Talks underway for reparations in Amherst

  • Amherst Town Hall GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 2/28/2021 7:20:37 PM

AMHERST — Two closed-door meetings with Black residents, including one held Sunday, have been scheduled to give a more focused direction to requests that will be made by the Reparations for Amherst group.

The group recently received a commitment from 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, to lead these discussions.

Meantime, Michele Miller, co-chairwoman of the Reparations for Amherst, or R4A group, is continuing a push to get $5,000 from the town to either compensate Black facilitators, such as Simmons, or other Black residents who are contributing to disparity research that will be used in the reparative process.

“We are confident that the allocation of $5,000 toward the work of R4A will meaningfully advance reparations in Amherst,” Miller told the Town Council this week.

Simmons, who participated in a forum in Amherst about reparations last December, will educate the attendees about the Evanston roadmap and begin discussing the reparative path for Amherst. The comprehensive report of disparity data is expected to be released soon, Miller said.

Councilors heard from other residents who said the financial investment is necessary, even as $80,000 set aside by Town Manager Paul Bockelman is related to similar endeavors, such as the Community Safety Working Group’s ongoing study of how changes can be made in delivering policing and public safety.

Peter Blood, co-convenor of Interfaith Opportunities Network, told the council that he is concerned about systemic racism, and wants a deep look at the issue of reparations.

“Reparations are a wonderful opportunity for us to take on an issue on the national level but also on a local level,” Blood said.

Modest financial support, he said, would go a long way to bringing this forward.

“To do this fairly and adequately, we really need to engage our African-American residents,” Blood said.

Pat Ononibaku, of Tamarack Drive, said she feels hopeful after Town Council made a statement to address racism and equity through reparations and other means.

“To get this work done, it needs some funding,” Ononibaku said.

Bockelman said town attorney KP Law is continuing to review the possibility of assisting the Reparations for Amherst group.

District 5 Councilor Shalini Bahl-Milne said work needs to happen and money should go directly to Simmons and others.

“What she’s willing to do is work with the Black community and figure out from their perspective what does reparations really look like for Amherst,” Bahl-Milne said.

“I do believe we should be paying her for her services,” Bahl-Milne said.

Lauren Mills, a South Amherst resident, said racial and economic justice supports community upliftment and the request from Reparations for Amherst is sensible.

“I think that this type of work is sustained by a term called blood memory, by making things right for people who came before us and who will come after us,” Mills said.

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


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