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At the second CommonBound conference of the New Economy Coalition, we conducted a strategy session on
Reparations within the ‘Black Lives, Labor and Liberation in the New Economy’ track. The session was entitled
“Reparations: How are we doing it?”
The purpose of the session was to move the discussion of reparations beyond making the case for it and being
angry at those who do not agree towards identifying actionable strategies. The intention was to engage the room in
looking at potential tools in the fight for securing reparations now and putting them to work to repair our
communities. Together with over 80 participants we developed a broad understanding of why development is key
and created multiple approaches to engaging in this work now. Participants left with ideas of how to fund work in
communities that we can initiate to repair the damage of slavery and exploitation.
These are the notes from our session.
 
-

Ed Whitfield, Fund for Democratic Communities
Aisha Shillingford, Intelligent Mischief

__________________________________________________________________________________ 

 

“​
We are therefore demanding of the white Christian churches and Jewish synagogues which are part and
parcel of the system of capitalism, that they begin to pay reparations to black people in this country. We are
demanding $500,000,000 from the Christian white churches and the Jewish synagogues. This total comes
to 15 dollars per nigger. This is a low estimate fro we maintain there are probably more than 30,000,000
black people in this country. $15 a negger (sic)is not a large sum of money and we know that the churches
and synagogues have a tremendous wealth and its membership, white America, has profited and still
exploits black people. We are also not unaware that the exploitation of colored peoples around the world is
aided and abetted by the white Christian churches and synagogues. This demand for $500,000,000 is not
an idle resolution or empty words. Fifteen dollars for every black brother and sister in the United States is
only a beginning of the reparations due us as people who have been exploited and degraded, brutalized,
killed and persecuted. Underneath all of this exploitation, the racism of this country has produced a
psychological effect upon us that we are beginning to shake off. We are no longer afraid to demand our full
rights as a people in this decadent society.”​

The above quote is an excerpt from the Black Manifesto delivered at the 1969 Black National Economic
Conference. It was written by James Forman (October 4, 1928 – January 10, 2005) who was a member of the
Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, the Black Panther Party and the International Black Workers
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Congress. In it he lays out not only one of the most powerful calls for reparations but also an alternative path to
getting reparations than what had been thought of up to that point. Arguably the most popular framework for
achieving reparations was to lobby the federal government. The framework that James Forman proposed was to
demand reparations from the various white institutions that have benefited from slavery and white supremacy.  
 
 
 

 

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‘A member of the South Africa Truth Commission, Rev Bogani Finca told a story at a conference on Truth
Commissions that powerfully explains the challenge of reconciliation. It is the “Cow Story.”
It seems there was gentlemen called Tabo, who had a cow. One day Mr. Smith, with his superior power and
racial dominance, overcame Tabo and took his cow away from him. Tabo suffered from the loss of the cow.
He lost his livelihood, he became poor, he became depressed, and he couldn’t provide proper housing for his
children or get them the things they needed to have a successful life.
Many years later, along came a truth commission and Tabo and Mr. Smith were brought together in a
process of reconciliation. Mr. Smith offered an apology. Tabo accepted the apology. They hugged, they
kissed, and they had a cup of tea together, and even shared a few jokes. At the end of the day, Mr. Smith left
the room and as he was going out the gate, Tabo called out, “Mr. Smith, what about the cow?” Mr. Smith
said, “Tabo, you are messing up this thing about reconciliation, it has nothing to do with the cow.” ‘
http://ablawg.ca/2013/06/26/the-indian-residential-school-settlement-is-reconciliation-possible/
The above story hits directly at the heart of the need of reparations. The advancement and prosperity of the American
economy is directly linked to the underdevelopment of African-Americans. True reparations can not happen with addressing
the material damage that has been done to a people. Without that you have just empty apologies. When Tabo interrupts Mr.
Smith to inquire about the cow that was stolen from him he is unveiling that facade. We believe that reparations that
addresses the material and spiritual damage done can also tear away the veil of the current neoliberal economic order. 
 
