KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Kansas City took its first steps Tuesday toward addressing the history of slavery and oppressive policies affecting Black people.
City Council approved establishing a 13 member Mayor’s Commission on Reparations earlier this year.
Tuesday that commission had its first meeting on the politically charged issue.
Most of the first meeting concerned logistics. Early discussions centered as much on what reparations aren’t as what they might be. It’s unlikely Black Kansas Citians will be getting checks in the mail anytime soon. For some the meeting was a historic day long overdue.
“May 23, 2023 the first reparations commission meeting Hallelujah,” Janay Reliford, KC Reparations Coalition member, cheered as she detailed the past three years of working leading up to the first meeting.
Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas said he’s a supporter of the 13 member commission, but there mostly to listen to what they comes up with as recommendations for righting centuries of harm.
“Me being a kid in this city and asking questions as to why. Why do we like to see life outcomes such a different life expectancy on one side of Troost vs the others? Why don’t we see the same opportunities for community wealth building in certain parts of our city and why is it so darn hard to get a loan?” Lucas said.
The first presentation covered empty U.S. Federal Government promises at the end of slavery up until a proposal just last week from Missouri Congresswoman Cori Bush that $14 trillion in reparations would be needed to make up the generational wealth gap between Black and white.
According to the KC Reparations Coaliton it would take 228 years to catch up without special policies benefiting the Black community.
“It’s about those who came before, those that are here now and those that are coming after. It’s about equity and that’s critical,” Reliford said.
The commission will meet monthly and be divided into subcommittees addressing injury areas including education, economics, health and criminal justice.
“There’s lots of jokes going on about financial payments and land giveaways, our priority will be looking at the harm,” Commission Chair Terri Barnes said.
She’s not sure if the Commission will be tasked with coming up with a dollar figure, but the Mayor has some ideas on how reparations programs could be funded.
“How much do we spend on incarceration, plus policing plus prosecution? It’s probably about $600 million a year at least. If we spend that amount of money, just a minute portion of it on things like stabilizing neighborhoods through home ownership, scholarship opportunities so more kids are able to learn trades and go onto school. How much of a change does that make for Kansas City long term?” Lucas asked.
The commission is expected to study the issue for 18 months before making its final recommendations.