City Council, activists, community leaders discuss reparations for Black Bostonians

The City Council Committee on Civil Rights held a hearing on October 26 “regarding reparations and their impact on the civil rights of Black Bostonians.”

The Committee is chaired by Councilor Julia Mejia, who also sponsored this docket along with Councilor Kenzie Bok. Several panels of speakers were invited to the hearing to provide information and testimony on the subject of reparations for Black residents in Boston, and the public was also invited to testify.

The purpose of the hearing was to listen to these individuals as the council learns more about how it can introduce a committee on reparations in Boston and really start the conversation around establishing the committee.

University of Massachusetts Boston Professor of Africana Studies Jemadari Kamara said that when it comes to reparations, “at its core, we’re speaking about repair.” He continued, “we’re seeking social justice.”

Many other folks, including Armani White, cofounder of Reclaim Roxbury who also works at the Center for Economic Democracy, Tammy Tai of King Boston, Aziza Robinson-Goodnight, Dr. Atyia Martin, Yvette Modestin, Dr. Kevin Peterson, Chief of the Equity and Inclusion Cabinet Celina Barrios-Millner, and others spoke about the importance of reparations in the City of Boston and offered ways in which they could be delivered, as well as the ways in which history has wronged Black residents, leading to systemic inequality.

“What is important to King Boston is how we change the mindset of individuals that this is not a zero-sum game,” King Boston Executive Director Imari Paris Jeffries said in a statement.

“That the repayment of past wrongs for some does not have to negatively impact others. Reparations on the municipal level, the state level and the federal level are needed for a true reconciliation around racism. It is important to understand how racism has negatively impacted all of us who are residents of this country. The state responsible for wrongful injury is obligated to compensate for their damage. Compensation for past racial injustices could come in the form of financial compensation, housing opportunities, scholarships, or educational opportunities. King Boston is seeking pathways to healing and joining with other Black leaders across Massachusetts.”

Tanisha Sullivan, President of NAACP Boston, said that while the City of Boston has made some progress, the work is not done. “Families should not have to leave this city to find better economic opportunity,” she said.

Sullivan also talked about health equity in the city, and praised the Boston Public Health Commission for its “tremendous work in this space.”

She continued, “I do think that as we move forward in this work, it would be critically important for us to hear from many of the experts, may of them are here in Boston on the topic of public health, specifically, social determinants of health.”

Dr. Atyia Martin, who was born and raised in the city and also raised her five children here, said that she “struggles through the mixed signals that we get from our city.” She said that a “community-wide process” is the way to go when it comes to reparations.

“It’s not a handout,” she said, but rather a way to even the playing field for Black residents. “I hope that we are able to open the door for Black Bostonians,” Martin said.

After hearing from activists, experts, and other leaders, and the public in a nearly three and a half hour hearing, Tanisha Sullivan said that she wanted to “recognize the importance of bringing all of us into what hopefully will be an inflection point in our city’s history of finally getting to a point where we are ready to understand our history, confront our truth, move toward justice, and achieve repair in the city so all of us can move forward.”

Sullivan added that she “looks forward” to continuing the conversation at the community level, but “we need to move with a sense of urgency,” she said, and waiting another year or even six months is not an option. “We need to get this done,” she said, “to formalize the structure through which we will do this work. I, for one, am going to be pushing us to take action swiftly on this matter so we can get on the continuum to that repair.”

The full hearing is available for viewing on the Boston City Council YouTube page.

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