 

 

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Guidelines
We provided the following guidelines as way to engage with the workshop. We felt this was essential because we assumed
that most participants were new to design thinking and because reparations are often such a murky and intractable topic to
discuss.
● Be open, curious, experimental - we aren’t creating full solutions right here right now…
● This space prioritizes the perspectives and voices of black people as those most negatively impacted and at the
epicenter of the harms of slavery and the long term effects of slavery. So we invite the participation of all people but
we prioritize the voices of black folks when it comes to articulating what the problems are and what the elements of
the solutions might be.
● Suspend disbelief a bit. We aren’t in critiquing mode yet, we’re playing and prototyping. The point is to try
something and then see how it can be improved on. Let your creative juices flow.
● Make Space/Take Space - make space for others to participate, take space for yourself to participate, take space
for yourself to sit out if needed.
● We don’t have a lot of time today and we’re going to move quickly. It may feel uncomfortable. If it’s okay, please try
to sit with that.
● Take care of yourselves and each other.
What is design thinking and how is it useful?
“​
Design Thinking is a ‘human-centered’ approach to problem-solving and innovation.”
[Tim Brown, IDEO]

It’s difficult to imagine a non-human centered approach but that’s actually what we live in, an economy-centered approach
that prioritizes the growth of corporate profits and Gross Domestic Product vs. the well-being of all people.
Design Thinking invites us to center the well-being and needs of people. It’s a set of tools for problem solving/innovation.
Like any other tool how you apply it and which people have access to it is key. It is just one tool of many that we need to
take as our own to advance the Next Liberatory Global Society.

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Often, a design process can take a few days to a few months. This speed helps us to move to solutions and experiment.
This can be helpful.
Our Design Principles
We used Intelligent Mischief’s Design Principles to guide our design process:
● Decluttering​
- We believe that we are at our most creative when there is spaciousness and we are able to have
clear vision for what we want to accomplish. This involves clearing our minds as well as our physical surroundings.
● Narrative and Aesthetics - ​
We believe that any successful design must include both content and form, i.e. story
and aesthetics. We use narrative to both understand what the problem or issue is that we want to address as well
as to convey our solution in powerful, accessible ways. We use aesthetics to embody our narrative, ensuring that
the ideas, products, and experiences we create are visually appealing and make social change attractive and
desirable.
● Black Renaissance​
-​
Creating a Culture of Black Liberation - ​
Our design purpose is inextricably linked to the
birth of a culture of black liberation. We explore and integrate cultural experiences and expressions within black
communities that are prefigurative and that posit the assumption that black people exist in the future and we are
free there.
● Design FROM the margins​
- We are tricksters. We didn’t go to school for design. We’re harnessing, stealing, and
hacking design tools and making them our own so that those at the margins and intersections can define and solve
their own problems using the incredible assets we know we have.
● Third Culture Perspective​
- The margins are really the intersections or borders. They are complex places and the
people who inhabit them are quite often best positioned to think about complex issues in creative ways. We’re
crossing borders and adapting to new realities all the time. This makes us innovative, creative, and adaptable. Skills
that are really important for design.
● Love Amplified​
- When we come together in a spirit of love to solve our problems together the impact is far greater
than the individuals involved.
During this strategy session we incorporated tools developed by our close friends at the Center for Story-Based Strategy
and the design approach piloted by Brooke Staton and Lauren Valdez at Allied Media Conference in 2016.
Choosing the Right Problem to Solve
One of the reasons that reparations have been so difficult to achieve is because it can be seen as a huge complicated
problem that involves just the Federal Government and the entire African-American population. In this session we were
trying to find ways to kick start reparations by breaking down the problem and finding ways to scale up rather than have an
all or nothing approach.

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We began by posing the following question to the group as a brainstorm activity:

We found that the harms done by the system of slavery are cumulative and pervasive. They show up in our interpersonal
relationships, our jobs, our homes, our families and in our societal systems; our economy, our financial systems,
educational system, political system and more.
We then asked participants to answer the same question in small groups but with each group focusing on a specific system.

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After choosing ONE way in which the harm created by the system of slavery shows up in each of the systems named, we
asked participants to frame the problem in more detail using the Elements of the Story Tool developed by the Center for
Story-Based Strategy:
Problem
What is the one way in which the harm shows up in the system chosen?

