original sins & reparations
Author, Cultural Critic & Activist
Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis
Co-Chair, Poor People's Campaign
Chair, W.E.B. Du Bois Department Afro-American Studies, University of Mass. Amherst
Executive Director, Restitution Study Group
President and Executive Director, American Indian Law Alliance
Convener, National African American Reparations Commission
The history of our nation is the history of systemic racism and unfinished attempts to repair the nation from the original sin of slavery. If we are to repair what is broken in our society, we must also be willing to look, with clarity, at our history and take seriously the idea that reparations could be paid for the sins of slavery. And that paying those reparations could benefit all Americans.
“But clearly we understand that, yes, even having a Black president isn’t enough.” – Amilcar Shabazz
Bakari Kitwana, Author, Cultural Critic & Activist
An internationally known cultural critic, journalist, activist, and thought leader in the area of hip-hop, youth culture, and Black political engagement, Bakari Kitwana is the Executive Director of Rap Sessions, which for the last fourteen years has conducted over 150 townhall meetings around the nation on difficult dialogues facing the hip-hop and millennial generations.
He is the collaborating writer for pioneering hip-hop artist Rakim%u2019s new book Sweat The Technique: Revelations on Creativity From The Lyrical Genius (Amistad, 2019) and the 2019-2020 Nasir Jones HipHop Fellow at the W.E.B. Dubois Research Institute / Hutchins Center for African and African American Research at Harvard University. The former Editor-in-Chief of The Source magazine, where he wrote and edited hundreds of articles on hip-hop, youth culture, politics and national affairs, Kitwana co-founded the first ever National Hip-Hop Political Convention. The gathering brought over 4000 18-29 year-olds to Newark, NJ in 2004 to create and endorse a political agenda for the hip-hop generation.
Kitwana is the author of Why White Kids Love Hip-Hop and co-editor (with David Orr, Andrew Gumbel and William Becker) of the forthcoming Democracy Unchained: How to Rebuild Government For the People (The New Press, 2020). His groundbreaking 2002 book The Hip-Hop Generation popularized the expression %u201Cthe hip-hop generation%u201D and has been adopted as a coursebook in classrooms at over 100 college and universities.
Kitwana has been Editorial Director of Third World Press, a senior media fellow at The Jamestown Project, Artist-in-Residence at the Center for the Study of Race Politics and Culture at the University of Chicago, and has served on the organizing committee for the 2013 Black Youth Project convening that launched the millennial Black activist group BYP100.
Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis, Co-Chair, Poor People's Campaign
The Reverend Dr. Liz Theoharis is Co-Chair of the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival with the Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II that organized the largest coordinated wave of nonviolent civil disobedience in 21st Century America and has since emerged as one of the nation’s leading social movement forces. She is the Director of the Kairos Center for Religions, Rights, and Social Justice at Union Theological Seminary.
Liz received her BA in Urban Studies from the University of Pennsylvania; her M.Div. from Union Theological Seminary in 2004 where she was the first William Sloane Coffin Scholar; and her PhD from Union in New Testament and Christian Origins. She has been published in The New York Times, Time Magazine, CNN, The Guardian, Sojourners, The Nation, and others. In 2018, she gave the “Building a Moral Movement” TEDtalk at TEDWomen, was named one of the Politico 50“thinkers, doers and visionaries whose ideas are driving politics”, and was also named a Women of Faith recipient by the Presbyterian Church (USA). In 2019, she was a Selma “Bridge” Award recipient and named one of 11 Women Shaping the Church by Sojourners. In 2020 she was named one of 15 Faith Leaders to Watch by the Center for American Progress.
Liz is the author of Always with Us?: What Jesus Really Said about the Poor (Eerdmans, 2017). She is co-author of Revive Us Again: Vision and Action in Moral Organizing (Beacon, 2018). Liz is an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church (USA) and teaches at Union Theological Seminary in New York City.
Amilcar Shabazz, Chair, W.E.B. Du Bois Department Afro-American Studies, University of Mass. Amherst
A professor of history and Africana Studies in the W. E. B. Du Bois Department of Afro-American Studies since 2007, Shabazz served as the department’s seventh chair from 2007 to 2012. From 2013 to 2016, he was the Faculty Advisor to the Chancellor for Diversity and Excellence, and, since 2016, he has acted as the department’s chair for an interim term. He continues to teach in the department with an emphasis on the political economy of social and cultural movements, education, and public policy. His book Advancing Democracy: African Americans and the Struggle for Access and Equity in Higher Education in Texas was the winner of the T.R. Fehrenbach Book Award and other scholarly recognitions. The Forty Acres Documents, a volume he co-edited with Imari Obadele and Johnita Scott Obadele and for which he wrote the introduction, was one of the earliest scholarly works in the modern movement for reparations for slavery and the racial oppression of people of African descent in North America. Shabazz has been a Fulbright Senior Specialist and has done work in Brazil, Ghana, Japan, Cuba, and other countries. Presently, he is completing an historical biography of lawyer-journalist-entrepreneur Carter Wesley, among other projects. Shabazz was selected for the 2014-15 class of the American Council on Education Fellows Program, the longest running leadership development program in the United States that focuses on identifying and preparing the next generation of senior leadership for the nation’s universities.
Born in Beaumont, Texas, Shabazz graduated from Monsignor Kelly High School, followed by his earning a bachelor’s degree in economics from The University of Texas at Austin, a masters from Lamar University, and a Ph.D. from the University of Houston, both in history. He was an associate professor of History and Director of the American Studies Program at Oklahoma State University, as well as the founding director of its Center for Africana Studies & Development. Prior to that he served as the first director of the African American Studies Program at The University of Alabama while also becoming a tenured professor of American Studies. In 2014, and again in 2016, Shabazz was elected for a two-year term as Vice President of The National Council for Black Studies, the premier organization of Black Studies professionals in the world.
