Posted on 06/18/2021

Local blue-ribbon commission jump-starts formal process to confront legacy of slavery and inequities faced by African-Americans; Eleven mayors in cities across America join forces to undertake shared justice commitments and forge strategies to fund pilot programs

LOS ANGELES — Mayor Eric Garcetti today announced the formation of Mayors Organized for Reparations and Equity (MORE), the largest-ever coalition of American mayors committing to support federal reparations legislation, establish advisory commissions in their respective cities, and work toward developing and implementing reparations demonstration programs targeted to a pilot group of Black Americans in their communities.

“It is impossible to separate today’s unequal health, wealth, and educational outcomes among Black Americans from the traumas of enslavement –– and this acknowledgement and conversation needs to happen at every level of government,” said Mayor Garcetti, founder and co-chair of MORE. “Reparations alone cannot undo longstanding systems of inequity, but reparatory approaches do offer powerful tools to both formally acknowledge the painful legacy of racism and discrimination, and offer remedies for the injustices they have caused. This work is long overdue, and I’m proud that Los Angeles is helping to lead the way.”

”There is an uncomfortable truth underlying the challenges of income inequality, a hollowed-out middle class, an alarming disparity in access to opportunity, and the challenges of mental health and poverty. The uncomfortable truth of the systemic devaluation of the lives of African Americans and others cannot be ignored any longer –– it is a public health crisis and we must take the appropriate steps to finally address it,” said Denver Mayor and MORE co-chair Michael B. Hancock. “There are common sense measures that can be put in place to begin to repair this breach in our society and systems, and I’m proud to have Denver stand alongside our partners in LA to address this challenge head on.”

Mayor Garcetti also announced the members of the L.A. Reparations Advisory Commission — a blue-ribbon task force comprised of leading voices in activism, academia, law, and racial justice — which will advise the City on a future reparations pilot program for a group of Black residents.

The L.A. Reparations Advisory Commission will be tasked with providing recommendations for the format, function, and goals of a potential reparations pilot program in Los Angeles, including strategies and opportunities to seek public and/or private dollars to fund pilot programs. 

The seven-member Commission will identify an appropriate academic partner, before beginning the formal process of developing and advocating for implementation of a pilot reparations program targeted at a cohort of Black residents. 

The blue-ribbon commission’s members have been selected jointly by Mayor Garcetti and African-American members of the City Council:

  • Ambassador Michael A. Lawson, President & CEO of the Los Angeles Urban League, who served as a U.S. Ambassador in the Obama administration after three decades as a leading international attorney. Ambassador Lawson has also served on the Boards of Trustees of Morehouse College, Loyola Marymount University, and the Constitutional Rights Foundation.

  • Charisse Bremond-Weaver, President & CEO of Brotherhood Crusade, who has led economic development, health and wellness, and education initiatives benefiting families throughout South L.A. and surrounding communities. Ms. Bremond-Weaver also served as President of the African American Unity Center.

  • Mark Wilson, Founding Executive Director of the Coalition for Responsible Community Development (CRCD), who currently serves as the agency’s President and CEO. A longtime policy leader on education, job training, supportive housing, and restorative justice, Mr. Wilson is a past Director of the Youth Empowerment Project with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference/Martin Luther King Legacy Association, and the Director of Community Development with the Dunbar Economic Development Corporation.

  • Khansa T. Jones-Muhammad, co-chair of the Los Angeles chapter of the National Assembly of American Slavery Descendants. Ms. Jones-Muhammad was formerly an elected budget advocate in the City of Los Angeles.

Each African-American member of the Los Angeles City Council has also made an appointment to the blue-ribbon commission:

  • Mandla Kayise, CEO of the education and community planning agency New World Education. An educational equity expert and experienced community planner, Mr. Kayise has led community organizing and planning work for the Leimert Park Merchants' Association and Community Coalition, and served as president of the UCLA Black Alumni Association. Appointed by Councilmember Marqueece Harris-Dawson.

  • Dr. Katrina VanderWoude, President of Los Angeles Trade Technical College, an institution at which three-fourths of students are first generation college students. A leader in higher and technical education and an advocate for economic and social mobility, Dr. VanderWoude previously served as vice president of academic affairs at Grossmont College in El Cajon and president of Contra Costa College. Appointed by Councilmember Curren Price.

  • Prof. Cheryl Harris, who serves as the Rosalinde and Arthur Gilbert Foundation Chair in Civil Rights and Civil Liberties at UCLA School of Law. A leading scholar of critical race theory and systemic discrimination, Prof. Harris has lectured widely on issues of race and equality on four continents and helped establish a dialogue between U.S. legal scholars and South African lawyers during the development of South Africa’s first democratic constitution. Appointed by Councilmember Mark Ridley-Thomas.

"This coalition will begin to reverse 250 years of slavery, 90 years of Jim Crow, 60 years of separate but equal, and over 35 years of racist housing policies," said Councilmember Marqueece Harris-Dawson. “The families that I represent deserve more than the economic realities produced by this flawed system. Los Angeles continues to lead as one of the most progressive cities in America and has the opportunity to lead in these efforts to invest towards reckoning with our compounding moral debts."

“The legacy of slavery continues to cloud society to this day, with the lingering effects of inequality felt by way of structural and economic racism throughout all facets of life for Black Americans,” said Councilman Curren Price. “Reparations are an element of unfinished business to right the wrongs of the nation. The steps we are taking now are decades in the making, with the momentum gained from the renewed focus on social justice, it is imperative that we boost opportunities and chart a clear and stable path for the Black community.”