Characters
Who is harmed? Who is most impacted/needs the solution the most?
Who has power to influence the situation? Who cares about this problem?
Who else is involved in the system in which the harm takes place?
Who is benefitting from the harm? Who is harming?  

Images/Setting
What does the harm look like?
How are people experiencing the harm?
If you were to paint a picture of that harm what would be in it?
Where is it happening?

Foreshadowing
What will happen if the harm is left unrepaired?
What will change as a result of your possible solution?

Assumption
What beliefs or values allow the harm to continue?
What cultural beliefs or values should underscore your solution?

Framing the Design Question
After deeply understanding the nature of the problem we gave ourselves a goal to solve towards.
Q.1 is too broad: How might we create reparations? ​
This is too general to be a design question and it is actually where the
conversation sort of is right now. There aren’t enough boundaries to allow people to brainstorm effectively. 
 
Q.2 is too Specific: How might we transfer money from JP Morgan to cooperatives in the South? ​
In this conversation this is too
specific, it has focused on a solution and there’s no room for creativity and outside the box thinking.
Q.3 is JUST RIGHT!: “How might we repair the harm done by slavery within the education system/financial system/etc. Framed this
way it helps us focus on the problem we identified and analyzed.

Each group framed their design questions as follows:
How might we repair the harm done by slavery as it shows up in ___________ system?
E.g. How might we repair the harm done by slavery as it shows up in the education system? 

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Brainstorming Solutions
We asked each person to brainstorm solutions to their group’s design question alone and generate 3 -5 discrete solutions.
We then invited people to share in pairs, with no feedback or judgment, just clarifying questions. In pairs people were asked
to categorize their solutions using the following table

HOW DOES THE SOLUTION INTERVENE?
TRANSFORMS THE
SYSTEM

WHAT TYPE OF
INTERVENTION IS
IT?

i.e. creates a brand
new system, dissolves
the current system and
uses the resources to
create a brand new
one. 

REFORMS THE
SYSTEM

i.e. makes the current
system work better

RESISTS THE
SYSTEM

i.e. Makes the problem
really clear to others
and interferes with the
system working

RE-IMAGINES THE
SYSTEM

i.e. Involves
imagination,art, culture,
telling a new story,
inspiring a new way

Product
Service
Strategy/Campaig
n
System
Other

The design teams came up with over 150 ideas across the spectrum of types of solutions and ways of intervening!

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Here are the ideas. There were so many fantastic solutions! 
 

HOW MIGHT WE REPAIR THE HARM DONE BY SLAVERY AS IT SHOWS UP
IN...GOVERNMENT?
 

1. Government policies that ensure the equitable redistribution of wealth from those who have benefitted from
slavery as a system toward those who have been harmed.
2. Equitable access to education that is equal in quality
3. The designation of a US agency that is responsible for reparations

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4. Hyper local control to increase equitable participation in government
 

HOW MIGHT WE REPAIR THE HARM DONE BY SLAVERY AS IT SHOWS UP IN...JOBS,
EMPLOYMENT & BUSINESS?
 

5. Create a consumer campaign to spend on local black-owned businesses
6. Adopt a blight management policy that offers abandoned space to local entrepreneurs at a discounted/free
rate
7. Land banks
8. Develop procurement plans with anchor institutions
9. Fab lab/Fab City to teach technology skills to black folks
10. Business support networks to provide knowledge resource capital
11. More black board members for credit unions
12. CRA/Bank Mergers must give funding to Black owned businesses
13. Work with credit unions to prioritize CDFI’s lending to Black owned businesses
14. Capital investment funds for black owned businesses with investments from a) Unions, b)
Municipalities/Government, c) Foundations, d) Black controlled funds or credit unions
15. Connecting the divest/reinvest network to black owned businesses so that the reinvestment funds can help
them grow
16. Get credit unions to act like credit unions
 

HOW MIGHT WE REPAIR THE HARM DONE BY SLAVERY AS IT SHOWS UP
IN...PROPERTY, LAND & HOUSING?
 

