Written by Education Organizer Amber Jones & Canvass Director Rod Adams
On January 24-25, 2016, NOC staff Rod Adams & Amber Jones, as well as NOC member Ngeri Nnachi, travelled to Chicago for the United Nations Workgroup of Experts on People of African Descent Midwest Mission visit. As part of the UN International Decade for People of African Descent, the Workgroup visited five U.S. cities in January to gather testimonies, research, and policy recommendations from people of African descent in the United States on their current state and conditions across a variety of arenas, from economic, to social, to cultural, to human rights.
After hearing from hundreds of black folks from different states pouring out their trauma and pushing the need for comprehensive reparations, the United Nations recommended reparations for people of African descent in the United States.
Their initial recommendations were presented at a press conference in Washington, DC last week, but they also will produce a report that will be used to continue the pressure on the United States to value the human rights of people of African descent. In a country where thousands are suffering from contaminated water in Flint, schools serving Black children and college youth in Chicago are being targeted for closing, and police violence continues to target Black communities here in the Twin Cities, it is clear that our human rights continue to be violated.
For historical context, this is not the first time Black leaders in the U.S. have taken this fight to the UN. In 1951, the We Charge Genocide petition was presented to the UN in Paris by the Civil Rights Congress (CRC). The CRC, founded in 1946 included a broad range of leaders, including, but not limited to, Dr. W.E.B. DuBois, Paul Robeson, and Claudia Jones. “We Charge Genocide” set a precedent for future leaders to follow; in November 2014, a coalition of organizers in Chicago united under the banner of We Charge Genocide travelled to the UN in Geneva, Switzerland, and submitted their report “Police Violence Against Chicago’s Youth of Color.” The coalition also held a direct action during the United States report for justice for Dominique “Damo” Franklin, who was also killed by Chicago police.
During the two-day UN visit, hundreds of people from Chicago, Wisconsin, Michigan, Missouri, Minnesota, and Florida packed into the Library Auditorium at Chicago State University (CSU) to provide testimonies to the UN. Hosting the event at CSU is very important, as currently CSU, a four-year university serving primarily Black and Brown students, is in danger of being closed by the state of Illinois. Testifiers spoke to this, including representatives from Black Youth Project 100 (BYP 100). The room was powerful, traumatic, but also inspiring; hearing the trauma Black people have experienced hurt our souls, but the resistance and hope rose and reminded us of our power.
Minnesota represented well; four testimonies were given from Rosemary Nevils, on her fight to keep her home; Tyrone Williams, on the death of Jamar Clark & the 4th Precinct Occupation; Dr. Rose Brewer (Dept. of African-American & African Studies, UMN), on the economic oppression of Black residents; and Shirley LaChapelle (President, Minnesota Black Nurses Association), on health disparities. The overall recommendation in the room was “Reparations Now!”—to recommend divesting from oppressive institutionalized systems & invest in community programs and resources. Other notable testimonies include Afrikans Charge Genocide (Ferguson), Sandra Bland’s sister, and Justice or Else coalition.
So where do we go from here? If you want to provide testimony to the UN, you can send a short video or audio recording, research, or policy recommendations to CSaunders@ohchr.org and Testify2UN@gmail.com. Continue to follow the Workgroup as the International Decade for People of African Descent continues.