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Amherst committee hears ideas for spending $2M on reparations for Black residents

Jacqueline Faison speaks at a listening session of the African Heritage Reparation Assembly in Amherst, Massachusetts, on October 27, 2022.
Alden Bourne
Jacqueline Faison speaks at a listening session of the African Heritage Reparation Assembly in Amherst, Massachusetts, on October 27, 2022.

The town of Amherst, Massachusetts, held a hearing on Thursday to let community members share ideas for reparations to residents of African heritage.

Last June, the town council approved placing $2 million over ten years into an account to help end structural racism and achieve racial equality.

Jacqueline Faison, who attended Amherst public schools as a child, said the town needs more educators of color.

"I really think Amherst needs to invest in having more diversity in the school system," she said. "You have to have teachers that look like you."

Another proposal was to provide money to Black residents facing an immediate financial crunch — like an overdue mortgage payment — without them having to offer extensive proof of their predicament.

Town councilor Ellisha Walker liked the idea.

"When you're a single mom in this town and you're having problems, people love to tell you 'look, there's a resource. I know you can use this resource. Go access it,'" she said. "And then you have to jump through obstacle over obstacle over obstacle just to access that resource."

Several of the speakers said they doubted the money would go very far.

But Amilcar Shabazz, who is a professor of Afro-American Studies at UMass Amherst and sits on the committee, said the effort's intended impacts reach beyond the town.

"What we hope is that Amherst joins Evanston, [Illinois], joins the work being done across the country — Providence [Rhode Island], the state of California — that it begins to build this momentum that can embolden Congress, that can embolden the executive branch," he said.

The larger goal is to get the federal government to fund reparations for Black Americans.

The committee's proposals are due to the town council next June.

Before joining New England Public Media, Alden was a producer for the CBS NEWS program 60 Minutes. In that role, he covered topics ranging from art, music and medicine to business, education and politics.

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