17. Establish an eviction moratorium until everyone has a place to live.
18. Community consent and oversight for incoming industrial or other projects to ensure that the benefit those
already living there
19. Recognition of native peoples as rightful tenders of the place. Shift allegiance from U.S. city governments
20. Government regulation to direct the use of private vacant property for community use
21. Pass an ordinance that says land is for those who work or use it themselves
22. Redefine the purpose of the economy vis. Property, ownership, and wealth.
23. Re-allocate funds used for incarceration to the communities from which the incarcerated came/will return to.
24. Develop community land trusts

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25. Request all foundations to donate land or money to native land trusts and to provide land grants
26. Change the housing market so that it is governed publically and locally. Remove the profit motive from the
housing market.
27. Organize white people to shift property ownership for reparations like they have for land conservation
28. City owned buildings should be converted to community housing coops
29. Create a “superfund” for collective land acquisition
30. Create a community capital fund credit union
31. Family land trust
32. Provide funding to communities to repair houses, other buildings and use black/community companies for
repairs
33. Rent control
34. Prioritize resource for community organizing, popular education, led by & rooted in black communities
35. Shift/reform home mortgage interest deductions to benefit homeowners of color
36. Limit corporate wall street influence in local real estate markets
37. Support community cultural resilience service centers that offer technical assistance to home owners
38. Create eviction defense squads that also help restore housing with their own labor
39. Develop ‘rights of nature’ ordinances (and the right of all people to the resources they need to create
productive, dignified livelihoods).
40. Rural land grants by the government for black land recovery
 

HOW MIGHT WE REPAIR THE HARM DONE BY SLAVERY AS IT SHOWS UP IN...MEDIA & POPULAR
CULTURE?
41. A reconception of culture and art towards an understanding of art as a spiritual practice, not a commodity.
42. Community support for our community creation of art.
43. Separation of profit and art making.
44. The creation of our own collectively organized media productions and distribution organizations.
45. Decentralization of the ownership of intellectual property.
46. Invest in black-owned and run media corporations.
47. Demand full visibility & valuation of black people - bodies, minds, spirits, culture etc.
48. The public labeling of appropriation and understanding of how it's working in popular culture
49. Purchasing power redirected to black/POC owned businesses

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50. Funding for culturally specific arts institutions, community schools and artists/entrepreneurs
51. Reposession of production companies by black owners
52. Redistribution of wealth generated from all black, brown & indigenous creators, entertainers, and artists.
53. Creation of publicly owned and directed media content and broadcast media (Radio, tv, film etc.).
54. Total collapse of capitalism
55. Reposession of label companies that sign black artists.
56. Hold accountable black artists who sell out to white culture vultures.
57. Educating people about what they are wearing and how it is appropriating POC cultures.
58. More ownership of black independent retail businesses
59. New laws developed in order to protect the intellectual property of black artists, which call for the just
compensation and protection of value.
60. Ensure that people in the mainstream media are aware of the problem.
61. Reparations given to the estates of black artists who have been victims of this appropriation.
62. Media literacy education.

HOW MIGHT WE REPAIR THE HARM DONE BY SLAVERY AS IT SHOWS UP
IN...INTERNATIONAL DEVELOPMENT?
63. Historicizing our conception of other countries/continents
64. Community knowledge, community control
65. Reconceptualize the way we legitimate and create knowledge
66. Shift from an "International Development" frame to a frame of Reparations of harm to formerly enslaved.
67. Refuse the Eurocentric attachment to universal & scientific truths
68. Acknowledge the nationhood of directly impacted peoples
 

HOW MIGHT WE REPAIR THE HARM DONE BY SLAVERY AS IT SHOWS UP
IN...FINANCE, CREDIT, & MACRO MARKETS?
 

