When Highway 71 was built as a north/south passageway through central Kansas City, it was marketed as a community benefit. Similar to inner-city highway construction across the country in the 1960s and ’70s, the construction displaced thousands of African Americans.
Mickey Dean, one of the founding members of the Kansas City Black United Front, said he remembers it clearly.
“They cut a swath, right in the middle of the Black community and displaced all of those folks,” Dean said. “This is just one of the injuries that happened to Black people in Kansas City that caused us to not have significant homeownership and wealth.”
(Evanston, IL Making History as Reparations Begin to Flow Evanston has become the first city in the country to implement a reparations program. Read how it works.)
Dean, along with local organizations like Reale Justice Network, the Urban League of Greater Kansas City, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and Sankofa for Kansas City came together last year to form the KC Reparations Coalition.
For the past year, the group has been researching and working to identify discriminatory damages that have affected Black Kansas Citians from slavery through the present. Once those damages have been identified, the coalition is working to identify who is responsible for that damage and then proposing effective remedies to help repair the identified damage.
The coalition believes that African Americans everywhere deserve reparations, but the group is focusing on damage inflicted locally. Their efforts are not in contradiction with the national effort being fought for in Congress with HR 40, the national reparations legislation that would form a commission to examine slavery and discrimination of African Americans from 1619 to present and recommend remedies.
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WHAT ARE REPARATIONS?
Reparations is a process of repairing, healing and restoring a group of people who have been injured in violation of their fundamental human rights by governments, corporations or institutions.
Reparations to fairly address these injuries could come in a number of different forms including cash payments, land, economic development, scholarships, historical monuments and elimination of laws or practices that led to the group’s oppression.
Examples of groups that have obtained reparations include Jewish victims of the Holocaust, Japanese Americans interned in concentration camps in the United States during WWII and Alaska Natives for land, labor and resources taken.
“If we're going to talk about receiving reparations in Kansas City, then we have to show where we've been harmed,” said Justice Gatson, co-chair of the KC Reparations Coalition and founder of the Reale Justice Network.
The coalition is researching areas of local discrimination including redlining along Troost Avenue, covenants in home- leasing agreements, and discrimination in healthcare, education and housing.
“People associate the reparations movement with what was done to us in slavery and that’s the core of it because we are owed for centuries of unpaid labor,” Dean said. “But even after slavery ended, this country really had an opportunity to make things right. But then there was Jim Crow and from that point on, Black people have got the short end of the stick. We’re talking about repairing the damage that has happened to Black people up to this point.”
KC REPARATIONS COALITION IDEAS
The KC Reparations Coalition formed subcommittees to look at discrimination and harm in the areas of home ownership, education, healthcare, economics and criminal justice. In each subcommittee, the members identified harm experienced by Black Kansas Citians, then who is/ was responsible for the harm, followed by developing proposals for fair and adequate remedy.
One issue the coalition is investigating is redlining, especially on either side of Troost Avenue, Kansas City’s historic racial dividing line. The legacy of city policies that limited Black home ownership west of Troost can be seen today in the diminished value of homes east of Troost as compared to those west of Troost. On Zillow, a 2,000 sq. ft., 3-bedroom, 2 bath house costs $250,000 west of Troost, while the value of a comparable house east of Troost is just $134,000.
With equity in homeownership being the largest source of household wealth in the United States, it’s clear to see the impact redlining has on the accumulated equity and wealth of homeowners in predominantly Black neighborhoods.
The group is still researching and solidifying their proposals, but some of their reparation ideas to address this issue and various other forms of housing discrimination include providing eligible Black families with a vacant lot and money to construct their own home, providing down payments for the purchase of a home and providing grants for home repairs and improvements.
As a result of inadequate healthcare and the lack of healthcare facilities in Black neighborhoods, the coalition wants more independent clinics for the Black community with culturally conscious staff.
For education, the coalition highlights the systemic inequities including underfunded Black schools and the rising cost of college, which because of economic impact from past discrimination, many Black families have not been able to afford. The group wants funding for independent Black education institutions and free college tuition.
At the top of the coalition’s list for criminal justice reparations is obtaining local control of the Kansas City Police Department, which Dean said would give Black Kansas Citians more of a voice in police policies and accountability.
“Black people in Kansas City have suffered at the hands of racist law enforcement, which in turn, has created incarceration rates way out of proportion to our percentage of population,” Dean said.
As far as funding these remedies, the coalition says it depends on who they identify as being responsible. For example, if they identify a financial institution as responsible, then they will go after that institution for funding. Gatson wants to see some of the $42 million in excess funding approved for the KCPD budget used for reparations, specifically for Black and homeless Kansas Citians. The city council had tried to reallocate that funding for violence prevention programs, but the Board of Police Commissioners filed a suit against the fund reallocation and won.
“I’ve been seeing a lot more people on the streets lately,” Gatson said. “I think taking some of that funding to put into reparations would be more meaningful for the community.”
One of the KC Reparations Coalition’s next steps is to engage and educate the local community about reparations, including what they are and about the organizations, places and policies that have caused Black Kansas Citians harm.
The coalition is planning an introductory event this month for community members to listen to the work they have been doing.
Dean and Gatson are very optimistic about receiving reparations in Kansas City.
“We’re seeing reparations becoming more and more mainstream. Black organizations and Black people are beginning to see reparations as a subject that has to be on the agenda,” Dean said. “Look at what we’ve accomplished the last several years. We have to take advantage of this momentum.”
Jazzlyn Johnson is a Report for America corps member based at The Community Voice covering Kansas City’s African-American community.