KALAMAZOO, Mich. (WOOD) — Kalamazoo County is looking for residents to serve on its Reparations Task Force.
The task force, created earlier this year, will look at racial discrimination throughout the community and recommend steps for improvement.
“It is vital for the Reparations Task Force to have input from residents from all walks of life and professions that run the gamut, from the community organizers to doctors and attorneys, which is why I am encouraging residents to apply to be a member of the task force,” said Tami Rey, head of the task force and county board commission vice president.
The group will look at disparities in the community and find ways to address them through financial compensation, housing, employment, education, health, police reform and representation. Those are some, but not all of the ways the task force may address racial disparities in Kalamazoo County.
“The thought behind this is to really begin bringing some justice and some resolution and access to African Americans who have been unjustly denied access and opportunity for their livelihood, their housing, their health, our economic status and growth, so we can be able to live and have the same quality of life as everyone else,” former Kalamazoo County and City Commissioner Stephanie Williams said. “So, it’s not necessarily opening up a checkbook and just throwing money at everybody, but looking at structural racism.”
Racism, which Williams argues, continues long after the last slave was set free.
“This happens every single day,” Williams said. “You have institutions, financial institutions. You have, for example, Kalamazoo County government that does not have one African American in any type of leadership, decision making position. Yet, you have the greatest disparities when it comes to health and wealth for African Americans. Why not change your policies to ensure that diversity and inclusion is real within local government.”
The county’s reparations resolution, which Williams authored, could help to accomplish exactly that.
Marshall Kilgore, director of advocacy for the progressive LGBTQ group OutFront Kalamazoo, certainly hopes so at least.
“I think the purpose is to help marginalized folks, especially folks like myself. Folks of African, Black decent, right here in our county to get financial and social and societal and community support back into their homes,” Kilgore said. “I would love for our city to be a leader in this. And being a leader within reparations means true, tangible reparations.”
The task force calls on a wide range of community members to come together: from health care workers and teachers, to lawyers, accountants, activists and the LGBTQ community, who Kilgore says may be in need of the most help.
“Some folks within our society feel like they’re making it. They can do it and they can pull themselves up by the bootstraps. And then we have another portion of society, folks who look like myself, folks who identify like me, who we don’t even have bootstraps to begin with.” Kilgore said.
“We are repaying these folks who, one, built this nation, right? If we want to talk about reparations, folks who look like me, this country was built on their back right? So repaying us not only for that, but also the injustice that we face within every function of society.”
Beyond repayments, the task force could also act to bring changes to the way the city is represented. Williams says this change could pay off most long term.
“When you have people that are not experienced, are not culturally competent and are not intentional about anti-racism work, we’re going to continue to get the same outcomes that we’ve always gotten,” Williams said. “A huge gap and divide between the haves and the have nots.”
Several county officials have also been asked to join the task force.
“The goal of this task force aligns with our vision of ensuring Kalamazoo County is actively working toward racial equity and to become a welcoming place for everyone to live, work and raise a family,” Board Chair Tracy Hall said.