Conference by White Supporters of Black Reparations a Great Success! 2004

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Photo of the authors of "The Debtors" taken after the 2005 conference.

Conference by White Supporters of Black Reparations a Great Success!
By Donna Lamb

How many times have I seen that look of pure amazement come over the face of an African American when I tell them about the existence of CURE - Caucasians United for Reparations and Emancipation. Persons tell me they never imagined they would ever see anything like a whole roomful of white people who all support reparations - and they never dreamed of such a thing as an actual conference of whites coming together for the specific purpose of educating each other about reparations and discussing how they can most effectively reach out to their fellow whites to gain their support of it.

Well, that’s exactly what happened recently at CURE’s first White Supporters of Black Reparations National Conference held at the All Souls Church, Unitarian in Washington DC. And – trust me – we white reparationists couldn’t have been happier to see each other, either. To have two whole days to bask in the company of so many like-minded white people while exploring this issue so dear to our hearts was a rare luxury, one that was much appreciated by all!

The Conference Begins

This historic conference was comprised of three elements: 1) talks and discussions led by the authors of CURE’s new anthology, Cleansing Our Souls: White America and the Call for Black Reparations, published by In Time Press and due out in bookstores this fall; 2) listening sessions during which attendees learned directly from Black Reparations leaders; and 3) a solid session examining CURE’s organizational structure and looking at how it can expand.

The conference opened at 10 AM on Thursday, June 18th. One of the first to arrive was a reporter from Pacifica Radio. He conducted interviews with CURE’s founder and CEO, Ida Hakim, and with me, the organization’s Communications Director. He then left to cover the National Coalition of Blacks for Reparations in America (N'COBRA) 15th Annual Conference, held at Howard University. (CURE had scheduled its conference to run concurrently with N'COBRA’s.) Another Pacifica reporter soon arrived and stayed the entire day, taping sessions and conducting several more interviews with CURE members.

Very appropriately, Ida Hakim, who hails from Atlanta, Georgia, opened the conference. A seasoned speaker, writer and veteran of many TV & radio shows who is also very familiar with the international reparations movement, Hakim gave a brief yet informative talk about CURE and its history. She spoke, too, about the role of white supporters in the Black Reparations movement.

Hakim was followed by Washingtonian Christine Toll, who represented the conference sponsor, A Dialogue on Race and Ethnicity (ADORE). She spoke about the proud heritage of All Souls Church and told of some of the innovative anti-racism work going on within the congregation now.

Next, drawing on my own in-the-trenches experience, I gave a talk about the personal side of being a white reparationist. I addressed some of the human issues that are bound to come up as we do this work among other white folk.

This was followed up by a session moderated by Jerry Saltzman, who is an adjunct professor in psychology at Antioch University in Seattle, Washington and a practicing psychotherapist for thirty years. During it, conference participants introduced themselves and spoke about what had brought them there and what they were hoping to get from the conference. This turned out to be a very moving session, for we saw amazing similarities and also immense variations in the backgrounds and life experiences of this group of people brought together by one thing: our shared passion about reparations to descendants of slavery.

After breaking for lunch, we returned refreshed and ready to hear from writer, filmmaker and TV host Molly Secours who challenges other whites to explore how we unwittingly perpetuate systemic racism and white supremacy. She is based in Nashville, Tennessee. Secours gave an engaging presentation in which she shared “war stories” about debating reparations and also addressed the question of what it means to advocate for reparations imaginatively.

Black Reparations Leaders Speak

Following Secours talk, the participants welcomed CURE’s first guest speaker, Chimurenga Waller of the International People's Democratic Uhuru Movement. He addressed reparations from the perspective of the Uhuru Movement and spoke valuably about numerous reparations tribunals they have held and the testimony given at them.

Next to arrive was Ajani Mukarram from All for Reparations and Emancipation (AFRE), an international NGO which advocates for reparations at the United Nations. Mukarram discussed the fact that the descendants of enslaved Africans are scattered across the Americas Region and Caribbean, therefore making the reparations movement international. He imparted important information about the reparations work being done at the UN by Mr. Silis Muhammad and AFRE.