“Equity matters and it is incumbent upon those of us who sit in positions of authority to work harder at dismantling systemic racial barriers within the entities for which we are responsible," said Councilmember Ridley-Thomas. "Reparation will not undo the decades of historic injustices, but we cannot move forward unless we are intentional about identifying solutions to advance racial equity. I applaud Mayor Garcetti for taking this bold and necessary stance."

Racial inequality in America was cemented and institutionalized for generations when restitution was denied to survivors of chattel slavery and human bondage — with their descendants stripped of self-empowerment by oppression, segregation, and discrimination officially sanctioned in both the public and private sectors. The wide-ranging consequences of that inhumanity and injustice still weigh heavily in the lives of American descendants of slaves.

According to reporting by the New York Times, Black Americans “remain the most segregated group of people in America and are five times as likely to live in high-poverty neighborhoods as white Americans … Black families earning $75,000 or more a year live in poorer neighborhoods than white Americans earning less than $40,000 a year, research by John Logan, a Brown University sociologist, shows.” Research conducted by Stanford University sociologist Sean Reardon indicates “the average black family earning $100,000 a year lives in a neighborhood with an average annual income of $54,000.” These structural disadvantages manifest clearly in Los Angeles, where median household wealth for Black families is about 1 percent of the wealth of white Angelenos, with Black residents experiencing homelessness at more than eight times the rate of other groups.

Members of Mayors Organized for Reparations & Equity (MORE) are committed to moving the needle on inequality with action and advocacy that points toward justice and healing the wounds of history. The coalition will create formal, substantive, and viable processes to confront the history of injustice that has left Black people in the U.S. and in Los Angeles in poorer health, earning lower incomes, and accumulating less wealth than their white counterparts. 

The founding members of MORE are Mayor Garcetti; Mayor Michael B. Hancock of Denver, CO; Mayor Tishaura Jones of St. Louis, MO; Mayor Quinton Lucas of Kansas City, MO;  Mayor Jorge O. Elorza of Providence, RI; Mayor Keisha Currin of Tullahassee, OK; Mayor Steve Adler of Austin, TX; Mayor Melvin Carter of St. Paul, MN; Mayor Steve Schewel of Durham, NC; Mayor Esther Manheimer of Asheville, NC; and Mayor Darrell Steinberg of Sacramento, CA. Former Stockton, CA Mayor Michael Tubbs is an emeritus member who will serve in an advisory capacity. Members agree to:

  1. Commit to supporting H.R. 40 (Commission to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African-Americans Act).

  2. Form an advisory committee/commission to formally advise the Mayor on an approach to reparations — including strategies and opportunities to seek public and/or private dollars to fund pilot programs.

  3. When funding is identified, and in consultation with the committee/commission, lead development and implementation of a pilot reparations program targeted at a cohort of Black residents. Though these local programs would vary in style and scope and be considered very modest in the context of the $12 trillion in federal spending that is estimated to be required to close the Black/White wealth gap, they would serve as high-profile demonstrations for how the country can more quickly move from conversation to action on reparations for Black Americans.

“Deliberate discrimination, compounded by a lack of investment and mitigation over generations have had disastrous and completely predictable results on nation’s African American community,” said Austin Mayor Steve Adler. "We have seen the impacts of this history yet again and in stark detail during the last year of the pandemic.” Here in Austin, the City Council directed staff to devise a plan to create a Black resource and cultural center, a black embassy, as well as formally apologizing on behalf of the City for its participation in the enslavement of Black people, segregation and other institutionally racist practices, such as urban renewal and other land development programs and policies, and to express support for a national program of financial reparations for descendants of slaves.

"Black Americans don't need another study that sits on a shelf. We need decisive action to address the racial wealth gap holding communities back across our country," said St. Louis Mayor Tishaura O. Jones. "I'm proud to join MORE to help bring the conversation around reparations out of the nineteenth century and into the twenty-first."

“Now more than ever, we need to come together throughout the country to heal and push for real change,” said Providence, Rhode Island Mayor Jorge O. Elorza. “While I do not anticipate cities alone can repair generations of pain, violence, and systemic oppression suffered by Black and Indigenous residents, we are taking the first step towards healing generations of trauma and injustices suffered by these communities. I am proud to join Mayors in this work and want to thank our African American Ambassador Group for leading Providence through our Truth-Telling, Reconciliation, and Municipal Reparations process.”

"Tullahassee is the oldest surviving all-Black town in Oklahoma, which was given to those formerly enslaved by the Creek Nation after the Civil War,” said Mayor Keisha Currin of Tullahassee, OK. “More than 100 years later, we are still here. As Mayor, I am elated to serve with the other MORE Mayors to ensure equitable investments and reparations for our community."

"In Durham, we are deeply committed to work at the local level to right the wrongs committed over centuries against African Americans, wrongs that continue to this day,” said Durham, North Carolina Mayor Steve Schewel. “We are also committed to supporting a national program of reparations for Black descendants of enslaved people, and we look forward to Congressional action to move this forward."

“While no sum can repay the immeasurable debt owed to descendants of those whose stolen labor built our country, every institution that has systemically enforced, sanctioned, or profited from the brutal institution of American slavery must fully engage in addressing its lingering social and economic impacts,” said Saint Paul Minnesota Mayor Melvin Carter. “I’m proud to be a founding member of Mayors Organized for Reparations and Equity alongside mayors from communities across our nation who are united in our commitment to this vital work.”

“This organization and the local commissions will push the movement for racial justice forward by acknowledging the truth about the impact of slavery, focusing on equity, and putting Black Americans at the center of the conversation,” said former Stockton Mayor Michael Tubbs, an emeritus member of MORE. “I’m grateful to Mayor Garcetti for assembling a group of leaders with the courage and conviction to confront the legacy of institutional racism and commit to do something about it.” 

For more information on Mayors Organized for Reparations and Equity, please visit moremayors.org.