New South Bend commission to examine legacy of racism on city’s Black residents

SOUTH BEND — Seven months after tabling a similar proposal, the South Bend Common Council was poised to vote on Monday to form a 14-member commission that will study how to repair a legacy of racism against mainly the city’s Black residents.

The Reparatory Justice Commission includes experts in civil rights law, housing, public health and public education who will volunteer their time to study the fallout of racial discrimination. Members will be allowed “whatever time is necessary” to present written findings and policy recommendations to the council, according to a resolution introduced Monday by 3rd District council member and council President Sharon McBride.

“They will research and be autonomous of the council and provide ideas, information and recommendations to us to move forward from those harms,” McBride said during a council committee meeting Monday.

Sharon McBride, 3rd District member of the South Bend Common Council, waves Monday, April 10, 2023, at the Dyngus Day celebration at the West Side Democratic Club in South Bend.

McBride’s proposal follows a similar idea brought forth in February by 2nd District council meber Henry Davis Jr. His bill called for a “Truth and Reconciliation Commission” to study financial reparations, a formal apology to African American residents and a request for South Bend schools to include local stories of discrimination in history lessons.

Council members voted down the proposal, they said, because it seemed vague and made mention of federal American Rescue Plan dollars that had already been set aside for other causes. McBride agreed the issue deserves scrutiny and vowed to appoint members to a similar commission.

Henry Davis Jr., candidate for the Democratic nomination for South Bend mayor, speaks to a reporter Tuesday, May 2, 2023, at D Blues Spot & Bistro in South Bend for the 2023 primary election.

Davis joined other council members in planning to vote for the commission Monday, but he criticized how the scope of reparations isn’t outlined in the proposal. McBride said she focused not on specific policy ideas but on choosing 14 qualified members who can blend their expertise and put forward solutions.

McBride said the commission’s recommendations need not be exclusive to African Americans, though that demographic is the main target and makes up 25% of South Bend’s population. Findings could also highlight policies that harmed Latino residents or other communities of color.

Several residents spoke in favor of the bill. Jorden Giger and Katherine Redding, both affiliated with Black Lives Matter South Bend, said they want the adverse effects of environmental contamination in low-income areas like LaSalle Park and the Near Northwest Neighborhood to be a top priority for the commission. They supported the initial resolution’s demand that the city of South Bend publicly apologize to Black residents harmed by racism.

“I work really closely with a lot of children and families who have been affected by generational trauma and racism in the area,” said Jordan Pallo, another resident who spoke in favor of the bill. “I’ve always learned that it’s better to provide folks with a hand-up rather than a hand-out, and I think that this is a really great and necessary step in that process.”

More:Waste was dumped in a South Bend neighborhood. The soil-based lead was finally treated.

Who is on the South Bend commission studying reparations?

The 14 members of South Bend’s Reparatory Justice Commission are:

  • Darryl Heller is the director of the IUSB Civil Rights Heritage Center.
  • Regina Williams-Preston is a former 2nd District councilwoman and a longtime South Bend Community School Corp. employee.
  • Trina Robinson serves as president of the South Bend NAACP.
  • Aladean DeRose is a former South Bend city attorney and attorney for the South Bend Human Rights Commission.
  • Conrad Damian is the president of the Southeast Area Organized Residents.
  • John Duffy is an English professor at Notre Dame and a faculty fellow in the Klau Center for Civil and Human Rights.
  • Judith Fox is a former Notre Dame law professor who led the university’s Economic Justice Clinic, which focuses on providing pro bono legal advice to residents facing evictions.
  • David Buggs is a pastor at Cultivate Life Ministries on South Bend’s west side.
  • Wilner Cusic is the equitable access coordinator for IN*SOURCE, an organization that supports parents whose children need special education services.
  • James Lewis is an employment law attorney at THK Law and has practiced law in South Bend for more than 30 years.
  • Alma Powell was the first African American principal to serve in South Bend schools and a leading advocate for desegregation of the local school system.
  • Gilbert C. Washington is a pastor at St. Paul Bethel Missionary Baptist Church and worked on restorative justice in South Bend schools.
  • Cassandra White is a public health specialist for Beacon Health System and the former director of health equity, epidemiology and data for the St. Joseph County Department of Health.
  • Cordell Martin is a former South Bend schools employee with a background in marketing and advertising.

Email South Bend Tribune city reporter Jordan Smith at Follow him on Twitter: @jordantsmith09

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