By Lee Pierre
Reparation is defined as repairing the damage that has been done.
Roanoke College recently hosted a symposium organized by the Roanoke Reparations Group (RRG). The RRG seeks to educate the Roanoke community about the theft of wealth, dignity, and power from the Black community caused by systemic racism and white supremacy and how the Biblical rationale for faith-based reparations could help address this problem. The symposium was held Friday, March 24th with the keynote address, “Building Beloved Community,” by Rev. Dr. Michael Nabors, and continued on Saturday, March 25th, with a panel of community leaders and Roanoke College faculty entitled “Building Relationships.” Campus groups sponsoring the event included the Department of Religion & Philosophy; Public Affairs; Sociology & Public Health Studies; Peace & Justice Concentration; the Center for the Study of the Structures of Race, and the Office of Community, Diversity, and Inclusion.
Dr. Jennifer K. Berenson, Professor and Chairperson of dept. of Religion and Philosophy, opened the program with background information regarding the symposium and expressed her thanks for the sponsors, welcomed all to Roanoke College then introduced Rev. Dr. David A. Jones, pastor of Williams Memorial Baptist Church, Roanoke, and a member of the Roanoke Reparations Group.
“I feel this is going to be a very informative, inspirational, empowering use of our time,” Rev. Jones stated adding that he looked forward to hearing what Dr. Nabors had to say. He thanked Roanoke College for helping to bring the symposium to their campus and members of the Roanoke Reparations group were recognized.
“You can stand or just wave your hand in the air like you just don’t care,” Jones said mentioning how they were a dedicated group of people to work with who inspired him. Before introducing Nabors, he stated how he and Charles Hite had taken Rev. Nabors around the beautiful Roanoke Valley and surrounding area including the Mill Mountain Star.
Jones introduced the speaker by giving a lengthy list of accolades and accomplishments. Rev. Dr. Michael C. R. Nabors is the senior pastor of the historic Second Baptist Church in Evanston, Illinois. The 139-year-old church is one of the oldest African American congregations on the north shore… Dr. Nabors is a trumpeter for Christ and a social justice advocate in Evanston and metro Chicago. Since 2019 Dr. Nabors has been part of a steering committee for Evanston Reparations, the first municipal reparations program in the United States allocating $10 million for Black Evanston residents to repair historical damage due to racism.
Rev. Nabors thanked Rev. Jones for an introduction he would “never be able to live down,” jokingly adding, “I have three things to say about that amazing introduction. One, it exhausted me just listening to it. Number two, it’s a reflection of how old I am, and number three, I majored in English and creative writing, and write all of my own introductions!”
He thanked all the sponsors who made the symposium possible stating that he was eager to share the experiences of the Evanston Reparation example. Evanston is a town with a population of approximately 75,000 residents with Blacks comprising 12%, Latin and Hispanics 16%, Asian 5%, and whites 65% with one high school in Evanston with 4100 students. When considering reparations, the history of the town must be taken into consideration.
“It is obvious that reparations in Evanston have nothing to do with slavery. It has to do with the damage done to the Black community due to racism over the time period when Blacks arrived there,” he said.
History shows that the number of Blacks began to grow after the 1850s and by the 1900s there was a strong and permanent Black community in Evanston who lived throughout Evanston. With the rise of property values, Blacks who had previously lived in certain areas were moved to the furthest part west of the city creating the problem of real estate injustice.
“Blacks did not willingly move. Their homes were simply bulldozed, so they had to leave. The Fifth Ward was where the majority of Blacks were relocated,” Nabors stated referring to similar situations like the one that occurred in Palm Spring, FL.
In 2015, Nabors began serving as senior pastor at Second Street Baptist Church. During that time there was a shooting in Charleston, South Carolina that was so tragic it affected members of his community. Nabors brought together multiple clergymen to have a community service to lament on behalf of those who had been killed as well as the survivors attracting close to 700 people. Organizing the event opened the doors for Nabors to build relationships with at least 20 other clergymen. A year later there was a shooting at Club Post in Orlando, FL, and fifty people were killed and another service of lament was scheduled bringing 900 people together. This gathering included those from all faiths.
“That is how the groundwork for reparations occurred in 2019. We had built relationships, worked together and suffered through tragedies, and were able to set aside differences. We saw a community that was in pain and decided to come together to do something,” Nabors stated.
The Reconstruction Period in American history stands out as the worst decade for Blacks based on Nabors’ viewpoint and said he sees this time as “a period of terror!” Blacks were free from slavery yet had nothing and had to start their own communities. The benefit during that time was that Union troops remained in the South to protect the newly freed slaves for ten years – “an incredible kind of progress for people of color.” Then what was called the “period of terror” occurred with the lynching, oppression, and suppression due to systemic racism.
The City of Evanston authorized a local reparation decision as a way to remediate the disparities between Black housing and Black businesses. The lack of funding held back the progress of the plan until one member suggested that individuals applying for cannabis dispensary business be taxed and that a 3 percent tax on all sales would be allocated to the reparation committee.
Nabors shared a wealth of information including the necessity of having the right persons in place to build a successful reparation committee. The three pillars necessary for a successful reparation committee include an individual with strong community involvement, a powerful city historian, and an elective official to support the project.
Saturday’s panel discussion members included Trish White-Boyd, Roanoke City Council; Dr. Jesse Bucher, Roanoke College professor; Jordan Bell, Roanoke City historian; Katie Zawacki; and Dr. Nabors with Rev. Jones as moderator.
“The only way you can approach a true community is by building relationships,” Dr. Nabors reiterated on how positive actions come to fruition thereby allowing people to come together on issues regarding racism. “… Differences will be made by neighbors and people in different parts of the community who find common ground.”
Speakers touched on the loss of hope that many African Americans feel especially when there are no clear results, “Blacks do not come to these conversations because they are looking for the end goal,” Bell commented.
“I agree that people from predominantly white congregations have yet to come on board. It’s not for me and people who look like me to go talk about racism but need instead to explain to people about white privilege – like my story, growing up in all-white schools and never having to think about the fact that maybe I had the privileges that other people in my neighborhood didn’t have,” Bucher said, “including making it easy to get promoted in the military as well as getting jobs. If we could get other white people involved, maybe understanding racism would be a whole lot easier.”
Nabors concurred and added that Blacks have to consider the generations that come after them stressing, “Don’t let the energy from last night and this morning dissipate. Ask your mayor and City Council to review reparations in Evanston. They need to hear about the good that has been accomplished.”
Those interested in becoming involved with the Roanoke Reparations Group can do so by joining the Facebook page and “be the change that you want to see!”