69. Redistribution of wealth at a massive scale through an increase in capital gains tax and estate tax
70. Collective education about how wealth is actually created through theft and how debt is actually created
71. Consequences of predatory lending --> pay into an account for community reinvestment
72. Financial healing (workshops and dialogues) from the legacy of slavery

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73. 0% loans
74. Create a racial injustice harm reduction assessment tool for banks/credit organizations to use
75. Create a community controlled loan fund to redistribute power and return wealth to low income black and
immigrant communities
76. Community controlled funds to assess need to allocate resources
77. Non-extractive loan funds that lend beyond businesses
78. Mandatory fairness/anti-discrimination training for lending institution staff
79. Community lending coops replace payday lenders and subprime mortgage/car loan lenders
80.Huge government programs with free/0% interest access to capital to replace predatory lending
81. Massive redistribution of wealth through bank settlements (around discrimination in lending historically &
presently) to poor and/POC communities
82. Massive debt forgiveness for low income black folks
83. Foundation investment in Black Business
84. Divestment from institutions that profit off of destruction of African/African diasporic peoples
85. Black community controlled capital
86. Build our own economic infrastructure controlled by and for the community
87. Community land trusts for housing, agricultural land, commons space
88. Payday lending reforms --> a) rate limits, b) advertising limits, c) debt collection limits, d) bettter disclosures
89. Mass affordable housing (rent to own)
90. Better wages/higher minimum wage
91. Investment at all levels of government in black banks and specifically black Community Development Credit
Unions\
92. Living wage jobs and Universal Basic Income
93. A reparations tax on the wealthy that is distributed to community controlled funds in poor communities of
color, specifically poor black communities & immigrant communities as well as institutions
94. Get $$ out of politics and people into politics
95. Wealthy people buying black debt. Debt Jubilee/Strike Debt.
96. Increase tax on wealth and use revenue as a community controlled lending pool
 

HOW MIGHT WE REPAIR THE HARM DONE BY SLAVERY AS IT SHOWS UP IN...PUBLIC
EDUCATION?
 

97. Anti-racist curriculum and POC centered education classes
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98. Revamp home-ec - make it practical
99. Incentives for students of color to teach
100. Community control over resources/schools
101. Increase economic education for communities of color
102. Community controlled curriculum
103. Un/de-standardizing testing to fit student needs
104. Parents & student organizing to defund the prison system
105. Joint campaigns in prison and education reform
106. De-militarizing the school system
107. Literacy programs
108. Elimination of zero tolerance policy
109. Equal enforcement
110. Peace based school system
 

HOW MIGHT WE REPAIR THE HARM DONE BY SLAVERY AS IT SHOWS UP
IN...ORGANIZED RELIGION?
111. What happens when faith institutions no longer meet people's spiritual needs?
112. Equalization of wealth at diocesal/synodical or even denominational level. Sharing and redistribution
wealth of white churches
113. Moving out of the Judeo-Christian paradigm to shift or challenge current frames
114. Can religious leadership change to meet the times?
115. Church assets built by slavery, land, disposession, cultural suppression need to be identified publicly
within the denomination
116. Transform decision making processes to be more inclusive, just, transparent and reflective and responsive
117. Funds/programs that are accountable to black churches and religious communities and are bottom-lined
by white church wealth
118. Every denomination needs to name slavery & racism as historical and ongoing sins for which the church
needs to account.
119. Creation of a world ecumenical council and UN for religion to address harms of slavery
120. Re-imagining "church". Use of buildings to not just be for "worship" but actual grounds for shelter,
organizing etc.

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121. All missionaries need extensive training in the church's history of slavery, colonialism and oppression
through missions - worldwide and in their particular geography
122. Truth-Telling commission/committee in white denominations about how slavery enriched them and shaped
their identity
123. Commitment and quota of black people at high-level denomination and leadership in white communities
124. Churches need to redistribute supportive funds to make sure that churches of ppl with low incomes aren't
primarily reliant on offering
125. Resourcing distribution to regional clusters and shifting wealth
126. Church bodies need to commit to proportional representation at diocese/conference, national, and
international leadership levels

