Some say Evanston reparations program working, others say more to do years later

Leah Hope Image
Friday, May 26, 2023
Some say Evanston reparations program working, others say more to do
Residents are weighing in on the Evanston, Illinois reparations program years after it was passed.

EVANSTON, Ill. (WLS) -- Evanston is a model for other cities in the country considering reparations for formerly enslaved residents.

Still, years after passing reparations, some say it's working, while others say there is still work to do.

"I wouldn't have been able to afford it (renovations) otherwise, being a widow on a fixed income," said Ramona Burton, an Evanston resident and reparations recipient.

Burton was among 16 residents to get the first reparations from the city of Evanston -- $25,000 each toward home improvements, a down payment or mortgage assistance.

The lifelong Evanstonian recalls racism in school and limited access to healthcare and housing.

"They were only allowing us to purchase homes in certain areas," Burton said.

Former Evanston councilmember Robin Rue Simmons shepherded the nation's first municipally funded reparations program through City Council in 2019, after, she says, seeing the legacy of racism impacting her neighbors. She later founded First Repair, a non-profit focused on advancing local reparations.

"It's imperfect; it's unprecedented. There is no model for us to follow," Rue Simmons said.

RELATED: Evanston City Council votes to expand reparations program to repair housing discrimination

Rue Simmons is now sharing lessons learned with other towns and globally with United Nations fellows.

"We have so many areas of harm; therefore, we are going to have many, many forms and remedies required, but taking the first step is very important," Rue Simmons said.

The reparations program in Evanston has had some challenges and changes.

The city now allows cash pay outs, and a real estate transfer tax is added to its revenue stream, as the tax from cannabis sales was not enough.

But there are still critics who think the program could further delay justice.

"It's a slap in our face," said Rose Cannon, with Evanston Rejects Racist Reparations.

Cannon is one of the founders of Evanston Rejects Racist Reparations.

The fifth generation Evanstonian said the current program has helped only a few and could jeopardize possible reparations at the federal level.

RELATED: Evanston reparations: 16 recipients selected to receive $25,000 for housing

"Evanston and these smaller communities doing their own plans to pay or repair their people, it's not acceptable. It can never be enough. Evanston doesn't have the pockets to repair its people," Cannon said.

Barbara Woodards said no amount of money could fully repair the damage. She is among 120 long-time Evanstonians who are in line for that next round of reparations.

"To me, the $25,000 sounds good. I know for some, they think it's not enough, and everybody is going to have their opinion about it, but if you have nothing, something is better than nothing," Woodards said.

Woodards turns 90 later this year.

She said she is hoping to see the gesture made in her lifetime and the lifetimes of others eligible for reparations.

To see more of Leah Hope's reporting, tune in to "Our America: Hidden Stories." It airs at 4:30 p.m. Saturday on ABC7 Chicago and wherever you stream.