Equity Commission discussions reparations for “Solutions Only”


Photo courtesy of Chicago Tribune.

Zachary Bahar, News Editor

The Solutions Only Subcommittee of the Evanston Equity and Empowerment Commission met on July 11 and 13 to discuss possible forms of reparations and repair for the Black community of Evanston.

 “The reparations policy is the answer to our equity work because we have acknowledged, in many different ways, stated ways, resolutions, other ways that we are committed to equity and diversity, and in those actions we still seem to have wide economic disparities and education gaps,” Robin Rue Simmons, 5th Ward Alderwoman, said. “The equity piece is something that we ask to do to help repair the Black community that has been wronged.”

The Solutions Only Subcommittee was formed on June 20 in response to a request from Rue Simmons for the Commission to look into reparations work and solutions to the existing opportunity gap. Part of Rue Simmons’s proposal included a demand for urgency in the work, both for practical and symbolic reasons.

“I had an aggressive calendar, and I understand that, but I didn’t want it to be tabled, to be accepted on file like a resolution, and for no actionable steps towards bridging the gap to occur. It was also important for me that there was some official acknowledgment of this in August, being the 400th year of Black resilience that date was important to me. Symbolic? Yes, but important nonetheless,” Rue Simmons said.

The two meetings of the Subcommittee had a combined attendance of around 35 community members, both from within and outside of the 5th Ward, and the discussions featured a wide variety of topics ranging from the involvement of Northwestern and faith-based organizations, grants relating to redlining, home and business ownership and increased education about the Black community within Evanston school districts. 

“People came to engage in conversation so their voice can be heard, and it was just wonderful to hear real solutions or possible solutions,” Patricia Efiom, Evanston’s Chief Equity Officer, said. “One of the issues with equity is that for far too long we’ve asked individuals where we have to be, the work of equity says engage the community, particularly the community that has been most injured, and figure out what that community needs.”

At the moment, the most actionable piece of policy is to establish a fund dedicated to closing the wealth gap among Black residents by subsidizing down payments for first-time homeowners and protecting existing homes from foreclosure and predatory lending. 

“Our property is being devalued because of the demographics of our neighborhood, [because of] less access to city resources [and the lack of] a school; the homes have become burdened…. We have a risk of losing our homes more so than other communities,” Rue Simmons said.

The findings of the Solutions Only Subcommittee were presented to the Equity Commission on Aug. 15 with the Commission bringing a policy recommendation to the City Council at one of its fall meetings. 

“Repair and reparations are going to be an important part of a larger picture of community reconciliation…. repairing the decades of damage done to the Evanston Black community through redlining, housing discrimination and the closing of black businesses in Evanston,” Commission Chair and Former Alderwoman Jane Grover said.

While the policy being presented to City Council may only focus on one part of this much larger puzzle, the Commission has taken upon itself the initiative to continue this work and keep striving to close the opportunity gap through continued community engagement and deeper dissection of other proposals brought up in these first meetings.

“This is a lifelong journey, it has taken us hundreds of years for us to get here… I want tomorrow to be better than my yesterday was …We have the opportunity to change our world, and most of that is just people being in communication with each other, exchanging ideas, having these conversations, talking about how difficult it is and encouraging each other to stay on this path,” Efiom said.

Full minutes for the Solutions Only Subcommittee can be found on the Equity and Empowerment Commissions website. The next meeting of the Commission will be taking place on Sept. 19.