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Asheville council member says vote to approve reparations was 'act of contrition'

Councilman Keith Young spoke about the North Carolina city's historic vote to approve reparations in the form of funding programs to boost its Black community.
/ Source: TODAY

A council member who spearheaded a historic vote by a North Carolina city to provide reparations to its Black community for slavery and years of racial injustice is calling it "an act of contrition."

Asheville councilman Keith Young spoke with Al Roker on the 3rd hour of TODAY Friday about Tuesday's unanimous vote by the city council, which passed a resolution involving ongoing financial investment in programs to benefit the Black community, but not direct, one-time payments to residents.

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"To begin with, it was a first step and an essential act of contrition," Young said. "Beyond that, it is a resolution that helps deal in my mind with the systemics of oppression here in America. Black people in this country are dealing with issues that are systemic in nature, and reparation is a very complex issue which requires a solution that looks beyond, in my mind, one-time payments or checks."

Asheville aims to provide financial assistance for programs working to boost home and business ownership, generational wealth, employment and educational opportunities in its Black community, which makes up about 12% of the city's 93,000 residents. The city also apologized for its role in slavery and discrimination since its founding in 1784.

"Hundreds of years of Black blood spilled that basically fills the cup we drink from today," Young said after the vote was concluded. "It is simply not enough to remove statutes. Black people in this country are dealing with issues that are systemic in nature."

Young is one of two Black members of the city council along with Sheneika Smith, but said he was not surprised the vote was 7-0 in favor of reparations. The resolution also called for the state and federal government to provide funding for reparations.

"I think Asheville is a place where we have very open-minded and progressive individuals," he said on TODAY. "I think the culmination of the moment that we're in in this country right now has led us to a trajectory that has brought us to this point, with the death of George Floyd being the catalyst for the nation's largest civil rights movement in its history.

"Watching Confederate monuments come down, policies go up, and so I'm not surprised. We are in a moment in time that is going to be very transformative for not only local municipalities around the country, but the country itself."

Smith said during Tuesday's council meeting that she had received questions from residents who are skeptical of the measure.

"A lot of the feedback that we’ve gotten so far by email is that you know, ‘Why should we pay for what happened during slavery?’” Smith said. “And my pushback against that is reparations is more than restitution for what happened during the trans-Atlantic slave trade. It is a dark evil sin of chattel slavery that is the root of all injustice and inequity that is at work in American life today."

The measure aims to address racist policies from decades ago that limited Black residents' access to capital, credit and home ownership.

"The resulting budgetary and programmatic priorities may include but not be limited to increasing minority home ownership and access to other affordable housing, increasing minority business ownership and career opportunities, strategies to grow equity and generational wealth, closing the gaps in health care, education, employment and pay, neighborhood safety and fairness within criminal justice," the resolution reads.

"Those sorts of policies and systemics that are embedded in how we live our everyday life is what we are trying to tackle," Young said.

Young said the council will look at various areas for root causes of disparity and then fund programs aimed at eradicating them.

"This is something that we would look at some of these disparities across the board and try to implement some fixes for it and not just stand on our box and say, 'Hey we paid you a check and so our obligation to Black Americans in this city and this country is over,'" Young said.

"We want this to be perpetual and continually look at how these disparities in the Black community are evolving over time and how we can reverse that through systemic action."