The Future Of Reparations In Amherst


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Report On The Meeting of the African Heritage Reparations Assembly, July 10, 2023

This meeting was held over Zoom and was recorded

Michele Miller (Chair), Debora Bridges, Irv Rhodes, Hala Lord, Yvonne Mendez, and Amilcar Shabazz. Absent: Alexis Reed

Staff: Pamela Nolan Young (DEI Director) and Jennifer Moyston (Assistant DEI Director) 

Guest: Anika Lopes (Town Councilor, District 4)

AHRA To Present Final Report To Town Council August 21
The African Heritage Reparations Assembly (AHRA) plans to submit its report on reparations at the August 21 Town Council meeting to complete its charge. The report uses the California report on reparations as well as Amherst’s commitment to ending structural racism as a starting point. Writer Mattea Kramer is helping to craft the report.

One concept of who would receive reparations involves concentric circles with African American residents who are direct descendants of enslaved populations at the center. 

The report will give recommendations on who is eligible to receive reparations, conceiving of concentric circles with African American residents who are direct descendants of enslaved populations at the center. Other recommendations will include forming a successor committee to the AHRA, a biennial town meeting for Black residents, and a policy for naming streets and spaces. The report will include a truth and reconciliation documentation of racism and slavery in Amherst’s history, including recognition of Edwin Driver, the first African American faculty member at UMass and the connection of Amherst College founder Israel Trask to the slave trade.

AHRA chair Michele Miller and member Irv Rhodes met with Finance Director Sean Mangano to discuss funding of the reparations fund. They will also meet with Town Council President Lynn Griesemer and Town Manager Paul Bockelman to discuss legal questions about the use of the funds. Mangano recommended accelerating the growth of the fund to reach the goal of $2 million in five years, rather than the 10 years in the current plan. A $2 million endowment will enable $50,000 a year in interest to be used for reparations. With the contributions to the fund being tied to cannabis revenue, which is now declining, an additional source of funding will be needed. Mangano thought added funds could be gained from the Community Preservation Act funds and Community Development Block Grants. 

After The AHRA Work Is Completed
While Mangano liked the idea of a Black Town Meeting, he did not feel a successor committee to the AHRA was needed if policies for use of the reparation funds were in place. But most of the AHRA members felt that a successor group was needed to carry out the principles in their report. Rhodes said, “There needs to be a successor committee, or else we will become a memory.” Yvonne Mendez, Hala Lord, Amilcar Shabazz, and Debora Bridges also supported the need for a successor group to deal with reparations so that  the work of the AHRA would not be lost.

Miller said that Mangano cited the work needed to set up a new committee as a reason to forgo a successor committee, but Assistant DEI Director Jennifer Moyston said the work was not overly burdensome. Shabazz wondered if a successor committee would be chosen by Black residents or by the Town Manager. The AHRA will continue to meet every Monday to discuss and resolve these questions. 

West Side Historical District Presented At Juneteenth Celebration
Councilor Anika Lopes (District 4) gave a report on the West Side Historic District which is the oldest historically Black area of Amherst. The district was established as a National Historic District in 2000 after many years of historical research done by Lopes’ grandfather and great grandfather. The goal of Ancestral Bridges, an organization formed by Lopes, is to make this history known and acknowledge their work. 

On Juneteenth, street signs and markers publicizing the existence of the West Side Historic District were unveiled. Lopes hoped the AHRA can help expand on the history of Black people in Amherst, noting that many have needed to move to other areas due to economic factors. She hoped the AHRA will help inform the community of this rich history. Shabazz said that this is the history of people “who made something out of nothing to contribute to the town.” He said the West Side Historic District is one of a very few historic districts in Massachusetts that reflect African American Heritage. 


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