The Berkeley Unified School District (BUSD) Reparations Task Force, announced by Superintendent Enikia Ford Morthel in March of 2023, is dedicated to exploring and enacting policies that support descendants of formerly enslaved people connected to BUSD. Reparations are defined as making amends for a past wrong done to a person or peoples, and it often includes monetary compensation.
Formed from the social outcry and racial reckoning following the murder of George Floyd, activists and community members banded together in the growing Black Lives Matter movement with a plea for political steps to end the growing injustice.
On Wednesday, June 15, 2022, a community letter was sent to the school board with an urgent call for the creation of a reparations task force. The letter was written by nearly 100 Berkeley residents. It described the reasons they felt a need for reparations.
The letter to the school board mentioned that the opportunity and achievement gap between African American and white students is still too large in BUSD. It said the way to solve this problem was by addressing the root cause, the root cause being the institutional and systemic racism extending from the enslavement of African American people.
Superintendent Ford Morthel headed her constituent’s call for action. With the support of the school board, she spearheaded the creation of the BUSD Reparations Task Force.
The goal of the task force, “Is to have a group of minds, take a deep dive into the who, what, when, where, why, and how we can make reparations a reality for individuals with connections to BUSD,” said Laura Babitt, one of the task force committee members, and vice president of the BUSD School Board.
The task force understands the institutional racism ingrained in our country that extends into our school district, “This is not a problem of the past. I really want to encourage folks to think about (how) that the vestiges of slavery are felt in a very actual and sincere way by Black folks in this country,” said Kad Smith, facilitator of the BUSD Reparations Task Force during the informational meeting on Thursday, March 30, 2023.
The BUSD Reparations Task Force is an advisory committee, which means it has no political power of its own. However, they can present and influence the school board’s decisions on this matter.
This task force is meant to specifically support African Americans who are descended from enslaved people. Most descendants of enslaved people in America have not gotten physical reparations. However, the issue isn’t just the wealth gap between white people and people of color, it is broad. Babitt said, “For me, it would mean acknowledgment because we’ve had world leaders apologize for the enslavement of my ancestors, but those are words, and they don’t change my current reality.”
The members of the BUSD Reparations Task Force are pulled from a wide variety of positions, two of whom are school board members: President Ka’Dijah Brown and Vice President Laura Babitt. There are slots for community members, parents, BUSD staff, and a youth representative. In total, there are 18 committee members.
As a general member, Berkeley High School senior Raniiya Nolen said, “Reparations is a chance to level the playing field … and help Black people thrive.” Though the community doesn’t yet know what these reparations are, it is clear they for could make a difference for BUSD students and families.