Evanston Reparations Begin: Random Draw Selects 16 Black ‘Ancestors’ to Receive $25,000 Grants

The first 16 beneficiaries of Evanston’s restorative housing program were selected Thursday in a random drawing. Each will receive a $25,000 housing subsidy, making January 13, 2022, the first time a government body has awarded reparations to any African American since Reconstruction.

The Evanston Reparations Committee met at the Fleetwood-Jourdain Center for the historic design, in which 122 candidates were eligible to participate. The committee used a ping-pong ball machine to choose names at random. Committee Chair Peter Braithwaite, 2nd District, said the committee used this method in place of computer-generated randomization because the process is more visual.

Carlis Sutton, a member of the Reparations Committee, uses his glasses to read the name of a winner in the committee’s lottery on January 13, 2021 at the Fleetwood-Jourdain Center. (Photo by Richard Cahan)

“Is this a perfect process? No. No first-time effort is,” said Carlis Sutton of the Reparations Committee. “But we can honestly say that no other community, no other state, no other agency and government has gone this far. So before you start criticizing us, I suggest you follow the lead we set.”

First $400,000 of the $10 million commitment

As previously reported in the Roundtable, the city’s Local Reparations Restorative Housing Program is the first initiative in the city’s $10 million commitment “to eradicate the effects of past systemically racist practices by the city government and all organizations affiliated with City”. The first $400,000 of the reparations program is earmarked for housing.

Applicants deemed eligible for the program and selected to participate can receive up to $25,000 in funds to purchase a home, renovate a home or pay a mortgage. The home must be in Evanston and must be the applicant’s primary residence. The amount of US$400,000 is enough to fund 16 grants of US$25,000.

Click on the photos below to hear who is in the repair lottery:

The application window closed in November. To participate, Black Evanstonians had to fit into one of three categories:

  • Residents who lived in the city between 1919 and 1969. (They are called “ancestors.”)
  • Direct descendants of a black resident from 1919 to 1969.
  • Residents who provided evidence that they experienced housing discrimination due to city policies or practices after 1969.

There were over 600 applicants in total for the Restorative Housing Program, and 122 of them were ancestors. The Reparations Committee decided to prioritize this group for the first 16 donations. The committee plans to continue prioritizing ancestral candidates. Then the committee will select from the group of direct descendants.

Lottery balls used by the Evanston Reparations Committee to choose grant winners on January 13, 2021. (Photo by Richard Cahan).

After city staff verified each of the ancestor requests, authorities sent the individuals a letter that included a number that correlated with their request. Each ping pong ball in the metal cage had a number printed on it. Committee members drew lots and announced the numbers one by one.

The committee drew all 122 names in the ancestral category, not just the first 16, and then ranked the numbers in order. Brainewaithe said this was done so that future recipients would already be chosen in order. He said having a list of 122 names shows the city must budget beyond the first recipients.

What comes next in the process?

Now that the names have been drawn, the city will contact the first 16 via email and phone calls. The names of the winning candidates were not released. The city will contact the other 106 ancestors by email to let them know where their registration number has been classified.

Kimberly Richardson, a recently retired deputy deputy to City Manager, told the committee that the process to review applications for direct descendants will begin next month. These people will be contacted in the coming weeks.

Earlier this month, the committee voted to use Community Partners for Affordable Housing (CPAH) to help distribute funds to financial institutions and contractors on behalf of grantees. More information about this agreement can be found here.

Reparations Committee Chair Peter Braithwaite said the panel chose to use a ping pong ball design because the process is more visual. (Photo by Genie Lemieux)

Committee remarks: “We are moving forward”

The atmosphere was exciting, and committee stakeholders took a moment to acknowledge how important the day was.

Former 5th Ward Council member Robin Rue Simmons, who led the repair effort while on the council, was the first to speak. “We are moving forward with a tangible fix that is within our reach and in direct correlation to the damage inflicted by the City of Evanston,” Simmons said before the crowd of a few dozen onlookers.

She continued: “For those who are concerned, this is not enough. I believe we all agree with you. But, as you know, this is not separate from this. If the objective was indeed to improve our efforts, the most productive use of our time is to engage in a process to inform the remaining 96% of the budget, and yet to be allocated, with stakeholder direction.”

Robin Rue Simmons: ‘Today we take an important step in selecting the first recipients of reparations’

Read the full text of his prepared statement here.

Added current 5th Ward Council member Bobby Burns: “I’m really sitting here just in awe of this relatively small town north of Chicago, which I believe has always surpassed its weight class.”

The Evanston Reparations Committee was created in 2020 to work with city residents and experts to “explore and identify programs and opportunities to be supported by the Reparations Fund,” according to the city’s website.

Annie Bates came to the Thursday meeting to see if she would get the money for her house repairs. Bates was born in Evanston in 1946 and has lived on the 500th block of Custer Avenue for about 27 years.

“I intend to fix my basement,” she said. “Maybe put some insulation in my house. I never had that.”

Bates said he was not discriminated against. “I never felt it,” she said. “I know it happened. I never felt it. … I saw everything around me.”

As it turned out, she was not one of 16 ancestors who were selected to receive grants on Thursday; she was chosen as number 103 on the list of future recipients.

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