Community engagement next for reparations plan in Amherst


Staff Writer
Monday, November 22, 2021

AMHERST — Before Amherst establishes a plan for offering some form of reparations to residents of African heritage, as a means of ending structural racism and achieving racial equity for Black residents, extensive community engagement is expected to begin in early 2022.

The African Heritage Reparation Assembly, which has been meeting for several weeks as it prepares a plan to meet Town Council objectives for a more just and equitable town, released its initial report this week that emphasizes continued discussions with residents before any reparations program is established and money spent.

“A key to our success here is going to be our community engagement, with the broadest sense of community you can imagine for this work,” said Jamileh Jemison, co-chairwoman of the reparation assembly.

The community engagement is necessary, Jemison said, so that the reparations plan is satisfying to the whole community. Jemison said three to four months of outreach will likely begin by February 2022 that will include cultural events and other programs.

Also critical, Jemison said, will be executing a Black census that will look at the past and present, and projecting for the future, to determine the eligibility criteria for reparations. Jemison added that this will go hand in hand with what funds are available, finding all the ways needed to imagine reparations taking place, and the municipal and community bodies that will guide the work.

Amherst has modeled its reparations after Evanston, Illinois, which this year has qualifying households receive up to $25,000 for down payments or home repairs.

While the Town Council approved establishing a reparations fund in June, no money is yet available, though a current plan is for transferring money into the fund at the Nov. 22 meeting. The certified free cash amount from fiscal year 2021 is $206,000 and this could be set aside at that time.

The assembly group is also looking at other avenues for building the fund, including revenue from cannabis sales in town, the Community Preservation Act account and American Rescue Plan Act money, along with private fundraising and grants, said Michele Miller, a councilor-elect for District 1 and co-chairwoman of the panel. Miller said there could be a CPA-like structure in which individuals or groups apply for planning and funding reparations projects.

A conversation with state Rep. Mindy Domb also has yielded a possible legislative process that could expand reparations beyond Amherst to other communities in Massachusetts.

The African Heritage Reparation Assembly will have a final report with recommendations brought to the Town Council in June 2022.

Miller said the hope is to develop a reparations plan that will benefit Black people who have faced hundreds of years of discrimination and injustice.

The initial report can be viewed at https://www.amherstma.gov/DocumentCenter/View/58816/7a-AHRA-Report-with-attachments.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.