Reparations Commission will be formed by July, Asheville manager says

INVEST IN US: More than six months after city and county leadership committed to reparations for Asheville’s Black community, City Manager Debra Campbell announced plans to form a Reparations Commission by July. The commission will be charged with crafting short-, medium- and long-term goals to create generational wealth. Photo by Laura Hackett

“The action of repairing something. The making of amends for a wrong one has done, by paying money to or otherwise helping those who have been wronged.”

Asheville and Buncombe County leaders committed to that definition of reparations in July when they took the “bold and courageous” step to unanimously adopt a resolution supporting community reparations for Black residents, Asheville City Manager Debra Campbell reminded City Council on Feb. 23. 

For months, residents have pressured elected leaders to fulfill the steps outlined in that resolution. Plans are now in the works to form a joint city and county Reparations Commission by July, Campbell said. 

That move is the first official action to advancing the resolution, which directs Campbell to develop recommendations “to address the creation of generational wealth” in the Black community and establish a commission to “make significant progress toward repairing the damage caused by public and private systemic racism.”

The Reparations Commission is expected to submit a full report outlining reparations policies and initiatives by April 2023. 

Campbell proposed a three-phase process for the commission, starting with “information and truth-telling” efforts this May and June. Work would include researching city and county policies that have caused harm to Black communities, identifying geographic areas to redevelop and hearing from residents about their lived experiences, she said. A speaker series on the reparations movement is also planned. 

The current plan proposes 21-25 participants for the commission, half of whom would be representatives from areas impacted by policies that created economic disparities. Campbell did not specify how those representatives would be chosen; the remaining members would be appointed by Council and the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners. 

The body would then craft short-, medium- and long-term goals to reduce disparities in housing, economic development, public health, education and public safety. Members would break into smaller work groups on specific topics; both the full commission and the subcommittees would likely meet monthly. To reduce barriers to entry, Campbell asked Council to consider offering members a stipend to compensate for their time.

The commission’s short-term recommendations are expected in January 2022, followed by medium-term recommendations in July 2022 and long-term goals in January 2023. These dates align with city and county budget processes, Campbell said, in the event funds need to be reallocated for new policies.

Mayor Esther Manheimer applauded the proposed process. Only a handful of cities have begun looking into reparations, she noted, and city staff members are largely inventing the model from scratch. 

“We adopted this resolution, and then the work had to start,” she said. “I know there are folks who feel this has gone too slowly, but I think when they see the amount of work this has taken and what you’re proposing to do, I hope they will appreciate this huge understanding for our community.”

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About Molly Horak
Molly is a recent graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and writer for Mountain Xpress. Her work has appeared in the Citizen-Times, News and Observer and Charlotte Observer. Follow me @molly_horak

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