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For more than 40 years, a bill to establish a Congressional commission to consider reparations to Black Americans has languished in Congress. House Resolution 40, originally drafted by the late Rep. John Conyers, has been introduced in every congressional session since 1989.
Reparations are about more than just a check or financial restitution. At their root, reparations are about repair—recognizing the historic and ongoing harm caused by the trans-Atlantic slave trade and all that followed, including Jim Crow segregation, voter suppression, continued police violence, and ongoing systemic racism in housing, employment, education, and more.
Despite continued resistance at the federal level to provide reparations to descendants of enslaved Africans, the United States does have a history of issuing reparations—reparations were issued to Japanese Americans who were unjustly detained during World War II. In fact, when enslaved people were emancipated, the U.S. government issued reparations—to former slaveholders, in recognition of the loss of their “property.” Yet the U.S. continues to lack the political will to seriously consider making reparations to Black Americans.
In the face of political intransigence, Black organizers, community members, and movement leaders have created a rich ecosystem to manifest reparations at both the state and local levels.
HR 40 now has nearly 200 sponsors, and there are calls for President Biden to sign an executive order appointing a commission to study reparations. Rep. Cori Bush has introduced a new bill with a concrete figure of $14 trillion to fund compensation for the descendants of enslaved people. Spurred by grassroots momentum—especially in the wake of George Floyd’s murder at the hands of Minneapolis police in May 2020—states such as California and cities such as Evanston, Illinois, are even further along in the project of reparations.
YES! was privileged to be the media partner of the inaugural Alight, Align, Arise conference—a historic and unprecedented national convening on reparations hosted by the Decolonizing Wealth Project. Over the course of three days in June 2023, hundreds of activists, organizers, politicians, and funders gathered in Atlanta, Georgia, to connect, collaborate, and take action to make reparations a reality in our lifetimes. On the final day of the conference, DWP announced a $20 million campaign to support the reparations ecosystem with a new round of direct grantmaking of $3 million to be deployed in 2023, in addition to other resource and education programs to support the reparations movement over the next five years.
This series was funded by a grant from Liberated Capital, a fund of the Decolonizing Wealth Project, which is led by Edgar Villanueva, of the Lumbee tribe, and works globally to disrupt the existing systems of moving and controlling capital using education and healing programs, radical reparative giving, and storytelling. Reporting and production of the series was funded by this grant, but YES! maintained full editorial control of the content published herein. Read our editorial independence policy.
Sonali Kolhatkar is currently the racial justice editor at YES! Media and a writing fellow with Independent Media Institute. She was previously a weekly columnist for Truthdig.com. She is also the host and creator of Rising Up with Sonali, a nationally syndicated television and radio program airing on Free Speech TV and dozens of independent and community radio stations. Sonali won First Place at the Los Angeles Press Club Annual Awards for Best Election Commentary in 2016. She also won numerous awards including Best TV Anchor from the LA Press Club and has also been nominated as Best Radio Anchor 4 years in a row. She is the author of Bleeding Afghanistan: Washington, Warlords, and the Propaganda of Silence, and the co-director of the nonprofit group, Afghan Women's Mission. Her forthcoming book is Rising Up: The Power of Narrative in Pursuing Racial Justice (City Lights, 2023). She has a Master’s in Astronomy from the University of Hawai’i, and two undergraduate degrees in Physics and Astronomy from the University of Texas at Austin. She reflects on her professional path in her 2014 TEDx talk, “My Journey From Astrophysicist to Radio Host.” She can be reached at sonalikolhatkar.com
Sunnivie Brydum is the editorial director at YES! An award-winning investigative journalist with a background covering LGBTQ equality, Sunnivie previously led digital coverage at The Advocate, Free Speech TV, and Out Front Colorado. Her writing has appeared in Vox, Religion Dispatches, them., and elsewhere. She has a degree in magazine journalism from the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University, and is a co-founder of Historias No Contadas, an annual symposium in Medellín, Colombia that amplifies the stories of LGBTQ people in Latin America. She is based in Seattle, speaks English and Spanish, and is a member of NLGJA, SPJ, and ONA.