Mayor Michelle Wu named the 10 members appointed to the city’s new reparations study commission Tuesday, another step in a lengthy process to weigh, quantify, and possibly distribute reparations to Boston’s African American residents.
“We are here to take a step forward,” Wu said to more than 70 people gathered for the announcement at the African Meeting House, America’s oldest extant Black church building. “There is no statute of limitations on addressing wrongs that we have the ability to make right.”
The announcement comes two months after the Boston City Council unanimously agreed to create the reparations committee, and about a year since at-large City Councilor Julia Mejia introduced an ordinance requiring the process.
Within the ordinance are three stages of the commission’s work: first, studying Boston’s participation in slavery; assessing the city’s attempts to repair the harm done by this practice; and then making recommendations on what forms repair could take.
The study commission should aim to finish its work by 2024, according to the ordinance, which also requires that at least five commission members be descendants of American freedmen, or Africans enslaved in the United States.
Wu said the city appointed a multigenerational task force to “reflect the full breadth of that history and struggle” surrounding reparations. The appointees will receive an undetermined stipend for their contributions, she said.
The 10-member task force includes: Denilson Fanfan, a Jeremiah E. Burke High School junior; L’Merchie Frazier, executive director of creative and strategic planning for SPOKE Art; George “Chip” Greenidge Jr., founder and director of civic engagement nonprofit Greatest MINDS; Kerri Greenidge, associate professor of studies in race, colonialism, and diaspora at Tufts University; David Harris, former managing director of the Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice at Harvard Law School; Dorothea Jones, a member of the Roxbury Strategic Master Plan Oversight Committee; Carrie Mays, a UMass Boston student and Teen Empowerment youth leader; Na’tisha Mills, program manager for Embrace Boston; and Damani Williams, another Jeremiah E. Burke High School junior. Joseph D. Feaster Jr., a former Boston NAACP president and current Black Men and Boys Commission member, will serve as chair.
Feaster said the task force plans on hosting a series of listening sessions and coordinating an outreach campaign to make sure residents’ needs inform the final report.
“We want to make sure that we’re grounded in the community,” Feaster said. “We want to be transparent, we want to be inclusive, and we want to be thorough, and we want to be intentional.”
While acknowledging the historic moment, Mays expressed the urgency of getting the work finished.
“I can stand here all day and talk about all the miscellaneous opportunities or possibilities, but I’d rather get to work,” Mays said.
The commission will begin accepting bids in the upcoming weeks for research partners to dive into the history of slavery in Boston and its ongoing impact on residents.
Segun Idowu, the city’s chief of Economic Opportunity and Inclusion, said that Boston’s actions “will reverberate across this country.”
“We know that what we do here is important because it will outlast us all,” he said.
Last June, the City Council issued a formal apology for the city’s role in the trans-Atlantic slave trade and “the death, misery, and deprivation that this practice caused.”
Such an apology is the first in a 10-part reparations plan outlined by the National African-American Reparations Commission, a coalition that advocates for reparations for descendants of enslaved Africans on the federal level.
Though the outline address reparations nationally, municipalities around the country — including Boston — have used it as a model when forming their own studies into reparative justice.
In 2021, Cambridge passed policy orders to look into a pilot reparations program, which would funnel an undetermined amount of cannabis tax revenue to Black residents as repair for enslavement, as well as a restitution program for residents impacted by the “war on drugs.”
In Amherst, the African Heritage Reparation Assembly (AHRA) is aiming to provide its Town Council with a municipal reparations plan by June 1.
On the state level, state Senator Liz Miranda a Democrat from Boston, filed legislation that would create a Massachusetts reparations study commission, and that would establish a reparations fund using a portion of excise taxes imposed on “specified applicable educational institutions.”
Tiana Woodard is a Report for America corps member covering Black neighborhoods. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at @tianarochon.