About 60 people gathered in Fountain Square Monday afternoon to show support for measures that address racial discrimination.

At the hour-long Reparations, Reconciliation, and Repair event local religious leaders and elected officials spoke about Evanston’s restorative housing reparations program that provides funds to African American residents impacted by racist housing policies.

Daniel Biss.

Mayor Daniel Biss said, “We stand here in June, proud of what we have achieved as a community on the critical issue of reparations, proud of what we have acknowledged about our own sins, the debt we have as a city accrued based upon our immoral and heinous acts, proud of the acknowledgment that now that we have accrued that debt, now we’ve got to pay it back.”

Reading from a statement prepared by the religious leaders, the Rev. Grace Imathiu, senior pastor of Evanston’s First United Methodist Church, said the reparations movement “began in part with the 1969 Black Manifesto that asked Christian churches and Jewish synagogues to contribute $500 million as an act of good faith and true repentance.”

“The concept of reparations,” she added, “has recently gained new momentum from the notoriety afforded by the 2020 murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery.”

The Rev. Michael Woolf, senior minister of the Lake Street Church of Evanston, continued, “No amount of money could adequately compensate for 400 years of systemic subjugation. Reparations first focus on formally acknowledging collective responsibility for past wrongs and their continuing effects.”

And Rabbi Andrea London of Evanston’s Beth Emet synagogue said, “We feel that we as religious leaders have moral suasion and responsibility to lead in this area by figuring out a process of reconciliation and atonement and helping to lead our community towards healing.”

Some of the residents who turned out for the Fountain Square event.

Attendee Henry Revis Jr. agreed that the religious community has an important role to play in that effort. “This is a good step in the right direction,” he said. “It’s always faith-based organizations that lead the charge, and as long as we continue to do that, I think things will get done.”

NAACP Evanston Branch Civic Engagement Chair Willie Shaw, who was in the audience, said, “It’s another show of Evanston, the kind of community it is. They were not necessarily asked to step up. They volunteered to step up. They understood what was going on and had an interest in learning more.”

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