A headshot Dr, Kim Tabari, an African American woman with close cropped hair, looking to the side and wearing a an orange scarf around her shoulders and set against a background of red, green and yellow geometric shapes

Realizing Reparations

ByDr. Kim Tabari, ERI Organizational Director

Growing up, I took for granted that I had a country to call my own. Guyana is the place I still refer to as home and it is a land of many waters. It is the rich soil that grew me, along with the blood and sweat of our indigenous folks called Amerindians. Guyana was colonized by the British and inhabited by Portuguese, Chinese, Indians, and Africans during the enslavement period. Now independent of the British, Guyanese who trace their ancestry back to all of these ethnicities live together in a country that is divided by politics, poverty, and displacement wrought by a legacy of colonization, racism, and exploitation. 

Yet I never heard the word ”reparations” until I immigrated to the U.S. in the late 1980s, became a citizen, and supported my fellow Black Americans in this part of the struggle for freedom. I deeply believe in the poetic words of sister Gwendolyn Brooks: “We are each other’s harvest: we are each other’s business: we are each other’s magnitude and bond.” 

But the meaning of it all hit me deeply in late 2023 when I attended the Southern California Grantmakers Conference in Los Angeles. It was an eye-opening, heartwarming experience– not words you think of when you attend a conference with grantmakers– and imagine my surprise when there were several sessions focused on education about reparations in the program. 

One workshop/session was an amazing conversation about California Reparations with panelists Marc Philpart, Executive Director of the California Black Freedom Fund, James Woodson, Executive Director of the California Black Power Network,  Lisa Holder, the chair of the California Reparations Commission and President of Equal Justice Society, and moderated by Charles Sidney Fields of the Irvine Foundation

I was aware of the California Reparations report published in June 2023 that resulted from a Task Force authorized by a state bill, AB 3121. But I was unaware of the depth of work that went on behind the scenes to produce a 74-page Executive Summary and the 11,000 word, 40 chapter report that was leatherbound on the table. Ms. Holder shared the inner workings of the commission and the rigor of the work that led to the findings. 

Some key findings in the Executive Summary include Federal, state, and local government actions such as: lack of financial assistance for Black communities to afford housing and proper education; harmful child welfare system; and failure to protect Black artists, culture-makers, and media-makers from discrimination. 

Beyond policy, the report presents us with hard questions. As we confront an enduring legacy of settler colonialism, slavery, and persistent wealth inequality in the nation and the state, what is our north star for California? How do we grapple with the obligations due to Black communities that have been devastated by racial capitalism and anti-Black policies and politics? And what does our stance and leadership about reparations say about what we value as a society? 

The panel discussion itself left me curious about three specific things: how do we understand reparations, how are we building unity towards reparations, and how do we encourage others to understand their role/actions towards reparations?


What are reparations and why do we need it?

My humble definition is that reparations are an offering to repair harms caused to Black people by slavery, Jim Crow laws, and structural systemic inequities in healthcare, housing, education, and our economy. Reparations offer us the opportunity to rehabilitate, reimagine, and restore dignity to Black people.

According to the California Reparations report, reparations could mean many things such as access to affordable housing and healthcare, and access to better education and employment for Black people in California. One reason for reparations cited in the report derives from the institution of slavery which was acceptable in many parts of Europe and the Americas. California scholars estimate that up to 1,500 enslaved African Americans lived in California in 1852.” During that year, California passed a Fugitive Slave Act that made it a more pro-slavery state than most other free states.

Despite the public’s tendency to think that reparation is just about slavery, it isn’t. The report shows the depth of inequity over the last 150 years, including but not limited to: housing and other forms of segregation, disinvestments in education, economic instability due to lack of wage-worthy employment, the over-incarceration of Black Californians, lack of support for and sometimes direct neglect of Black families, and so on. In short, slavery cast a long shadow that was reinforced over and over again by other racist systems and mechanisms meant to exclude and deny. These systems stripped wealth, impeded advancement, disrupted Black communities, and eroded Black well-being. 


 How do we build unity towards broader understanding and support for reparations?

