Many of us would like to be known for having minds like steel traps. We fancy ourselves quick learners, gathering a few bits of knowledge on our way to quickly arriving at conclusions. In the manner of a bear trap, we are confident of our mind’s capacity to rapidly master a subject.

Enormous strength is required to open the jaws of that trap when one is confronted with new and discomforting information. So it is with reparations for Black Americans, envisioned by some to address the contemporary social condition of a people subjected over the course of four centuries to slavery, segregation and discrimination. Although we as a nation have little experience with reparations, many Americans already have strong opinions and have snapped their minds shut. Some support reparations as inarguably earned and long overdue. Others point out the forbidding complexity and cultural conflict that reparations entail.

Fortunately, the first experiment has started and is close at hand. Evanston is, to date, the only governmental entity in the U.S. to design and adopt a reparations program. Payments are directed toward Black Evanston residents who meet certain established criteria.

A remarkable opportunity to learn about the Evanston reparations program is coming to Oak Park on two Sundays in May. In forums sponsored by the First United Church of Oak Park, key participants and close observers of the reparations project will share their stories. We will hear from Peter Braithwaite, the Evanston city councilman who headed the council’s reparations committee, and Kari Lydersen, a Northwestern University professor who closely followed and documented the program for The New Republic.

When it comes to reparations for African Americans, facts and precedents are scarce while theories and generalizations flourish. The upcoming forums at First United Church will allow interested persons to check their prejudices at the door and humbly listen to the flesh-and-blood experience of our North Shore neighbors. How did Evanston decide which of its 12,000 Black citizens should be “repaid?” How much money is enough? Where will the money come from? Would a search for perfection forestall something imperfect but better than the status quo? Will local reparations efforts erode the support for a larger national project?

These forums are part of an ongoing series of presentations spanning political, social and religious topics organized by the church’s Adult Education team. Immigration, incarceration, race language, contemporary biblical interpretation, and urban-youth challenges are just some of the topics explored this year.

When the doors open for the 9:45 a.m. presentations on May 7 and 21 at First United Church (848 Lake St.), be there to observe the release of steel traps. The odds are that no one will walk out the same.

Dale Sorenson has lived in Oak Park for 40 years and has attended First United nearly as long.

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