The work of a volunteer Oak Park Reparations Task Force is taking shape. Combined with the donated resources of Dominican University’s College of Applied Social Services, the reparations task force is beginning outreach to Oak Park’s Black community as it considers where to focus demands of local taxing bodies and how it suggests funds be generated to make reparations payments.
Locally, Oak Park trails Evanston by a year or more in exploring and now implementing a reparations plan. Like Evanston, early indications from the Oak Park task force are that it intends to focus on housing as the target.
In an article last week, our Michael Romain reported the task force sees Evanston’s program as both a model and as a cautionary tale in how implementation can work. If housing is the focus of an eventual program, funds might be allocated for home repairs and upgrades, down payment or mortgage assistance for Black residents.
In that article, task force leader Christian Harris pointed to the power of generational wealth transfer through housing and correctly noted that, 100 years ago, Oak Park consciously displaced its only Black neighborhood as the downtown commercial area at Lake and Harlem was built.
When it presented to the village board last year, the task force was looking to the proceeds of the village’s cannabis sales tax revenue and a portion of the Affordable Housing Fund to pay for reparations.
All of this is still in its early phases. A survey of Black residents is planned. Discussions with elected officials are in the future. We recall two years back that then Mayor Anan Abu-Taleb spoke up in favor of reparations. It was a somewhat undeveloped thought, we believe, but he felt any reparations should be focused on educational opportunities. A fair debate to be had.
Finally, we would ask for a determined public education and discussion process in an effort to explain the history and the necessity of such a program. This has the potential to be divisive. But it also has the potential to unify, if explained well.