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Alderwoman Cicely Fleming of Evanston, Ill., On The Town's New Reparations Program


This week, the city council in Evanston, Ill., approved a $10 million reparations program. It focuses on housing grants to address discriminatory housing policies that Black people in Evanston faced for decades. Reparations are a national debate right now, and this program appears to be the first of its kind. The only vote against the resolution was Alderman Cicely Fleming. She is Black, and while she supports reparations, she says this is something different.

Welcome to the program.

CICELY FLEMING: Thank you. Thanks for having me - big fan of the show.

SHAPIRO: Before we get to your hesitations or objections to the program, just tell us about what it would do.

FLEMING: Last year, we had a resolution led by Alderman Rue Simmons for reparations fund. And so we pledged to put a million dollars a year over the course of 10 years, so it would be 10 years - $10 million at the end - using our cannabis taxes, which in Illinois, we generate 3% of cannabis taxes from cannabis sold in our city. And we have one cannabis store at this point. So we do not have a million dollars yet. And I think it's important we let people know that we have a little less - we have about half a million dollars at this point.

So the resolution that was before us Monday was the Restorative Housing Program, I think was the legal term of it. And while I support reparations - as you said, I'm an African American woman here in Evanston. Totally support it, hope the federal government moves faster. What was before us was a housing program, a housing program which might replicate many you see around the country with different, you know, qualifications. And I think for us to call that reparations falls really short from, probably, you know, what many people are thinking or hoping reparations might one day be for the Black community.

SHAPIRO: This program focuses on victims of housing discrimination from 1919 to the year 1969 and their descendants. Obviously, housing is something that translates from generations. And so tell us what life is like for Black people in Evanston today. I mean, how does the harm from that time trickle down?

FLEMING: Well, lots of Black families like mine who have been here for a long time, you know, they still live in the same area. So you know, I'm really, I think, the only family member who lives in Evanston who does not live in the Fifth Ward, which was our highly redlined community, right? Our schools are still heavily reliant on the busing system that we started in - 40 years ago. It is the reason I don't live in the Fifth Ward now. I did not want my children to experience school via busing. And so we have a lot of these kind of racial tensions that still exist because we do have families that have been here for so long, and they remember. And it's a little bit difficult even for me because as a city, we profess a lot of, like, racial harmony and integration and diversity and all these things. But that is not always the life experience of Black folks here in town.

SHAPIRO: Now, you say this program is a misuse of the word reparations. What would you like to see a real reparations program look like?

FLEMING: Because we are kind of repairing the harm or identifying the harm of redlining, the housing discrimination does not mean that is exactly where the repair goes. And so this has kind of been termed as reparations in the sense of, you know, we did a harm as a city, and so we're going to repair the harm in this way. That's taking any choice out for African American people. And I know people have talked about this is going to help us retain or get back some of our African American residents that we lost. This is going to help with generational wealth. And all those things are fine if this is our housing program. But we're taking away any right for you to decide what's best for your family. It's another way, I feel like, to manage Black folk - right? - to say for Black people, we know what's best for you; we're going to do this on your behalf.

SHAPIRO: I think many people who support this program might agree with you that there's more that could be done but say this program is still a good step in the right direction. What would you say to those people?

FLEMING: I would say this program is a good housing program. And I think there's more to be done. I mean, we don't have a feasibility study. I have no idea even using the parameters that are available now how many people we're talking about. I had a couple of older people call me yesterday, and they were super-excited about it. They live out of state. So once I told them they could not use this funding unless they were to move back here and buy a primary residence here, they were, you know, so frustrated.

SHAPIRO: That's Alderman Cicely Fleming of Evanston, Ill.

Thank you very much.

FLEMING: Thank you for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.