Three candidates seeking a spot on Detroit’s reparations task force each brought a different perspective to the question of how the city could address historic discrimination against its majority-Black community.
Wednesday marked the second round of interviews for the new 13-member task force, which will be responsible for making recommendations for housing and economic development programs. Attorney Allen Venable, economist Toinu Reeves and mechanical engineer Lisa Thomas answered questions during virtual interviews before the City Council’s Internal Operations Committee.
- Detroit council starts reparations task force interviews
- Who wants to decide Detroit’s reparations plan?
- Survey: Being Black not required to decide Detroit reparations
Venable and Thomas were nominated by Council Pro Tem James Tate. Reeves was nominated by Council Member Latisha Johnson. The interviews were brief, each wrapped up in under 10 minutes. Recommendations to appoint each candidate will be reviewed by the full City Council. Johnson said she hopes to have the task force formed by the end of February.
A day earlier, the City Council approved the appointments of four members to an executive committee that will lead the task force. Detroit Planning Commission Chair Lauren Hood, Michigan Democratic Party Black Caucus Chair Keith Williams, MDP Deputy Voter Protection Director Dorian Tyus and former Detroit council member JoAnn Watson, a senior pastor for West Side Unity Church. The executive committee members were nominated by City Council President Mary Sheffield.
Venable told the council committee on Wednesday that his interest in reparations developed while attending Harvard Law School, where he served as a research assistant on a reparations coordinating committee. Veneble said the committee eventually decided that litigation is a less effective strategy to achieve reparations. Instead, he said, the goal became to convince city governments to examine the impact of institutional racism at the local level, much like how Detroit has taken up the question.
“The best way to address this is to have the mechanisms of local government deal with the issue,” Venable said. “There is a historic legacy of (systemic racism) in Detroit and we need to look at it. Certainly that oppression and exclusion, using the laws as well as what happened in private industry, needs to be studied.”
Venable said Black Detroiters are lagging behind virtually every indicator of economic success, specifically noting income and employment.
“We have been held back,” Venable said. “We should look at the effects of this on our community, and we should be compensated or have remedies put in place that deal with a historical situation that just oppressed us for so long.”
Venable, who lives in the city, formed his own Southfield-based law firm in 2009. He previously served as an associate attorney at a Detroit firm. Venable’s application states he is the president of the Wolverine Bar Association, the largest and oldest African-American bar association in the state. He was also a board member for the Detroit Urban League.
Reeves said he’s dedicated three decades of his life to the study of economics because the field is lacking in Black researchers. His application included a detailed paper on the economic effects of inequality, merits of collective capitalism and a look at potential solutions. Reeves is a PhD candidate at the University of Michigan, where he received a master’s in economics.
Reeves argued that the country as a whole is losing out on innovations in technology because Black Americans haven’t been given opportunities at the same rate as their white counterparts.
“We’ve come up with different models and different programs of how we can actually repair these damages,” Reeves said.
Solutions won’t simply take the form of allocating tax dollars, Reeves said, but by helping people to “fully empower themselves.”
Council Member Angela Whitfield-Calloway said the task force will benefit from Reeves’ expertise.
Reeves is the founder and CEO of Kajmahal, LLC, a Detroit-based technology research company, and a development graduate student instructor at the University of Michigan. His application materials note his ancestry comes from Liberia, a West African nation founded by former slaves, while his mother’s side of the family moved north to Detroit during the Great Migration.
Thomas obtained a master’s degree in mechanical engineering from Wayne State University last year. Thomas is currently a Govern for America fellow working at the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy on renewable energy projects.
Thomas said she views the task force as a way to expand on her leadership skills and provide a public service.
Whitfield-Calloway said she hopes young people will have a strong voice on the task force, noting a generational difference in the activism of millennials and members of Gen Z compared to past generations.
Last week, the council interviewed Gregory Hicks, a sociologist and ex-secretary of the Detroit Board of Police Commissioners, and Jeffrey Robinson, a Detroit Public Schools Community District principal.