coleman young center sign
The Coleman A. Young Municipal Center was photographed on April 14, 2022 in Detroit, Mich. (BridgeDetroit Photo by Malachi Barrett)

Detroiters who want a say in how the city could provide reparations for the historically unjust treatment of Black residents have until fall to apply for a seat on the city’s Reparations Task Force.

An application form was posted online this week and is open to Detroiters who have lived in the city for at least six years and have some expertise in legal, economic or community issues. Residents aren’t required to be Black to serve on the 13-member task force, which is responsible for studying housing and economic development programs that address generational discrimination against the city’s Black majority population.

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The Detroit City Council’s Legislative Policy Division will accept and screen applications, which must be submitted electronically before noon on Oct. 10. A cover letter and resume are not required. The application form includes questions about an applicant’s expertise, employment history, education and other identifying information. LPD will forward all qualified candidate applications to the City Council, along with a list of candidates who failed to meet the qualifications as well as the reasons why they do not qualify for transparency.

The application form includes past LPD reports about the reparations initiative, research from the National African American Reparations Commission and a similar reparations resolution passed in Asheville, North Carolina.

The council last week unanimously approved a resolution establishing the structure of the city’s voter-approved task force. Under a timeline published in an LPD policy memo, the City Council would take 60 days to review applications and nominate 18 people who will then vie for nine positions to be selected by a vote of the council in December. Council President Mary Sheffield is responsible for appointing four members to serve on an executive committee that will lead the task force. 

Sheffield told BridgeDetroit last week that she would likely recommend that Planning Commission Chair Lauren Hood, Detroit attorney and real estate developer Chase Cantrell, Michigan Democratic Party Black Caucus Chair Keith Williams and MDP Deputy Voter Protection Director Dorian Tyus be appointed to serve as executive committee members.

Sheffield noted Hood, Cantrell, Williams and Tyus were part of a steering committee that studied how other major cities are addressing the question of reparations. Each, she said, also has been a vocal supporter of leveling the playing field for Black Detroiters who have been held back by a legacy of systematic discrimination.

The task force will be responsible for drafting recommendations for social initiatives in eight categories, including the right to live free of discrimination, water and sanitation, environmental health, safety, recreation, access and mobility, housing and the fulfillment of basic needs.

The task force’s meetings will be open to the public and it will be required to provide recommendations to the City Council within 18 months of its first meeting.

The council resolution approved last week states “Black people in Detroit confront some of the worst racial disparities in America” and reparations are a “longoverdue recognition” that Black people face unequal conditions after centuries of enslavement and second-class citizenship rooted in discriminatory policies created in both public and private sectors.

The resolution outlines several broad examples of mass historic injustices endured by Black Detroiters, starting with the eslavement of Africans who were brought to the United States and continuing through the abolition of slavery, with references to sharecropping, convict leasing, Jim Crow laws, redlining, unequal education, deplorable housing and disproportionate treatment at the hands of the criminal justice system.

It also points to the clearing of families and demolition of homes in the Black Bottom and Paradise Valley neighborhoods in the 1950s to make room for Interstate 375 and upscale housing projects. Bulldozing the predominantly Black neighborhoods represented a major loss for Black businesses, social institutions and housing in Detroit’s eastside. The resolution also notes reparations were among the demands of protesters who took to the streets in 2021 after George Floyd’s murder in March 2020. 

Detroit is home to one-in-three of all Black residents in Michigan, according to 2020 census data. The most recent count of Detroit’s population found that 78% of the city is Black, 11% is white, and 5% of the city identified as multi-racial.

Sheffield has said that funding hasn’t yet been identified for any proposals that eventually come from the task force. Federal American Rescue Plan Act funds could be one possible source, but Sheffield said those conversations will happen in the future.

The areas of expertise sought for representation on the task force cover 12 professions, including: historian, legal, impacted resident, community/grassroots, housing expert, social justice advocate, economist, senior citizen, urban planner, youth representative, restorative justice advocate and clergy/religion.

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