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White church donates to reparations fund (UM News)

March 14, 2022

The late Rev. Ernest Fremont Tittle, a white pastor who died in 1949, would be proud of his church in 2022, believes his successor, a Black woman. 

First United Methodist Church of Evanston, Illinois, has donated $50,000 to a fund set up to pay reparations to the Black community there. The church, started in 1854 by the founders of this city 20 miles north of Chicago, has a primarily white congregation. Blacks there are still suffering from the effects of redlining that barred them from living in some communities.

“I pastor this congregation that is 97% white,” said the Rev. Grace Imathiu, a native of Kenya. “When we talk about reparations, it is not something new. It’s something that Dr. Tittle started.”

The city of Evanston has earmarked the first $10 million of sales tax from cannabis sales to fund reparations for its Black community, said community activist Robin Rue Simmons, a former alderman who helped pass the legislation, believed to be the first of its kind. The first $400,000 is earmarked for grants to descendants of slaves to get $25,000 to spend on housing. Sixteen out of 122 applicants selected randomly were awarded the grant on Jan. 13.

Further grants, possibly some focused on education, are planned with the money from the cannabis fund, the church and other donors.

“[First United Methodist Church of Evanston] is leading by example,” Simmons said. “It is the white community who historically harmed the Black community, and it is the white community that has enjoyed privilege and access that the Black community has not. And so the white community has a responsibility and a role as an ally leader in the movement for reparations, and this church is modeling that with this important step.”

The idea to raise money at First United Church began with discussions between Imathiu and lay leader Matt Johnson, who is white.

“I said the only way I’m going to join the stewardship committee is if we can have an emphasis on reparations, or start talking about that and raising a little money around that,” Johnson said.

Imathiu said she thought it was important that a white man is a catalyst of reparations in her church. “Matt is a lay person and Matt is steeped in United Methodism,” she said. 

Johnson said that even though there is a viewpoint that this effort isn’t “truly” reparations, he considers it a start.

“I feel the federal government isn’t doing anything,” he said. “There’s been a bill sitting around for a long time to address reparations, but nothing has happened. I feel there needs to be a groundswell elsewhere in order to push this forward in some way, and that’s why I was excited about what the city of Evanston is doing.”