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Reparations, Restorative Justice, and the Case for Local Solutions

Valerie White, Executive Director, LISC NYC

What you should know: This is the first in a LISC NYC series, Bridging the Equity Divide: Envisioning the Next Generation of NYC Community Development.

In response to growing concerns over racial justice, the topic of “reparations” has taken hold in today’s zeitgeist. But this is far from a new concept. The word “reparations” comes from the Latin reparationem, meaning “the act of repairing” or “restoration.” For more than 240 years, the American institution of slavery deprived millions of black men and women their freedom.  And today there is a groundswell of support across America to make amends for the damage caused. Meanwhile, at LISC NYC, we firmly believe that with a strong dose of innovative thinking, finding responsive solutions is within our grasp.

Community Restoration and the Case for a Bottom-up Approach

Socialist. Unfair. Impractical. These are just some of the more-common critiques of reparations. To complicate matters, conversations about how best to redress the damaged caused by slavery often focus narrowly on direct cash payments. This overly simplistic interpretation, however, only distracts our gaze from what is possible when we empower community-based organizations to be conduits for structural and permanent change.

Let’s for one moment consider how Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs) can help restore communities. LISC NYC, for example, has had boots on the ground in New York City for decades and continues to work tirelessly to deliver the right resources to the right hands for the right need. What does this look like? LISC NYC provides capital, technical assistance, and policy advocacy in order to:

As New York City pushes ahead with COVID-19-related recovery, CDFIs and community-based partners should be leading a comprehensive restorative effort focused on shared priorities. Our collective response in the months ahead will have economic consequences for our city for years to come.

“It Always Seems Impossible Until It’s Done” – Nelson Mandela

The United States is not the first country to grapple with the issue of reparations. Nor is this the first time Americans have tackled this very important issue. In 1988, 40 years after the World War II internment camps closed, the U.S. passed the Civil Liberties Act, offered a formal apology to Japanese Americans, and paid $20,000 to individual survivors.

In 1995, South Africa established its Truth and Reconciliation Commission and paid reparations to the victims of apartheid. Indeed, in the decades following the Holocaust, Germany agreed to pay three billion German marks in reparations to Israel, 450 million German marks to the World Jewish Congress, and approximately $1 billion for the care of survivors alive today.

At this moment in New York City’s history, amidst transparent conversations about reparations, LISC NYC has solidified its racial justice platform under three main pillars:

A Bottom-up Approach to Restorative Justice

Resistance to reparations continues to be alive and well. As the debates rage on, it is important to remember that restorative justice is not only about dollars and cents—but also meeting affected communities where they are and creating an environment to level the playing field. New York City is a global hub for banking and finance, media, fashion, and advertising, among other industries—with an estimated GDP of $1.5 trillion. We are a city with the financial resources and expertise to help heal the open wound of American slavery.  LISC NYC looks forward to working with partners that share its commitment to delivering restorative justice from the bottom up.

ABOUT THIS SERIES

This is the first of a new series of blog posts by LISC NYC titled Bridging the Equity Divide: Envisioning the Next Generation of NYC Community Development This series seeks to explore the current and potential role of New York City community development practitioners and their partners as collaborative problem solvers in the areas of radical healing of racial injustice; inclusive economic transformation in commercial development and infrastructure; and sustainable wealth generation in housing and progressive workforce development for members of the communities we serve.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Valerie White serves as Executive Director of LISC NYC. For inquiries, please contact Nisha Mistry, Director of External Affairs, LISC NYC (nycinfo@lisc.org).