New panel to develop reparations fund in Amherst

  • Past Amherst area residents Henry Jackson, center, Lt. Frazar Stearns, left, and Anna Reed Goodwin, right, are featured on the Amherst Community History Mural, as seen through the adjacent West Cemetery fence in Amherst. 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 FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 5/19/2021 8:20:00 PM

AMHERST — Town officials are establishing a new committee to develop a reparations fund for making restitution for past harms to Black residents.

In a unanimous vote this week, the Town Council agreed to form the African Heritage Reparation Coalition, a group that will determine the best way to promote equity and justice.

At the same time, councilors instructed, in a 10-1 vote, that the Finance Committee identify a stream of revenue to support reparations in next year’s budget, which begins July 1. At-Large Councilor Andy Steinberg abstained from voting and District 5 Councilor Darcy DuMont was absent. District 3 Councilor George Ryan cast the lone dissenting vote out of concern with the process.

“This is the right thing to do, it’s overdue, and we have not done the work of reparations toward Black people,” said District 5 Councilor Shalini Bahl-Milne.

Bahl-Milne added that reparations are an important way to heal and the community can only thrive if it overcomes past injustices.

A group known as Amherst African Heritage Residents for Reparations, made up of Black residents who have served in elected office, made the appeal, along with the co-founders of Reparations for Amherst.

Barbara Love, a former member of the School Committee and Amherst resident since 1970, said the process will lead “to direct revenues into a fund that the African-American community would direct to the needs and priorities (of residents). It’s about reparations.”

Amherst has a growing number of African heritage residents who want to see this response from the Town Council, Love said. Love is among those working to organize the Black community, through a census and community feedback, to speak with one voice about how reparations are offered.

A proposed committee charge will go to the Governance, Organization and Legislation Committee of the Town Council, with a report back to councilors by June 21. The draft charge contains a plan for developing ongoing funding streams to repair past harms committed by the town against Black people, an allocation plan to be determined and approved by the broader Black community and additional repair for anti-Black structural and communal racism, including public events and activities that prioritize truth-telling and reconciliation.

The coalition would be made up of six Black residents, including four former or current appointed or elected officials in Amherst, and one representative from Reparations for Amherst.

Amilcar Shabazz, a former School Committee member, said current and former Black elected officials are organizing the African descent community in Amherst to focus on reparations and reach consensus on how reparative justice funds will be used.

Kathleen Anderson, former president of the local NAACP chapter, said Amherst has benefited by discrimination against its African population and from 400 years of white people enriched by the condition of enslavement of African people.

“I want us to have you thinking about and be concerned about the topic of reparations,” Anderson said.

It’s uncertain, though, how soon the Finance Committee can learn if there is money available in town coffers for reparations, such as cannabis tax revenue that was the source of a reparations fund created in Evanston, Illinois.

“I think that we can send the committee charge simultaneously to GOL and to Finance because it’s clear we’re looking to discover and creatively look at our finances and begin to understand how we can have an ongoing fund for reparations,” said District 2 Councilor Pat DeAngelis.

Reparations for Amherst submitted a study titled “Report on Anti-Black Racism and Black/White Disparities in the Town of Amherst” to the Town Council about how Black residents of Amherst have been treated since the town’s founding in 1759.

Reparations co-founder Matthew Andrews said structural racism and town leaders’ culpability and actions caused material harm to Black people.

“Now’s your chance to move toward repair and make your priorities clear by making specific budget allocations,” Andrews said.

The Town Council also read a resolution in support of the federal H.R. 40 bill that endorses providing reparations to Black citizens on the national level.

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