As a child, summer was always my favorite season of the year, visiting Grandma Alice’s house in St. Mary’s County. While piling into our family car to leave the “city life” of Norfolk. I could already see the tall swaying willow trees, sunny cornfields and grazing cows. Visions of running along the shores of Point Lookout State Park and gathering seashells raced through my mind. South of Naval Air Station Patuxent River sat a sturdy white Cape Cod-style home in the Scotland area. A small well surrounded by ripe green apple trees marked the front yard, while rows of thorny blackberry bushes framed the left side yard.
A color portrait of civil rights icon the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was displayed on the dining room wall. During the evenings as we gathered on the screened-in sleeping porch to catch cool summer breezes, Grandma Alice spoke proudly of King’s work to achieve racial equality. In his famous “I Have a Dream” speech, Dr. 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. Nearly 60 years later, that day is finally here.
Summer memories of my childhood in St. Mary’s County are in stark contrast to this summer. Our country has been marred by the murder of Rayshard Brooks in Atlanta, and the brutal killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police in May. Their blood cries out for justice. And, racial justice groups like Black Lives Matter and Coming to the Table are calling 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. Money alone will not reverse the impact of red-lining, which 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.
The U.S. military provides a striking example of what is possible if we do reparations right. President Harry S. Truman gave African American soldiers the opportunity to obtain equal income, health care, housing, insurance, pensions and other benefits when he integrated the military in 1948. It is thanks to Truman’s leadership that African American military families, like mine, could live a middle-class suburban lifestyle.
A good reparations package would provide tuition-free education to ease the load of African American students, who have the highest undergraduate dropout rates, highest borrowing rates and largest debt burdens of any group. Reparations would establish cultural diversity offices in state- and federally funded agencies and institutions to dismantle hiring discrimination.
Finally, reparations would level economic playing fields so that African American families and businesses can enjoy the same opportunities to succeed that white people have. Let 2020 be the year we make a national commitment to reparations to insure freedom for all.