Last year, Evanston–a college town suburb in Chicago—made history when it became the first U.S. city to approve a plan to make reparations available to Black residents. While the money was supposed to come from taxes on recreational marijuana sales, it has been trickling in more slowly than anticipated; but, in an unexpected move, the interfaith community in Evanston has stepped in and joined the fray.

This the first non-governmental institution in the city to join the local reparations movement, according to the Evanston Roundtable. A group of 16 faith community leaders gathered at Fountain Square at noon Monday to formally announce their intent to participate in local reparations–both in community education and fundraising.

Speaking before a crowd of less than a hundred people at Fountain Square on Monday at noon, Mayor Daniel Biss said that while he aims for the city to be a principal part of their efforts in providing reparations, he’ll take all the help he can get.

“The magnitude of the task is such that it helps the point to be needed. And so thank you to everyone who is here today, offering to step up to be a part of that work,” Mayor Bliss said.

Rev. Eileen Wiviott moderated the event, which also included recorded messages from Dino Robinson, former City Council Member Robin Rue Simmons “who was instrumental in launching the city’s reparation initiative,” and Representative Jan Schakowsky (D-IL). The 16 faith groups that have signed on to participate are:

  • Beth Emet The Free Synagogue
  • Buddhist Council of the Midwest
  • Evanston Bahá’í Community
  • Evanston Friends Meeting
  • First Congregational Church of Evanston
  • First United Methodist Church
  • Grace Lutheran Church
  • Immanuel Lutheran Church
  • Jewish Reconstructionist Congregation
  • St. John’s Evangelical Lutheran Church, Wilmette
  • Lake Street Church of Evanston
  • St. Luke’s Episcopal Church
  • Northminster Presbyterian Church
  • St. Paul’s Lutheran Church
  • United Catholic Youth Ministries (Catholic parishes)
  • Unitarian Church of Evanston

Each clergy leader also took turns reading from a statement, saying in part: “For more than 50 years, a faith-based movement has been growing in this country in support of reparations for Black Americans…We can educate our community about the history of racism in our country, including the racism in our own community … [we can] raise money to support the reparations efforts in Evanston, including the Evanston Reparations Community Fund.”

The Evanston Reparations Community Fund will be responsible for collecting donations, which is “housed by the Evanston Community Foundation and overseen by the Reparations Stakeholders Authority of Evanston – a collaboration of prominent city leaders established by Rue Simmons, Robinson, the Rev. Michael Nabors, Pastor Monté Dillard, Second Ward Council Member Peter Braithwaite, Henry Wilkins and Spencer Jourdain.”

Mayor Biss understands what’s at stake, as the country watches the rollout of one the first reparations programs in our nation’s history—“If you mess it up you mess it up for everybody else too…Because the eyes of the nation are on us, we have an especially critical need to be successful.”

The mayor also said the city is in the process of distributing $400,000 to the first 16 recipients. The city has committed to hand out $10 million over the next 10 years to Black residents with ties to the city’s Black community between 1919 and 1969. For those who were victims of housing discrimination as a result of the city’s policies after 1969 are eligible for $25,000 toward home repairs, mortgage payments, down payments on property or other housing expenses.

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