Opinion: We Have a Plan. The Time to Act on Reparations is Now

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Rev. Dr. Amos C. Brown

Finally. It only took 150 years, but at last a substantive, realistic, and responsible national plan for slavery reparations has been put forward.

Question is, will the purport­edly liberal and benevolent San Francisco be a leader in this ef­fort, or will it continue to enact policies that have forced an exo­dus of African American families, culture, and heritage from this city?

It is no longer time to seize the moment. The moment has been seized.

Last week, I attended the NAACP convention in Detroit, where we passed a viable mea­sure that provides reparations to African Americans in the form of resources in the areas of housing, economic empowerment, fund­ing for historically black colleges, and health care, including mental health. Rather than provide mon­ey to individuals, we felt the need for solutions that will ultimately end regressive systems created by a damaging history of enslave­ment and oppression.

It is a detrimental system that can be seen in plain view in San Francisco, a city that proclaims to fight for its vulnerable, but has in­stead pushed policies prompting black flight.

In droves, we moved here from the South during the 1940s to help build ships and other industrial-related goods for the WWII effort. After the war ended, we were passed over for what jobs remained from the massive indus­trial effort. Our neighborhoods were left in aimless economic desolation, with run-down hous­ing and schools.

Rather than address the prob­lems, city leaders worked to push them out of sight and mind. So-called “urban renewal” projects aiming to improve our neighbor­hoods encouraged gentrification and the closing of black business­es and cultural centers. While the African American population in San Francisco peaked at about 13.4 percent in 1970, by 2010 it was cut in half, even though the city grew. And our population continues to dwindle.

With a renewed national movement – and, most impor­tantly, a substantive plan – in place to right the wrongs of a sor­did historical injustice, San Fran­cisco has an opportunity to be a leader in reversing its African American exodus.

In keeping with the NAACP resolution achieved in Detroit, here are some steps San Francis­co can take to achieve successful reparations:

  1. On education: A coalition of political, spiritual, and social betterment agencies must unite to identify and carry out collab­orative, comprehensive remedial programs to help families catch up and move beyond abysmal low achievement.
  2. On economic empower­ment: A coalition of the city’s economic powers, including its high tech communities, must unite to identify and carry out solutions that ensure equal op­portunity for African American workers and small businesses. That includes engaging with the San Francisco African American Chamber of Commerce to pro­vide pathways for black contrac­tors, entrepreneurs and technol­ogy gurus to receive a fair share of contracts and participation in our booming economy and tour­ism industry.
  3. On housing: The city and county must strengthen its hu­man rights commission to be­come a true watchdog ensuring African Americans can regain much-needed access to fair and affordable housing, particularly for those who have been, and are currently being, pushed out.
  4. On heritage: The NAACP, faith community and allies are calling the city to do for the Af­rican American community what it did for the Asian community when it provided a space in the Civic Center for the Asian Art Museum. The city should also do the same for the Fillmore Heri­tage Center, ensuring the center becomes a watering hold for Afri­can American community mem­bers, a place to come together and celebrate their culture and history and to maintain the presence of the black community’s dwindling heritage in San Francisco.
  5. On mental and physi­cal health: We need to focus on providing comparative health systems to the African Ameri­can community, in part through the San Francisco Department of Public Health and West Side Community Mental Health. Re­sources need to address black community members who are suffering from post-traumatic stress syndrome from violence, and from many other residual mental and physical effects that have resulted from a dark his­tory of slavery and generations of discrimination. This has led to a long list of detrimental condi­tions, such as depression, asthma, diabetes and hypertension. The city’s highly funded and capable public and private health sectors must collaborate on programs promoting mental and physical treatment, wellness and nutri­tion, in order to cease the cycles that have negatively impacted multiple generations of African Americans.

The national conversation has begun. After the Detroit conven­tion, it is apparent that it is not go­ing away.

San Francisco is a city that prides itself on liberal ideologies that aim to empower and uplift the underserved. As aforemen­tioned, we must put our money and political resources where our mouths are. The time to talk is over. The time to act is now.

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