Mayor Lucas discusses Reparations Commission appointees and what comes next
“I think that until we have a comprehensive understanding of the capacity of the atrocities and the systems that still exist to subjugate black people, we can’t make any meaningful attempt to repair or heal,” says Kansas City Defender editor and founder Ryan Sorrell.
Sorrell is one of 13 appointees selected by Mayor Quinton Lucas to serve on the Mayor’s Commission on Reparations. To Sorrell, enacting reparations is just the first step toward amending the city’s sanctioning of slavery and other forms of structural violence aimed at Black residents.
“Even reparations will never truly bring justice to Black people,” Sorrell says. “But it is a positive step in creating material change in our lives.
Some potential strategies that Sorrell thinks make sense for reparations include everything from direct cash payments to fully funded college, along with housing and business subsidies.
Appointee Kelli Hearn, who also serves as a Program Leader for the Local Initiative Support Corporation, thinks reparations will effectively rectify the systemic barriers Black communities have faced.
“I am very optimistic,” Hearn says. “I think Kansas City is doing something that a lot of other cities should be doing. This is a topic that all Americans should be having to be honest.”
Both appointees aim to foster a commission that is responsive to current residents’ needs and values their input. Sorrell hopes the public will be provided with avenues to voice their input and stay up to date through live-streamed meetings.
“We have an extraordinary group of people on the commission, and I intend to also advocate for it to be as open-sourced and publicly engaged as possible, including live streaming the meetings,” Sorrell says. “I believe that every Black person in the city should have a say in how this goes.”
The Pitch sat down with Mayor Quinton Lucas about what reparations may look like for Kansas City and other common queries residents may have.
The Pitch: So we know the impact areas that the commission will focus on are housing, economic development, health, education, and criminal justice. What may reparations targeting these areas look like in Kansas City?
Mayor Quinton Lucas: I think we’re going to look broadly at what historic wrongs have existed in Kansas City. How did our policy get us to a point and a position where we see the gross inequities in our city that often are along lines of race, and often along lines of geography? And so that’s step one. In terms of what the solutions are, I think there’s a plethora of potential ones. On housing, for example, you can look at mortgage assistance, you can look at homes, minor home repairs, and major home repairs. You can look at creative programs such as community land trusts. But I think we really need to take a holistic approach as to how we’re addressing concerns.
What could funding potentially look like for these reparations? With all the infrastructure needed for the World Cup and other big-ticket items coming up in the following years, are reparations something that’s feasible for the city right now financially?
You know, I do think that is something that is feasible. I think you can walk and chew gum in the city. And so we can’t just be a city of big events without looking at basic public services. We can’t be a city of growing national acclaim and have stark differences in life outcomes among our different populations based on Black and white. So I think it’s very important for us to make sure that we’re part of this conversation, and I think that’s why we can handle more than just one thing.
The press release said the Commission will make recommendations to the city on reparatory justice. How much power do you think these recommendations will hold when it comes to implementing plans and such?
We take value in these recommendations, right? There’s a reason why we convened the group, and it wasn’t just to waste their time or ours. These recommendations, however, do go back to the city council. I think there will be a robust discussion in the council and a robust discussion with the public. What we’re doing is not rushing it. So I think that the group will be methodical and will try to do the work necessary and make sure that we’re creating a more equitable and just Kansas City long term.
You mentioned engaging the public. And as I was speaking with appointee Ryan Sorrell, he mentioned wanting the commission to be as open source and publicly engaged as possible, noting his intent to advocate for live-streaming meetings and stuff like that. Is this something that you have considered or would consider in terms of public engagement?
I would be happy to, the one problem is that people always think that the government is good at these things. We need staff to make sure we livestream everything, which we don’t always have. We need to make sure that somebody’s working the camera — unless we’re doing it on the phone. I would love for it to be as public as possible. I think that every meeting should be live-streamed if we can. The problem is the place we have to set up for live streaming is city hall, where everybody doesn’t always want to meet. But I think we can try to find some way to balance it over time. I just want to make sure people are mindful of the fact that it does take our work to make sure we handle all those things.
Are there any cities or states that you’ve been looking to while formalizing and planning Kansas City’s reparations plans?
I’ve heard about other cities, but I can’t say that there’s one particular model that I look at. Evanston, IL is one that comes up a lot. North Carolina has tried to come up with innovative plans. But I think it’s still out there regarding what we can or may do in connection with it.