Toward Transformative Reparations

The National Collaborative for Health Equity published Toward Transformative Reparations, a paper that I co-authored with Mike Wenger, at the request of Dr. Gail Christopher, Executive Director of NCHE. It was highlighted along with several other papers on the National Day of Racial Healing on Jan 16. This is part of an effort to get political, business, and community support for an approach to reparations that includes both structural change and healing. Initiatives of Change, Hope in the Cities, the concept of Trustbuilding, and the experience of several cities engaged in Truth, Racial Healing & Transformation feature in this paper.

There is an urgent need in this country for the kind of repair and healing that Mike and I describe. We appear deeply polarized to the point where good governance and even democracy is threatened. Much of this division is rooted in the wounds of our racial history and its legacy.

Mike Wenger and I write that transformative reparations calls for courageous and imaginative leadership at all levels. True and enduring change requires both acknowledgement and compensation for past harms and deep healing from the wounds created by those harms. As Americans, we must heal together as a nation. This will require a clear and accurate telling of history, and a vision for the future to which everyone can contribute and feel a sense of ownership. This can only be achieved through deep honesty and a readiness to listen to the stories of others. It will also require a commitment to restorative justice and policies that can effectively foster systemic change. And essentially, it must involve all sectors of our society including people of different political views.

In the United States, transformative reparations must include Indigenous people in addition to the descendants of enslaved people. We recognize that reparations is a global issue, and we gained valuable insights from efforts by First Nations leaders and non-indigenous leaders in Canada and Australia.  

We hope that the experiences described here will be a source of encouragement, and that they may offer some frameworks for inspired initiatives that move beyond blame to an acceptance of a shared responsibility for a new future.

We encourage everyone to bring Transformative Reparations and other relevant resources found at the link above to the attention of those in leadership positions in different walks of life.

Some background: Mike Wenger and I first met when he was deputy director for outreach and program design for President Clinton’s Initiative on Race. I was part of a small team creating a dialogue guide for the initiative. Mike taught sociology classes on racism at George Washington University; he served in several leadership positions at the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, and as a senior consultant for the W K Kellogg Foundation. He has been an ally of Initiatives of Change (IofC) for more than 20 years. Gail Christopher is also a longtime friend. Mike introduced me to her when she was Senior Advisor and Vice President of the Kellogg Foundation, and I worked with her closely as she developed the concept for a national Truth, Racial Healing & Transformation initiative. She gave significant support to our programs at Initiatives of Change and Hope in the Cities, including the Community Trustbuilding Fellowship. In 2013 she brought 20 leaders of racial healing and racial justice organizations to IofC’s international conference center in Caux, Switzerland. Now she continues her racial healing work at the National Collaborative for Health Equity.