Robin Sue Simmons and Kenyatta Johnson

Evanston, Illinois, Alderman Robin Sue Simmons speaks with Philadelphia City Councilman Kenyatta Johnson in City Hall on Wednesday. The National Coalition of Blacks for Reparations in America honored Simmons for her efforts to create a reparations program in Evanston. — Courtesy Philadelphia City Council

If the eventual Democratic nominee for president defeats Donald Trump in November and is sincere about addressing the reparations issue that has been central to the Democrats’ debates, they might already have a blueprint to follow.

City officials in Evanston, Illinois, in an effort led by Alderwoman Robin Sue Simmons, have agreed to use taxes from the sale of recreational marijuana to fund a local reparations program.

The move makes the Chicago suburb’s City Council the first legislative body in the country to address compensation to the descendants of enslaved people.

Officials and activists here in Philadelphia honored Simmons for her work on Reparations Awareness Day, which was Feb. 25.

“She actually got something done,” said Philadelphia City Councilman Kenyatta Johnson, who presented Simmons with resolutions and a small gift from City Council. “It’s easy to introduce the bill, but what are you doing to make sure that bill gets passed?”

“What she has done is historic in the reparations movement,” said Osaze Osayada, male co-chairman of the Philadelphia chapter of the National Coalition of Blacks for Reparations in America (N’COBRA). “They have a defined plan of who is going to get it and where the money is going to come from.”

Simmons’ plan stems from the idea that African Americans should gain the most from the sale of cannabis because Blacks have suffered the most due to the policing of marijuana.

“Our community was damaged due to the war on drugs and marijuana convictions and this is an opportunity to make that right,” said Simmons, who is Black. “It’s part of the larger picture. The Black community has suffered incalculable trauma stemming from slavery, redlining, Jim Crow and the war on drugs. It didn’t just end with the end of slavery.”

Evanston has approximately 74,100 residents, approximately 16.6% of whom are Black, according to Census data. Simmons represents the city’s predominantly African-American Fifth Ward.

Illinois approved the sale of recreational marijuana last June, and the first sales of recreational cannabis were allowed on Jan. 1.

Evanston city officials still are deciding what form the reparations will take.

The Evanston City Council’s Reparations Subcommittee, headed by Simmons, has begun meetings around issues of housing discrimination, mental and emotional health, and other issues such as mass incarceration and income inequality, all residues, Simmons said, “of the trauma that still exists today in the African-American community” due to the trans-Atlantic slave trade.

Other cities have taken note of the plan. Simmons says she has heard from “more than a dozen elected leaders in other cities across the nation,” all of them larger than Evanston. Her hope is that other municipal and state governments and the federal government will pay attention to what Evanston is doing.

“I believe that this is a model that can be used in cities across the nation,” Simmons said. “My hope is that Evanston won’t necessarily be the blueprint, but we can be the inspiration. Every city is going to have different damages and different opportunities to fund it. The remedies might look different; the demographics of cities are different.

“We’re certainly here to answer any questions about our process, but each community will need to look at their communities specific to moving forward with reparations,” Simmons continued. “This needs to be layered on at a municipal, state and federal level, at institutions big and small. We’re all responsible for the damages done to the Black community.”

In Pennsylvania, Democratic state Rep. Chris Rabb has announced plans to introduce a bill addressing systemic racism in Pennsylvania. It would be the first bill of its kind calling for a state to make restitution for systemic racism.

“The bottom line is reparations help everyone,” said Rabb, in attendance Wednesday. “It helps society at all levels. That’s a message that is really important. No one can be truly competitive or know what justice is if a whole subset of society is being oppressed.”

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