He was followed by Chief Elder Osiris Akkebala of the Sankofa Repatriation Movement who spoke most affectingly, even poetically, about the obligation to fulfill the prayers and desires of the enslaved ancestors by repatriating to Africa through reparations.

Among the other guest speakers of the afternoon was Deadria Farmer-Paellmann of the Restitution Study Group. She brought us up to date on the corporate lawsuits as well as on a current lawsuit, which, through DNA testing, allows victims to identify where they came from in Africa and thus identify who committed the crime against them.

Also speaking briefly were a representative of the Jericho Movement who brought our attention to the issue of political prisoners in relation to reparations, and Dr. Delois Blakely who told us about the outspoken civil rights leader, Black Nationalist and beloved pioneer in the reparations movement, Queen Mother Audley Moore.

The day’s formal proceedings ended at about 5:30 pm; however, some of us went on to attend N’COBRA’s stirring National Reparations Unity Forum & Rally, held later that evening at the Union Temple Baptist Church. There we were made to feel most welcome, and CURE was even recognized from the podium.

The Second Day

Bright and early on June 19th, Juneteeth morning, CURE’s banner in hand, Ida Hakim and I hit the track behind Benjamin Banneker High School along with members of N'COBRA for its "Run/Walk for Justice” to raise money for Black Reparations organizations. Much invigorated by our early morning activity, we returned to All Souls Church where Ida Hakim re-opened the conference at 10 am.

The first speaker of the day was university teacher, author and publisher of Earthways, Dorothy Fardan, who resides in Maryland. She gave an excellent talk about land and its importance as wealth, the capitalist system and the slaveocracy that continues to this day - same system, little change.

She was followed by Amy Kedron from Buffalo, New York, who holds two Masters Degrees from Columbia University where she conducted reparations research at the Institute for Research in African American Studies and organized a conference examining reparations for chattel slavery. Kedron’s grasp of her subject, Class and Institutionalizing White Privilege, was prodigious. Among other things, she imparted much valuable information about the difference between indentured servitude and slavery.

The profound and provocative ideas presented by these two speakers stimulated a great deal of exciting discussion. We were also fortunate to have AFRE representative Ajani Mukarram return to the conference and join us in a very productive dialogue about what we’d heard. The conversation lasted well into the lunch hour because people were so riveted no one wanted to tear themselves away to go eat!

We finally took a 15-minute break before resuming our afternoon session, which opened with a talk and moderated conversation led by Jerry Saltzman on the subject of accountability. He, too, gave us much to think about as he presented some new perspectives through which to view the subject, taking it away from the accusatory manner in which accountability is usually seen and more into the field of striving to be true to oneself.

During Saltzman’s presentation, we were honored to be joined by N’COBRA’s Co-Director Dorothy Lewis. When Saltzman offered to give the floor over to her immediately so she could talk, Lewis expressed the desire for him to continue because she was interested in seeing what we were doing. When she did begin to speak, Lewis picked up on his theme of accountability and carried it over into discussing the reparations movement and accountability within the movement.

We also enjoyed some brief comments by artist and activist Kalonji Olusegun who accompanied Dorothy Lewis to CURE’s conference.

Following another short break, we entered into our final nuts and bolt session on organizing locally and nationally for reparations advocacy. It was conducted by Larry Yates from the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia who’s been an activist for thirty years, mainly in the movements for housing justice and grassroots environmental action.

In his workshop Yates did a masterful job of taking us through an examination of the structures that have proven most successful in social justice organizing. He also provided us with some guidelines for organizational development and helped CURE plan for future work. We walked away with some solid new initiatives in place that will help increase CURE’s efficiency and growth.

After that was the wrap-up. As we each spoke about what we’d gained from the conference, it was evident how hungry we’d all been for this type of gathering, and how positively we’d each been affected by it. The entire event points to the exhilarating prospect of even more whites in support of reparations coming together from all over the nation at CURE’s next conference, for we have a mission and it will be fulfilled!

Donna Lamb is CURE’s Communications Director. She lives in New York City where she’s a staff writer for Caribbean Life newspaper. She also travels the country teaching an anti-racism workshop entitled, "White Privilege: What Is It, and How Does It Show Itself?"