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In his famous I Have a Dream speech, Dr. Martin Luther King said, “America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked ‘insufficient funds.’ But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt.” Dr. King was calling for racial reckoning in America. Sixty years later, that day is finally here.

Racial Reckoning

Our country has been marred by the murder of Rayshard Brooks in Atlanta, coming on the heels of the brutal killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police in May. Their blood cries out for justice. And, Black Lives Matter has become a universal clarion call for racial equality, here and abroad.

As America grapples with where to go from here, the case for reparations has become clearer than ever. If systemic racism is the bad check the nation gave to Black people more than two centuries ago, Congress can finally deliver “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” to African Americans by passing a reparations package.

Many people think reparations is all about money; but to stop there is only scratching the surface of the potential for reparations to create lasting change.

Many people think reparations is all about money; but to stop there is only scratching the surface of the potential for reparations to create lasting change. Money alone will not reverse the impact of redlining, which has relegated too many people of color to neighborhoods with higher pollution and crime. It will take more than money to eliminate “weathering”, a stress condition fostered by racism, in which physical health gives way to diabetes, asthma, hypertension, and other chronic diseases.

African Americans are dying of COVID-19 at rates two to four times greater than non-Hispanic whites because the combination of racist policies like redlining and the stress of weathering made that devastating reality possible.

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Effective reparations would dismantle our broken institutions that were intentionally designed to perpetuate a racist status quo. We need to create new initiatives that level economic playing fields so that African American families and businesses can enjoy the same opportunities to succeed that White people have.

The U.S. military provides a striking example of what is possible if we do reparations right. President Harry S. Truman gave Black soldiers the opportunity to obtain equal income, healthcare, housing, insurance, and other benefits when he integrated the military in 1948. It is thanks to Truman’s leadership that Black military families could live a middle-class suburban lifestyle. My father’s military benefits qualified me for money and healthcare while I was in college. A good reparations package can open the opportunities that my family had to millions more.

But that is just the beginning. A good reparations package would also provide tuition-free education to ease the load of Black students. According to the American Council on Education, advances in Black students’ enrollment and attainment have been accompanied by some of the lowest persistence rates, highest undergraduate dropout rates, highest borrowing rates, and largest debt burdens of any group.

Finally, if we do reparations right, we will create cultural diversity offices in state and federally funded agencies and institutions to repair the racist recruitment, mentoring and advancement practices responsible for maintaining the same levels of hiring discrimination against Black Americans for more than two decades.

Let 2020 be the year we celebrate a renewed national commitment to freedom for all. We’ll know that day has come when reparations becomes a matter of course instead of one for debate.

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Laura D. Hill

Laura D. Hill co-chairs the Reparations Working Group of Coming to the Table, a national racial reconciliation organization with 40 chapters nationwide. The Reparations Working Group was created to impact racial justice by helping to repair historical harms done to African Americans due to slavery, Jim Crow laws and systemic racism.