“ASHEVILLE – Since the Asheville City Council passed a resolution supporting community reparations for its black residents in July 2020, the historical process is ongoing, but not without its blockages.
Now, more than two years later, the city and the Buncombe County Community Reparations Commission, a body of 25 members sitting in Aprilis working on a series of recommendations aimed at repairing the damage caused by public and private systemic racism.
But a new restorative process has emerged separate from the city government’s efforts: a black-led community project that intends to do what the city and county cannot.
Tzedekan Asheville-based social justice fund, announced the project in Augustand will serve as a fiscal sponsor and incubator for the Asheville Reparations Stakeholder Authority, modeled on a similar fund piloted in Evanston, Illinois.
Marsha Davis, executive director of Tzedek, said this effort is not in competition with the city and county process, but rather is a completely separate project, meant to complement the effort. and to provide the necessary infrastructure for “long-term repair work to occur”.
“While the city and county have a nice process right now, and I think it’s happening in a way that makes sense for a municipal process…there are still huge swathes of our community in Asheville that aren’t aware of or haven’t been asked their input on how these processes are moving forward,” Davis said.
Community engagement, and the lack thereof, has long been a criticism of the Asheville repair effort.
Through community surveys conducted by the Asheville Racial Justice Coalition, Rob Thomas, Executive Director of the Racial Justice Coalitionsaid the organization has found that “the majority of black people we interview have no idea what’s going on with reparations.”
Those who do, he said, don’t know the details or the specifics.
In 2000, 20% of Asheville’s population was black. That figure fell to 13.4% in 2010 and is now 11.2%, according to 2020 census data.
The polls are conducted as part of the coalition program Every dark voice initiative, and Thomas declined to comment on the number of people affected, but said it was between “a couple and a few hundred”, with the numbers changing daily.
Davis said Tzedek is making an initial donation of $100,000 to the RSAA to support the hiring a full-time employee — with benefits and an annual salary of $80,000.
The staff member will serve as director of the reparations project and help transition the RSAA from a tax-sponsored project to an independent 501(c)3 public charity.
Davis said the position will also be responsible for expanding community engagement, which the project currently focuses on, as well as community education.
Rachel Edens, Buncombe County’s equity and human rights officer, said she had been in contact with Davis via email and knew little about the project.
Over the next week, she hopes to connect with Davis and talk more about Authority.
“I really believe that the more voices we have, the better,” Edens said.
She said the efforts would be parallel, not perpendicular. While local governments follow a path, there is also room for community models.
“By taking that and moving forward with what community models look like, we’re just moving towards a broader vision of what reparations might look like,” she said.
What is a Reparations Stakeholder Authority?
According to Tzedek’s “call to action,” the RSAA’s goal is to “provide an infrastructure for black residents of Asheville and Buncombe County to guide the distribution of funds for reparations” and to administer an Asheville community repair fund:
“The Fund is intended to be a perpetual resource for the black community of Buncombe County, to supplement the tax revenue stream earmarked by the city and county for initial repairs, and to ensure that funding is available for repairs once that this tax revenue will no longer be available.”
This model was first implemented in Evanston – in a two-pronged remedial effort, with the municipal government leading one process and a community authority leading the other.
Sol Anderson, President and CEO of Evanston Community Foundationsaid Evanston was the first municipality in the United States to pass reparations legislation, which it did in 2019.
“Due to certain laws, restrictions, related to municipal government, Evanston’s reparations program must be focused on housing, economic development or education,” Anderson said.
The town of Evanston has committed the first $10 million of its revenue from the sale of recreational cannabis to repairs, and the first phase of the town’s program will give 16 residents $25,000 each for home repairs or real estate costs.
Anderson said that while the city focused on its housing program, the Evanston Community Foundation was approached by a group of community members, some of whom were involved in passing the initial reparations legislation.
The group had formed the Reparations Stakeholder Authority of Evanston, intended to “do the things that the city fund cannot do”.
Among the examples of this, Anderson cited direct cash payments without any restrictions.
In 2020, the Evanston Community Foundation became the fund holder of the Evanston Community Repair Fundestablished by the Reparations Stakeholders Authority.
Anderson said the fund is currently at just under $300,000. There is a target of $1 million before the authority begins disbursing funds.
Among the Stakeholder Authority organizers in Evanston is Robin Rue Simmons. She is the founder and executive director of First repaira non-profit organization that informs local repairs, nationwide.
A former city councilor for the city of Evanston, Simmons was the architect of the repairs legislation that passed in 2019. She is now chair of the city of Evanston’s repairs committee.
From her perspective on both the municipal and community effort, she said the two-pronged approach to reparations is a “necessary model.”
“This two-pronged partnership, reparations leadership, is necessary for black communities to work toward comprehensive reparations,” Simmons said.
“The municipal government will only have a certain number of powers. There will be legal frameworks that create barriers, there will be injuries and harms outside of municipal government.”
To his knowledge, Asheville and Evanston are the only two localities in the country to form a reparations stakeholder authority and fund.
Thomas reiterated that the Asheville Authority is a “complement” to the city’s process.
“It’s not to compete, it’s not to discredit, and it’s not to go against it, it’s just to be able to do some of the things that they are legally required not to be able to do. do,” he said.
The voice of the community
Asheville Reparations Architect, former City Councilman Keith Young, said he fully supports the Reparations Stakeholder Authority of Asheville.
Young is currently a member of the Community Reparations Commission.
He said the RSAA will be “empowering”, with the ability to harness the voices of individual members of the black community into “harmonious accord”.
“My goal, not just as a commission member and former council member, but as a community member and leader, is to make sure that every black person in this county has their voice heard on this, s ‘he wants to,” Young said. “There has to be a pathway for that, and I think the RSAA can provide that.”
This was further emphasized by Thomas and Davis: those who are most aggrieved have the power to control the process.
“It’s really about making sure that after the attention from the newspapers and the mainstream media wanes, and after the attention from the city and county processes wanes, that we still have an organization black-led and Asheville-based that ensures that members of our black community are informed and can make informed choices about where these finances go,” Davis said.
She envisioned this as a long-term solution, but not one that would interrupt or influence the city and county process.
“The question always becomes with the work of the reparations movement, how can you sustain this long-term after the short-term commission ends?” Davis asked.
Edens said hearing more voices was definitely a good thing and there could always be room to collaborate.
“It’s really about what the community needs and wants, and it’s about hearing from the community,” Edens said. “So in addition to what the commission members are saying, we want the voice of the whole community here.”
Although Davis can’t yet say specifically how the RSAA’s money will be directed — a decision that will ultimately be up to the community — as a nonprofit, a status she hopes the authority can achieve. by 2023, there will be “flexibility to experiment with other ways to get funds out of reparations”.
Among these, she said, are housing loans, direct cash payments or grants to black-owned institutions, businesses and organizations.
When reached for comment on Sept. 6, Brenda Mills, the city’s director of equity and inclusion, said she was unfamiliar with the new initiative and declined to comment.
Sarah Honosky is the city government reporter for the Asheville Citizen Times, part of the USA TODAY Network. Current advice? Email [email protected] or message on Twitter @slhonosky.