also in the context of the region and the country.

Some of the data come from local schools, such as Black students accounting for 9.5% of high school students during the 1995-1996 school year, but making up 25.9% of suspensions. Nearly 25 years later, for the 2019-2020 school year, the statistics had not changed significantly, with Black students 8.2% of the student body but accounting for 18.75% of suspensions.

Other information from places like Cooley Dickinson Hospital, with data showing that local Black communities have higher rates of chronic illnesses, including cardiovascular conditions, asthma, and diabetes.

Those presenting their research will include Mattea Kramer, Anita Sarro, Mary Porcino, Daiana Griffith Ozuna, and Jeff Fishman.

Miller said this information will be used to produce a 40-page report that is being reviewed by the Black Stakeholder Group, a companion organization that is making sure the voices of Black residents are heard in the reparations discussion. The report will be edited and likely published on the town of Amherst’s website. Miller and Andrews, meantime, will share their reflections on the work. 

“The other thing is Matthew and I will talk about our journey doing this as white people in the Amherst community,” Miller said.

Reparations for Amherst has been inspired by the work of Robin Rue Simmons, an alderman in Evanston, Illinois, a city that has passed a reparations ordinance to make down payments on housing and encourage Black entrepreneurship through the use of $10 million collected in cannabis sales taxes.

Miller said she hopes that even people who may be uncomfortable with the topic, and who disagree with the premise of reparations will tune in. The Zoom meeting link is at https://tinyurl.com/5c4h8cwx.

The symposium comes in advance of a scheduled presentation to the Town Council on May 17, when members of both Reparations for Amherst and the Black Stakeholders Group present findings from the research, and discuss how cannabis sales and the tax revenue associated with it could go toward racial justice issues.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.

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