There’s new traction in the conversation about reparations for American descendants of slaves. Mayors of eleven cities, including Denver and Kansas City, have just signed pledges to create local reparations programs.
On a national level, a bill to study how reparations could be done is headed to Congress. There are grassroots crowdfunding groups who say they’re not waiting for that to happen. They’re asking people to step forward to take on racial wealth gaps today.
For decades, a church building has been a place of refuge for Black families of Louisville, Kentucky. Refuge is what Kinisha Carey has here now.
“Got me in a sanctuary, testifying,” smiled Carey, sitting in a pew.
For years, Carey’s found her purpose in being a social worker.
“I was working with people in foster care who aged out and were homeless, so we were trying to get them housed, find some way to get them to a stable place,” she said.
Carey said her job required a car, and she didn’t have one. She said she was let go just before the pandemic took hold and many job opportunities disappeared. Carey’s family was evicted from their home. The woman who lived to work with people experiencing homelessness was now homeless herself, alongside her five children.
“There was a lot of silence just because they saw me fall apart,” said Carey. “Applying to jobs, we moved into a hotel, just trying to find a rainbow somewhere. It just turned into a very dark depression I didn’t know how to come out of. I will remember this day forever. The kids were in their room. I was on the steps. I really thought about dying.”
It was then Carey reached out to a friend, Chanelle Helm. Helm is with Black Lives Matter Louisville, working out of that old church where so many people found refuge.
“I said, ‘Chanelle, I don’t think I’m going to live for the rest of the day,’” said Carey. “I don’t have the money to stay here. I don’t have the money to feed my kids.”
“You give the folks the things that they need, and they flourish,” said Helm.
“I owe her my life in the biggest way,” said Carey.
For the next eight months, Carey’s family stayed in several places like AirBnBs. Many of those costs for her family were covered through a group Helm works with called Reparations Roundtable. Their goal is to give people an opportunity to help Black and Indigenous people, in many cases mothers and trans women.
"White people are able to move into allied accomplice and reparational positions to do what it takes to end white supremacy,” said Helm. “These folks know this is not a tax-deductible donation. This is not something you file on your taxes. This is redistributing your wealth for people that are in an injustice."
On a national level, a bill has passed a House Judiciary Committee that would allow for a study on how African Americans should be compensated after centuries of slavery, followed by Jim Crow laws and other practices that prevented the building of generational wealth.
Though 2020 brought a new American reckoning about race, a national poll by the University of Massachusetts Amherst found 62% of Americans are still opposed to the idea of federal reparations.
Helm said she’s not waiting to see if Congress will consider the bill. While there is debate on whether efforts like this should be called reparations, Helm said she just wants to serve as many people in Black communities as she can now.
“We currently have an ongoing list of, like, 30 people who we’re helping through crisis,” said Helm.
Helm said they determine the people they help through a survey and interviews, and the money from what she calls “white reparationists” helps with things like food and housing insecurities. The Louisville-based Reparations Roundtable is not alone in this work with other grassroots crowdfunding groups emerging across the country, including Tucson Reparations in Arizona and Reparations Now Cleveland in Ohio.
“Build a change that is very necessary and highly overdue,” said Helm.
“I’m starting graduate school next week,” said Carey. “We’ve been in our house for a year. They helped pay for us to get in there for the first six months. After that, I’m proud to say, I’m paying my rent on time every month. We’re talking about breaking those generational gaps so that when my kids grow up, they have this foundation of support and resources so this stops with us, and it doesn’t move forward.”
For more on Reparations Roundtable, click here.