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A series of community listening sessions are being held across the state to help the nine members of the California Task Force to Study and Develop Reparations Proposals for African Americans better understand how laws and policies that help perpetuate the effects of slavery negatively impacted Black Californians.

The last three gatherings authorized by the task force took place last month.

An online community session was held with panelists Friday Jones, Vice Chairman of the Los Angeles Reparations Commission; Jan Williams, Crenshaw Town Center Board Member; and Professor Jovan Scott Lewis of the University of California at Berkeley.

“What (Reparations) needs to do is create that sense of recognition,” said Lewis, who is a member of the California Reparations Task Force.

“One of the things that the [Task Force] has accomplished so far over the past year is to create a sense of appreciation for the black American community in California and across the country,” Lewis told the audience online.

The virtual webinar and community listening session was hosted by the Coalition for a Just and Equitable California (CJEC), the American Redress Coalition of California (ARCC), and the Community Health Councils (CHC).

The CJEC is a statewide coalition of organizations, associations, and community members that supports reparations for Black Californians who are descendants of enslaved Black American men and women. CHC is a Los Angeles-based nonprofit organization committed to practices that advance justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion to achieve sustainable policy and systemic change.

A sanctioned in-person community listening session was held in the town of Vallejo. It was organized by CJEC with support from the state Department of Justice (DOJ) and Black Women Organized for Political Action (BWOPA).

The event took place at LaDells Shoes, owned by Black, in downtown Vallejo. Personal stories of adversity and success rooted in the Black experience in and around Vallejo were shared during this session. Struggles for jobs, decent housing, racism in public schools, homelessness, police brutality and the challenges of maintaining a business were covered.

“In May, we had our first community conversation about reparations [in Oakland, Calif.] and it was a global history of reparations in the United States,” said Dr. Kerby Lynch, who recently earned a doctorate in geography from the University of California, Berkeley. “This session is about what repairs look like for Vallejo. We are here to listen to each other’s stories and record these testimonies.

Vallejo is one of the towns in the state with a modest population of black people who are fighting for recognition during the reparations process. He has an abundance of dark history to share.

Home to the old Mare Island shipyard, Vallejo is 32 miles north of San Francisco. The 2020 United States Census indicates that the East Bay area city had 22,416 black people (18.48%) of a total of 121,275. Black people in the state make up 5.4% of the population .

The third listening session organized by the CJEC was held in Sacramento. Don T. Tamaki, a member of the task force and Bay Area attorney, participated virtually in the session held in the Oak Park neighborhood of Sacramento.

In the Sacramento listening session, the community testified about how to build small businesses, the “great migration” of black people from the Deep South to the West Coast, how the Freedman’s Office model can be used to determine reparations and the presence of black pioneers during the gold rush.

Community Listening Sessions are conducted statewide by the seven “flagship organizations” of the Reparations Task Force.

The seven, Afrikan Black Coalition, Black Equity Collective, Black Equity Initiative, California Black Power Network, Coalition for a Just and Equitable California, Othering and Belonging Institute (University of California Berkeley) and Repaired Nations began holding community gatherings in March .

The listening sessions are designed to ensure that select communities across the state have the opportunity to share their thoughts and concerns about the work being done by the task force.

On June 1, 2022, the task force released a 483-page interim report to the California legislature. The report examines the continuing and compounding damage suffered by African Americans as a result of slavery and its lingering effects on American society today.

“It’s a sweeping indictment,” Tamaki said of the report during the Sacramento Community Listening Session. “It connects the wrongs of the past and tracks the consequences we face today. There must be legislative remedies.

The interim report also includes a set of preliminary recommendations for policies the California legislature could adopt to address these harms. A final report will be published before July 1, 2023.

In-person Task Force meetings will resume in Los Angeles at Paradise Baptist Church on Friday, September 23 at 9:00 a.m. and Saturday, September 24, 2022 at 9:00 a.m. The church is located at 5100 S.Broadway.

For updates and additional information, visit Reparations Working Group Meetings.

About Jessica J. Bass

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