A 'look back' and a 'look forward': Washtenaw County committee is looking at reparations

A 'look back' and a 'look forward': Washtenaw County committee is looking at reparations ...

WASHTENAW COUNTY, MI - An internal committee composed of a cross-section of academics and community leaders has quietly studied the consequences of one of America's fundamental problems, the institution of slavery.

In June of last year, a Racial Equity Officer from Washtenaw County convened the Exploratory Committee on preparations, commuting them across the country with similar initiatives.

In its first year in office, the group focused on making strategic investments to reduce the "compounded effects" of slavery in the southeast Michigan county, where roughly 12% of residents are black.

"We know there's a gap in education, we know there's a wealth gap, we know there's a gap in health access, and we're aware that there's a gap in home ownership," said the county's Racial Equity Office, which was established in 2018.

Campbell claims that the reparations committee is working on how these chasms came to be, and what targeted policy or investment may be used to them.

The organization includes a selection of academics, educators, activists, politicians, and business leaders invited to participate. The Racial Equity Office has released some of the dozen names on the committee, a work group which is currently not meeting in public and has no spending power.

They include a clinical assistant professor of health education, a UM historian, and a Law School Professor and the Civil Rights Litigation Initiative Director who has worked in the area.

The committee's chief public Defender and economic development and housing professional are among the names on the committee, although the Racial Equity Office did not publish its entire composition.

The long-standing inequities, particularly between the Ann Arbor area and Ypsilanti, where a large part of the county's Black population is, are tied for one of its members.

According to the group, he is looking into how the county might make economic and social reparations by using public funds to address those gaps.

Tucker acknowledged that the word reparations had "significant interpretations," and said that his working definition focuses on the availability of resources, which does not always mean money.

Campbell echoed a similar concept. "I don't think anyone should expect a check in hand," she said. "We're reviewing it more in terms of how much money the county can make."

The word can be a shock to some, like a splash of cold water in the wintertime, according to Tucker, but the organization wants to provide an education for Black people living near the area.

"It is a look back, but then a look forward, and being able to say from when we came, and this is where we want to go," Tucker said.

In southeast Michigan, the group isn't alone, as voters in Detroit approved the creation of a committee in November.

Tucker referred to a route provided by the city of Evanston, Ill., a suburb of Chicago, which made headlines across the country last year.

Residents of Black Evanston who faced housing discrimination will receive $25,000 in home improvement loans, assistance with mortgage payments, and support to boost home ownership. Officials selected the first 16 recipients through.

While the program has been hailed as a model, it has also faced fierce criticism from across the political spectrum.

In a letter to a local politician, a Black lady, said restrictions on "so-called reparations" in. "Black people know all about governments' empty promises," she said.

Similar convictions, and Evanston has also faced threats from conservative legal groups over the program,.

The reparations committee in Washtenaw County isn't rushing into any specific recommendation.

According to Campbell, the group hopes to submit some of its findings to the Board of Commissioners for the Washtenaw County later this year.

For Tucker, the time is right.

"I believe that in Washtenaw County, there is growing awareness that there are inequalities, there's systemic racism, and that there's a lack of resources, according to the president."

The committee wants to "level the playing field," according to a statement.

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