HOW MIGHT WE REPAIR THE HARM DONE BY SLAVERY AS IT SHOWS UP IN…
PHILANTHROPY/NONPROFITS/SOCIAL CHANGE SECTOR?
127. Move away from professional organizers to community organizers long term
128. Get rid of the idea that it is a race war!
129. Community controlled funds and capital (no need for external funders)
130. Dissolving superiority complex
131. Reach some sort of shared strategic clarity on which foundations or nonprofits are even worth engaging
with
132. More black led foundations (short term)
133. No grant reporting (i.e. operational grants without ties to outcomes - short term)
134. Where possible organize leadership and other transitions in "aligned" non-profits
135. Share a narrative to decimate white supremacy in the nonprofit sector
136. Create ways to flow $$$ and support (coaching, leadership, finance) outside the 501 c 3 models in
communities of color
137. Foundation grant decisions made by representative from communities of color
138. Shifting current tax law to move more money into communities of color (short term)
139. Collective of academics compiling data on advocating for reparations
140. Affirmative action increase
141. Tax on wealthy home sales to fund participatory budgeting process by black community
142. Where possible, organize "aligned" philanthropic institutions (or individuals) to directly fund black led
organizations working for black folks

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143. Shift funder culture towards dismantling paternalism & racism to get money directly to grassroots POC-led
organizations
144. Where possible, organize "aligned" philanthropic institutions to put their capital directly under black
community control
145. Cultivate multiple forms of capital to end reliance on resources from racist institutions
146. Distribute and push funders to support best practices centered on reparations and systemic solutions
147. Community (geographic) based saving clubs to disburse money to support black people
148. Collective of academics compiling data on advocating for reparations
149. Affirmative action increase
150. Tax on wealthy home sales to fund participatory budgeting process by black community
151. Where possible, organize "aligned" philanthropic institutions (or individuals) to directly fund black led
organizations working for black folks
152. Shift funder culture towards dismantling paternalism & racism to get money directly to grassroots POC-led
organizations
153. Where possible, organize "aligned" philanthropic institutions to put their capital directly under black
community control
154. Cultivate multiple forms of capital to end reliance on resources from racist institutions
155. Distribute and push funders to support best practices centered on reparations and systemic solutions
156. Community (geographic) based saving clubs to disburse money to support black people
 
 
 

 

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Reflections
 
We noticed that some ideas transferred cash and assets to black community control while others transferred other resources like
skills or education. Some ideas created/changed policies to prevent the further extraction of black wealth therefore allowing the
community to rebuild systems of wealth internally. Other ideas created new, innovative mechanisms for building black wealth. Some
ideas sought to transform the systems entirely by providing new alternatives grounded in new economic assumptions and values,
others sought to reform the systems by changing policy to adapt the system to the needs of black communities. Some ideas
involved resistance and direct action to expose and push back, while others involved re-imagining and reframing the cultural
assumptions that underpin the systems at play. Many of the solutions involved voluntary reparations whereby institutions that have
benefitted from the system of slavery can engage willingly with the African-American and Black communities to implement
mechanisms for repairing the harm that has been caused.

The wide range of solutionary ideas highlighted the vast number of skills, perspectives and organizations needed to achieve
reparations. We need to find ways to collaborate to begin to make specific demands for interventions that aim to repair the
devastating harm done by slavery.
 

Next Steps
 

We had a very short time within which to engage in this design process. Ideally our next step would involve narrowing our
solutions. There are many, many ways to do this and one that we recommend is using a design filter to focus on solutions
that meet certain criteria such as those suggested below: 
 

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DESIGN FILTER 

 
 
 
 
 

After narrowing we can begin to prototype or build model versions of our best ideas in order to test them, make changes
and prepare to implement. We’d still love to do this so if you’re interested in joining us, please reach out and let’s make it
happen! If you are a member of an institution interested in paying reparations immediately to Black-led organizations please
see the following resources:
Southern Reparations Loan Fund​
http://sgeproject.org/about/southern-reparations-loan-fund/

Resource Generation​
http://resourcegeneration.org/tag/reparations/

For more information on reparations read the following:
A Case for Reparations by Ta-Nehisi Coates
http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2014/06/the-case-for-reparations/361631/
Black Manifesto by James Forman
http://www.episcopalarchives.org/Afro-Anglican_history/exhibit/pdf/blackmanifesto.pdf
 
 

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