For many of us in the Black community, grief forces us to build community. We lose loved ones due to fatal illnesses from the lack of adequate healthcare, or state-sanctioned violence like the murders of Trayvon MartinGeorge Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and many more.  Black people, in particular, are quite familiar with grief and we often use it to power social and racial justice movements. For example, Trayvon Martin, an unarmed 17- year-old Black boy was shot and killed by a neighborhood vigilante. This sparked nationwide outrage among Black people and allies, birthing the Black Lives Matter movement to unify and heal from the traumas of being Black in America due to enslavement and ongoing systems of oppression.

Another example is that of Black maternal health inequity. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) data shows that Black women are two to three times more likely to die from pregnancy-related complications than white women, with most of the maternal deaths being preventable. This loss of life has led to the creation of the Black Maternal Health Caucus which has been the backbone of the Black Maternal Health movement of grassroots organizing.

I imagine grief in the most expansive way: as collective action, as loss of dreams, and as our way forward. Unity towards reparations will require a rich ecosystem across race, age, and gender spectrums, working together to center freedom for Black folks and allow for repair and transformation.

What would unity look like? For starters, it would mean educating ourselves about the reparations movement and working on the stated recommendations collectively.  The Executive Summary posits that “The United Nations Principles on Reparation set forth a legal framework for providing full and effective reparations to victims of gross violations of international human rights law and serious violations of international humanitarian law.” So there is already a framework in place for how to deliver reparations to other communities harmed by gross violations such as enslavement, that includes: Restitution, Compensation, and Rehabilitation.  In practice, this could range from discussions with family members, friends, and other loved ones, to having conversations at work when appropriate to change hearts and minds.

Unity would look like an understanding and acknowledgment of deep-seated racial and educational inequities, as well as a cross-class and cross-racial commitment to addressing such inequalities by providing better educational opportunities for Black students across the country. This also requires concerted efforts by Black parents, guardians, and other caregivers to support their students at every level of schooling. Currently, Black students’ success rate in Math and Reading is 10 – 30% nationwide. According to recent reports, Black students are failing nationwide in: 

  • California, 90% of students are failing math or cannot read well;
  • New York, the numbers are 85% and 82% respectively; 
  • Illinois, the numbers are 86% and 85%;
  • And in Texas, the numbers are 84% and 89%.
  • Maryland sits at 86% for math and 80% for reading;  
  • South Carolina is at 90% and 87%;
  • And Georgia’s numbers are 86% and 82%.
  • In Missouri, 89% of students are failing math and 88% cannot read well;
  • and in Washington, D.C. are similarly bleak numbers at 85% and 87%.

We must face the past to prepare for our future. The dreams of our youth to create and thrive, to build wealth, and to build strong communities–along with advancing our nation as a whole–cannot be realized if we allow this educational crisis to persist.

How do we build unity, and educate others about the need for reparations, as individuals?  I spent the last five years advocating for Black students in my local school district. From speaking at Public Comments at our school board meetings to working in grassroots organizations, I advocated for more funding and access for Black students to improve their Math and  Reading scores. But within the cracks of inequity, I see ways in which anti-Blackness sits at the foundation and limits students from being successful. There is a clear lack of intentionality and folks often fall into a  “blame game” so educational institutions are rarely ever held accountable. A deeper level of unity across school districts is needed to rebuild cracked foundations that center Black students and be part of the transformation of their lives in the long run.   


Finally, how do we encourage others to understand their role/actions towards reparations?

In the early 19th century, abolitionists of all classes, genders, and races worked together to bring an end to the enslavement of Black people. Multiracial coalitions worked tirelessly alongside ancestors like Harriet Tubman and Sojourner Truth to improve the lives of Black people and allow for other marginalized groups to benefit. 

In the last few years, the world has shifted, and we’ve seen communities come together during the COVID-19 pandemic. Neighbors helped each other and numerous mutual aid communities collaborated to ensure that basic food and shelter needs were met during difficult times.There is an understanding among many that we must reach beyond ourselves to create a more equitable world for all. 

In today’s increasingly multiracial society– where minoritized people will soon be the numerical majority– we must engage similar methods of care, love, and justice. We must reach out to both individuals and organizations that hold power to help “move the middle” to support reparations. Each of us has a role to play in this collective action. Ranging from one-on-one conversations to presentations to organizing, we must do our part to repair harms still felt by Black people in this country. We must also ensure that others—particularly other communities of color— understand the depth of the hurt and grief and the potential to do better.

