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California's reparations task force will meet in person for the first time in a year

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

California's reparations task force is resuming its work on what the state owes Black Californians. From member station KQED, Sara Hossaini reports from the place where the task force meets today.

UNIDENTIFIED CHOIR: (Singing) For he promised me...

SARA HOSSAINI, BYLINE: The crowd is sparse here at the historic Third Baptist Church on Palm Sunday. Preaching, as he has for 46 years, is Dr. Amos Brown.

AMOS BROWN: Live not in despair but in hope. This word that has been delivered this morning...

HOSSAINI: Brown studied under Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and is an NAACP board member. His latest role is vice chair of California's reparations task force, which was established through legislation back in 2020.

BROWN: It's a given; when you take away opportunity from people, you create chaos. You create carnage. You create conflict.

HOSSAINI: Brown's congregation is located in San Francisco's Fillmore District, once known as the Harlem of the West. At its peak, around 4,000 African Americans worshipped here. Many of them had come to find work at the shipyards during World War II. Black people moved here in large numbers after Japanese Americans were forced into internment camps. Black residents had begun to build a thriving community until the city embarked on decades of what it called redevelopment that demolished Black neighborhoods because white government leaders called them slums.

BROWN: After they had become successful, here comes the body politic saying you've gone too far; you've gone far enough.

HOSSAINI: Brown says it's this history that's at the heart of the reparations task force's work. For 10 months, the statewide group has heard testimony on slavery's legacy and how it's rippled into almost every aspect of life ever since, from lack of access to housing and bank loans to environmentally unsafe neighborhoods and biased policing to inadequate health care. This week's meeting will consider educational disparities.

CAROL O’GILVIE: I taught here in San Francisco and Berkeley, and discrimination was prominent.

HOSSAINI: Carol O’Gilvie was a teacher at the time of desegregation busing efforts. She says the inequity continued anyway.

O’GILVIE: You could walk down the hallway of a classroom, and you could tell what students were - the low-performing students, oh, they were all Black.

HOSSAINI: O’Gilvie says reparations could be one way of addressing a history of educational disparity. The task force will outline these and other harms in a detailed report set to be published in June. One issue it's already decided - who should get reparations. Some proponents say all Black people should be eligible. But Marcus Champion, with the Coalition for a Just and Equitable California, disagrees. He helped the task force hone in on descendants of slaves and free Blacks who lived in the U.S. before the 1900s.

MARCUS CHAMPION: This is, in essence, a class-action harm that's being examined.

HOSSAINI: Champion says one way to atone is through individual cash payments; another way could include free college tuition as a way to make up for stolen or lost opportunities. He says reparations could create a strong Black middle class and close the extreme racial wealth gap.

CHAMPION: The first step to changing the entire nation and making America all of what the Constitution says is supposed to be - No. 1, you give recompense to people that you have structurally held back for generations.

HOSSAINI: The California task force is slated to end its work next year, when it'll deliver a final reparations blueprint to state lawmakers. From there, the legislature will decide how and whether to implement the task force's recommendations. For NPR News, I'm Sara Hossaini in San Francisco. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.