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Letter: Ex-residents denied reparations

A former Evanston resident complains that only those who choose to return to town can benefit from the city's reparations program.

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Former Evanstonian Cheryl Jenkins (Francellno) writes from Nevada:

I was born in St. Francis Hospital in 1961. I lived at 1818 Lyons, 1915 Foster, 806 Sherman, 912 Elmwood and 512 South Boulevard. I went to Oakton School, Bethlehem Lutheran (on Lake Street), Nichols and Evanston Township High School. I graduated from ETHS in 1979.

I spent 37 years of my life in Evanston with my mother, Joan L. Francellno, my father, Thomas H. Jenkins, 7 siblings, 23 nieces and nephews and 49 great nieces and nephew. Our roots run deep in Evanston since the 1900s.

In 1998, I relocated to Piedmont, California. I had an apartment upstairs from my uncle and I worked as an affordable housing property manager. I returned to Evanston frequently (in the beginning) to see family and friends. I noticed Evanston gradually changing as people I grew up with were no longer visible in the community.

When I returned to Evanston for a 3 month stay in 2007, I barely recognized my hometown. The familiar stores had been replaced with condominiums and Black people I had known all my life were gone; gone to live in communities more economically welcoming to their housing budgets. Evanston ranks very low on the List of Affordable Housing.

Most cities with rapid condominium growth (which increases home buying prices) have accessible affordable housing. Not Evanston. Those scattered blond wooden and brick townhouses that were built in 1978 are quickly entering the dilapidated housing stage. I know; we lived in one. My mother was still living in hers when she passed in 2009.

When I and other “out-of-town” Evanstonians heard about reparations, we felt it was our chance to return home. Considering Evanston homes are $300,000 and up, the “up to $25,000 in repartitions” could be the start of something bigger. It’s not a lot, but it’s something. Or so we thought.

One of the qualifications to receive monthly reparations is residency. One has to currently live in Evanston to participate in the program. There was a mass exodus of Black Evanstonians when the price of housing went through the roof in the 90’s and 2000s. So generations of Evanstonians are excluded from the program they call reparations, which is an overstatement. The program should be called, Discrimination II. Not only have generations been priced out of home ownership/rent opportunities in Evanston for decades, but because some of us left to live affordably some place else, we’re being discriminated against…again.

The City of Evanston has taken folks to the bridge of hope and dropped us off. This is disgraceful. They need to re-think such a requirement. How can you call it “reparations” when it’s still discrimination? How can people move back when they are still being pushed out? This reparations ‘thing’ is illogical. Most of my life and my family’s lives were spent in Evanston…and I don’t qualify to return because I currently live in Nevada? Really? Then your so-called “reparations” program is a colossal failure. That’s like saying: “You’re not African because your ancestors worked in the house, not in the field”.

— Cheryl Jenkins (Francellno)

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