I believe that humanity must level up in support of reparations to repair harms caused by the enslavement of Black people for profit and by white supremacy beliefs and practices. Whether Californias adopt the new idea to invest in baby bonds (a financial project in Connecticut to disrupt the persistent racial wealth gap) offered by scholar Dr.Darrick Hamilton,or some other creative ways to change the tides,The California Reparations report offers many recommendations for “freedom seekers”, and I offer these REPAIR steps for your consideration:

  1.   Read the California Reparations report and reflect on what your role is in its’ execution
  2.   Educate your family members including children, cousins, aunties, uncles, and grandparents about the varied parameters for Reparations;
  3.   Protect your heart and spirit by taking time to heal yourself through healing modalities such as meditation, dancing, singing, poetry, etc.;
  4.   Acknowledge harms and make amends for the harms you cause by practicing “Calling In” instead of “Calling Out’;
  5.   Interrogate ways in which others can support the Reparations movement as allies, co-conspirators, and organizations;
  6. Replenish reparations work is the long game, make sure to rest for more sustained efforts. 

Needless to say, the reparations movement is already polarizing us because we have adopted the colonized behavior of individualism instead of collectivism. Debates are afoot among community members and scholars causing further harms and divisions. But, a University of California, Los Angeles study found that “roughly two-thirds of Californians are in favor of some form of reparations, though residents are divided on what they should be”.

The harsh reality is that I am here today because my ancestors survived the Middle Passage. They were dropped off from ships that brought Africans to the shores of lands colonized by the British, including my homeland once known as British Guiana. Today, we stand as an independent nation, Guyana. Immigrating to the U.S. does not change my history of origin. 

Like I said, I had never heard the word reparations before coming to the U.S. But now that I have and now that I’ve read this report, I can’t turn away. Reparation for me is feeling my chest rise with the inhaling of my breath, and then experiencing an exhalation of breath releasing racialized stress and tension in my body, an act that restores the ability to rest and dream unapologetically.

My hope is that you see every Black person striving to breathe freely, repairing our hearts, minds, and dignity. Reparations are the way forward, and I ask that you not turn away. I encourage you to read the report, to share your reflections with others, and to support the reparations movement alongside hundreds of Californians already on board.



This blog was supported by the USC Equity Research Institute team: Shawntae Mitchum, USC Doctoral candidate; Gladys Malibiran, Communications Manager; Dr. Jody Agius Vallejo, Associate Director, and Manuel Pastor, Director.

© 2024. This work is licensed under a CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 license.

About the author:

Dr. Kim Tabari has a passion for social justice and education. She holds a doctorate degree in Educational Leadership and has worked at a variety of institutions both public and private. Born in Guyana, South America, Kim has the lived experience of an immigrant who later became a U.S. citizen.A headshot Dr, Kim Tabari, an African American woman with close cropped hair, looking off to the side and wearing a an orange scarf around her shoulders.

As the Organizational Development Director at the USC Equity Research Institute (ERI), Kim is part of the Executive Management Team and believes in the importance of maintaining relationships to bring about healing and transformation, especially during times of conflict. She leads the organizational development and racial justice work internally at ERI, works with external partners and faculty affiliates, and manages the ERI advisory committee. Prior to joining ERI, she facilitated conversations on racial, social, and healing justice topic areas. She is a trained facilitator working with both high school and college students in the past, and currently work with diverse stakeholders at USC and beyond. Kim presented at the Strength in Numbers: Uniting Immigration with Other Social Causes webinar hosted by The Immigrant Learning Center housed at George Mason University.  Kim facilitated a successful USC Visions & Voices conversation with Daughters of the Movement in the middle of the pandemic and nation-wide racial justice uprisings.  Dr. Tabari was an instrumental part of the USC REDI Taskforce led by Dr. Manuel Pastor and Felicia Washington in collaboration with over 50 dedicated students, staff and faculty.

Outside of working at USC, Kim’s most important role is being a mom to an amazing teenage boy, currently in High School.  She is also very active in her local community, working primarily with the Long Beach school district to improve academic challenges of Black and other marginalized students. 

Kim embodies healing justice and is a certified yoga instructor, facilitating over 50 online classes to her community on zoom during the 2021 pandemic year. She also has a regular Tai Chi practice, and other self-care modalities.