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Reparations and Juneteenth Resolutions Passed in City Council With Help From Rogers Park Alderwoman

Zack Miller | The Phoenix

Resolutions to create a commission — which would determine ways to make amends for inequalities that have come as a result of systematic racism for Chicagoans descended from slaves — and to designate Juneteenth as a day of remembrance passed during a city council meeting June 17. Both were pushed through city council with help from Maria Hadden — Alderwoman of Chicago’s 49th Ward, which includes Loyola’s Lake Shore Campus. 

The decisions come after weeks of protests against police brutality — most prominently protests over the killing of George Floyd — have sparked legislative action, including Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s announcement that she’s working with Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker on legislation to license police officers and other police reforms

The resolution to recognize Juneteenth, a June 19 holiday which recognizes the freedom of African Americans from slavery, was co-authored by Hadden.

While the resolution doesn’t make Juneteenth an official city holiday, it’s a step towards making it one. 

“I know that we have more work to do,” Hadden said during the city council meeting. “But together, we will achieve our goal of making this an official holiday.”

Hadden also sponsored the resolution to create the Chicago Descendants of Enslaved Africans Reparations Commission after attending several hearings for it. 

The commission would be made up of five city council members, the mayor or a designated representative for the mayor and 10 members of the public. According to the resolution, its purpose is to create a plan to “ensure equity, equality, and parity for citizens of African descent in Chicago who are mired in poverty.”

While the reparations resolution was passed, the commission hasn’t yet been created. The resolution directs the Committee on Health and Human Relations to draft a city ordinance to establish the commission.

Though the resolution doesn’t outline specific reparations and leaves the creation of a reparations plan to the committee, Hadden told The Phoenix reparations can take many forms — including city investments in black communities.

“Some things that have been part of the conversation around reparations for some time really look like direct investment dollars in majority-black communities,” Hadden told reporters. “They look like education dollars that could be in the form of scholarships, they could be in the form of business investments, [or] local economic investments.”

Hadden also mentioned the reparations resolution passed in Evanston — a suburb on the northern border of Rogers Park — as an example of what the bill could establish. Evanston’s version included funding from taxes collected by the sale of recreational marijuana as well as a subcommittee to create a plan on how the city would go about reparations.

Evanston Alderwoman Robin Sue Simmons of the 5th Ward — a member of the subcommittee and host of a Reparations Town Hall Meeting in November — could not be reached for comment.

Alderman Anthony Napolitano of the 41st Ward — a former Chicago police officer — and Alderman Nicholas Sposato of the 38th Ward were the only two council members who voted against the reparations resolution.

Alderman Jason Ervin of the 28th Ward asked them to reconsider their votes, saying during the city council meeting that their decision was a “slap in the face to African American community, not just in the city of Chicago, but nationally.”

Aldermen Napolitano and Sposato didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.

The resolution passed in the Committee on Health and Human Relations June 12, nearly 10 months after it was introduced in September.

The night the legislation was voted on, a substitute resolution was introduced to the committee and rejected shortly after. The substitute bill did not come from the author of the original legislation — Alderman Roderick Sawyer — but rather the mayoral administration. 

“Mayor Lightfoot is committed to and supports the examination of the state of equity in Chicago to begin to right the wrongs of the past in order to overcome the many obstacles to employment, education, housing, justice, due process, health care and more facing African Americans,” Eugenia Orr, a spokesperson for the mayor said. “We will continue to work with Alderman Sawyer and the rest of the city council on the proposed resolution and on how the city will work toward racial equity.”

According to Hadden, the replacement would’ve changed the resolution’s call for the creation of a commission.

“The change loosened the action point of the resolution which was the creation of the commission,” Hadden told reporters. “We wanted the commission.”

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