ITHACA, N.Y.—City of Ithaca Common Councilmembers Jorge DeFendini and Phoebe Brown held a press conference on Oct. 11 representing the Ithaca Solidarity Slate bloc of Common Council calling for reparations for Black Ithacans in the 2023 budget.

The reparations, as described by Brown and DeFendini, would be similar to the calls nationally for reparations to attempt to repay the decades of Black slavery used to fuel the United States economy until the late 1800s. This is the season for budget pushes, as public hearings begin Wednesday night and continue for the next two weeks.

“It has been clear to me that Black and brown issues are the least prioritized and are questioned with increased scrutiny compared to institutions and initiatives that primarily serve white Ithacans,” Brown said, stating that it is “absolutely necessary” for the City of Ithaca to repay Black people for the “years of mistreatment and not being afforded the opportunity to succeed and thrive as other cultures have.”

As budget season is in full swing, DeFendini and Brown are calling for $2 million from the city’s 2023 budget for a three-part program of direct payments, the “funding of Black institutions and a committee on reparations for Black Ithacans,” according to Brown.

DeFendini said that to be clear, cash payments, Black institution funding and the creation of a committee are not the only requests.

“All three are necessary for a successful program,” he said, citing programs that Evanston, Illinois, and Providence, Rhode Island, began in 2021 and 2022, respectively. Evanston’s program is funded using a portion of cannabis sales tax, while Providence has sought to use federal COVID-19 relief funds to start its program but is still deciding between direct cash payments and targeted program funding.

DeFendini also said that there are several approaches to how reparations would be distributed and that he believes that direct cash payments are an option, though more research would have to be done.

“I think we should be reaching out to municipal officials in those cities to see how they’ve been implementing their process [and] in other cases with regards to fully funding Black institutions,” he said, adding that as it’s budget season in the City of Ithaca currently, money should be set aside for reparations.

“One of my biggest hopes is to begin the conversation about [reparations]. Specifically, Black and brown people are still surviving, and they should be at a place after all this time where they’re thriving,” Brown said.

Zoë Freer-Hessler

Zoë Freer-Hessler is a general assignment reporter for the Ithaca Voice. She has covered a wide range of topics since joining the news organization in November 2021. She can be reached at zhessler@ithacavoice.com...