Deadria Farmer-Paellmann, Executive Director, Restitution Study Group
Farmer-Paellmann is credited for popularizing the slavery reparations movement through her groundbreaking research exposing corporate complicity in slavery. In January of 2000, she exposed and secured an unprecedented public apology from Aetna Incorporated for writing insurance policies on the lives of enslaved Africans with slaveholders as the beneficiaries in the 1800’s. Her research linking various blue-chip corporations to the slave trade led to them making a $20 million payment to the African American community in 2005. Her litigation strategy in a case filed against slave-trade corporations for consumer fraud resulted in the first reparations court victory in American history in 2006.
Deadria Farmer-Paellmann set aside a promising law career to become one of the foremost researchers into the links between the slave trade and American corporate interests of the nineteenth century. In 2002 she gained media attention for launching a lawsuit that demanded reparations for the descendants of American slaves, based on the premise that several U.S. corporations had profited from the practice of slavery in the years before the Civil War of 1861-65. Named in the suit was Aetna, the largest insurer in the United States, along with a financial corporation and a railroad. “They have played a role and they should be held responsible,” said Farmer-Paellmann in an interview with Virginia Groark of the New York Times, adding, “And later on down the road there will be more companies.”
After earning a master’s degree in lobbying and political campaignmanagement from George Washington University, Farmer-Paellmann entered the New England School of Law in the mid-1990s. She decided to write a paper for one class on the reparations issue, and began researching the subject. She was particularly intrigued by recent court challenges filed on behalf of Holocaust victims from World War II. The German government had bowed to pressure and compelled some prominent corporations, which had operated factories during World War II using slave labor culled from the conquests of the Nazi regime, to contribute to a reparations fund.
Instead of cash payouts, Farmer-Paellmann and other groups involved in seeking reparations are looking to the German model, hoping that reparations could be placed in a trust fund to be used for jobs, housing, and education. Interestingly, Farmer-Paellmann is married to a German executive, with whom she has a daughter. She lives in the New York area, and continues to research the murkier side of American corporate history. Her efforts have linked some 60 U.S. companies to the slave trade. Though her grandfather died in 1999, he already knew of her work on the reparations cause. “I called him when I was in law school to tell him I was developing the case,” she told People. “He was proud.”
Betty Lyons, President and Executive Director, American Indian Law Alliance
Betty Lyons, President & Executive Director of the American Indian Law Alliance (AILA), is an Indigenous and environmental activist and citizen of the Onondaga Nation. Her native name, Gaen hia uh, meaning ‘small sky,’ was given to her by her Snipe Clan mother and has developed her love for the earth from her deep connection to her culture. Growing up Ms. Lyons learned a deep respect for the earth and the responsibility to protect it. Ms. Lyons worked together with the NOON organization (Neighbors of the Onondaga Nation) to educate and teach local communities about the culture of the Onondaga Nation to further a better understanding and to bridge the gap between the communities. Ms. Lyons has participated and organized rallies and demonstrations pushing for a ban on fracking in New York State, until a ban was achieved in December 2014. Betty Lyons has worked for the Onondaga Nation for over seventeen years as a Public Relations Representative, Manager of the Onondaga Nation Arena, and as Executive Assistant to Tadodaho Sidney Hill. She has been an active participant at the annual United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII) since the first session in 2001 and has coordinated the opening ceremonies. For over 10 years, Ms. Lyons was the President of Onondaga Minor Athletic Club where she organized and managed over 15 youth sports team programs. Betty Lyons graduated from Cazenovia College ALA (2013), Bryant Stratton College Graduate of Paralegal Program Magna Cum Laude. She is also the hardworking mother of Garrett and Sid Jr.
Ron Daniels, Convener, National African American Reparations Commission
Veteran social and political activist Dr. Ron Daniels was an independent candidate for President of the United States in 1992. He served as Executive Director of the National Rainbow Coalition in 1987 and Southern Regional Coordinator and Deputy Campaign Manager for the Jesse Jackson for President Campaign in 1988. He holds a B.A. in History from Youngstown State University, an M.A. in Political Science from the Rockefeller School of Public Affairs in Albany, New York and a Doctor of Philosophy in Africana Studies from the Union Institute and University in Cincinnati. He currently serves as Distinguished Lecturer at York College, City University of New York.
From 1993-2005 Dr. Daniels served as first African American Executive Director of the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) During his tenure CCR emerged as a major force fighting against police brutality and misconduct, church burnings, hate crimes, voter disenfranchisement, environmental racism and the threats to civil liberties posed by the government’s response to the September 11, 2001 terrorist attack.
In June of 1995, Dr. Daniels led an African American fact-finding and support delegation/mission to Haiti. As a result of the visit, the Haiti Support Project (HSP) was created to mobilize ongoing political and material support for the struggle for democracy and development in Haiti. HSP has emerged as the leading African American organization working to build a constituency for Haiti in the U.S.
A prolific essayist and commentator, Dr. Daniels’ column Vantage Point appears in numerous Black and progressive newspapers and web sites nationwide. He is also an occasional radio talk show host who Guest Hosts the WWRL Morning Show, 1600 AM in New York, The Warren BallentineShow, Keeping It Real with Rev. Al Sharpton on the Radio One Network and, Make It Plain with Mark Thompson on SIRIUS/XM Satellite Radio.
Dr. Daniels is Founder and President of the Institute of the Black World 21st Century [www.ibw21.org], a progressive, African centered, action-oriented Resource Center dedicated to empowering people of African descent and marginalized communities.