St. Paul, Minnesota, has become the latest U.S. city to officially tackle the subject of reparations and atonement for racism and discrimination against Black Americans.
On Wednesday, Jan. 4, the St. Paul City Council unanimously voted to create the St. Paul Recovery Act Community Reparations Commission. All seven council members sponsored the ordinance, Twin Cities Pioneer Press said.
According to a report by KSTP News, the commission will consist of a permanent 11-member group that will advise the council on making amends for the harms caused to Black Americans by its systemic racism, oppression and discriminatory practices.
The commission will “make short, medium and long-term policy, program and budget recommendations to specifically address the creation and sustainment of generational wealth for the American Descendants of Chattel Slavery and to boost economic mobility and opportunity.”
The commission comes nearly two years after St. Paul issued a resolution to formally apologize for the city’s role in institutional and structural racism against its Black residents – including redlining and destroying the once thriving, predominately Black Rondo neighborhood to build I-94.
The council simultaneously established the St. Paul City Council Legislative Advisory Committee on Reparations, which met for one year from July 2021 through June 2022.
The reparations commission is the promised next step of the city’s work.
“In the end, I think as the family that we are here in Saint Paul and in this country, that there will be some healing and we’ll all be able to see the value in each other,” Council Member Russel Balenger said.
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A budget of $100,000 has been set aside to hire a permanent staff person to work with the commission. Applications for the position and council are expected to open this month.
Community activist Trahern Crews, who was a Co-Convener for the legislative advisory committee, said the creation of the commission is “really exciting.”
“The St. Paul City Council has taken a step to start addressing the harms that the United States, the state of Minnesota and the city of St. Paul have caused to Black Americans,” Crews said.
Nathaniel Khaliq, whose grandfather had the last home standing in Rondo east of Western Avenue, agreed. “This is a great day,” Khaliq told KSTP.
Khaliq recalled what happened when the city demolished Rondo, where 80 percent of Black residents lived.
“They destroyed not just the physical structures and the businesses, they destroyed our spirit, our cohesiveness,” Khaliq said. “They destroyed our safety net and scattered us all around the city. … Businesses couldn’t relocate, and many of our residents couldn’t go on to other neighborhoods. Many of us moved four or five times.”
It’s history Council Member Jane Prince hopes to never repeat.
“When George Floyd was murdered in 2020, it became clear that all of us in any position where we had any ability to make change needed to make a real commitment to never go backwards,” Prince said. “We are committing St. Paul to never go back but to keep moving forward to the vision of real racial justice.”
Crew said cash payments are a priority, but they also hope the city government will explore providing support to Black businesses and resources for homeownership.