LOUISVILLE, Ky. — A Black-led Louisville nonprofit says it has received a six-figure reparations payment from a person who discovered their great-grandfather owned slaves in Kentucky.
Change Today, Change Tomorrow, a nonprofit that launched in 2019 to serve Louisville’s marginalized residents, discussed the reparations check during a news conference Monday at Pocket Change, its boutique that represents an initiative to boost support for Black business owners.
“It is a blessing for us but also definitely owed,” the nonprofit’s founder and executive director, Taylor Ryan, said Monday afternoon.
Nannie Grace Croney, the organization’s deputy director, said the group “honestly thought we were being scammed” when they first got an email about this donation.
Then they realized it was actually happening.
“So the initial emotion was like, ‘Oh this isn’t real,’ but once it was real, we knew that we had to act on it. We knew that as disruptors and changemakers, we have to challenge other corporations, foundations and individuals to really pay reparations back,” Croney said.
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“To really redirect those dollars and redistribute wealth to begin to fix the inequalities in this country and right here in our own backyard in Louisville.”
The nonprofit’s leadership declined to name or provide contact information for the donor on Monday, citing that person’s request for confidentiality.
The donor “had come into a lot of wealth on their 25th birthday,” the nonprofit announced in a news release.
“Being aware of how hoarding wealth is a huge contributing factor of inequality in this country they decided that they should give most of it away,” Change Today, Change Tomorrow’s release said. “Curious to find out where this wealth came from, they investigated their family history…”
They learned their great-grandfather enslaved six people in Bourbon County, Kentucky, according to Change Today, Change Tomorrow.
Because the great-grandfather did not record the names of those enslaved people, the donor couldn’t identify their descendants and instead donated money to the nonprofit.
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According to Change Today, Change Tomorrow, the donor said their great-grandfather “inflicted the trauma and violence of slavery on six people for his own monetary gain and did not even bother to record their names.”
Ryan said the nonprofit plans to put 40% of the money toward supporting the organization’s staff, while another 40% will go to sustaining their community outreach efforts and 20% is put into reserve.
She said it’s difficult for Black-led organizations to get financial support from big institutions, such as foundations, in Louisville and nationwide.
“We feel that other entities, specifically the foundations locally, need to get up to speed. Their practices are very, very outdated. They’re very still, you know, deeply embedded in white supremacy,” she said. “And a lot of people are doing a lot of talking, but we need action.”
Change Today, Change Tomorrow said there have been other, similar examples in recent years of white people individually donating to Black-led organizations.
In 2018, an anonymous donor gave $200,000 to the Denver-based nonprofit Soul2Soul Sisters. It was later found that the donor was a graduate student who had learned her ancestors owned a slave.
That person chose to remain anonymous to keep the focus on Soul2Soul and their racial injustice workshops for people of faith, according to The Associated Press.
Croney said this is the first time Change Today, Change Tomorrow has received a reparations payment from anyone, but she predicted it won’t be the last.
“I think that this is just the start. I thank this donor for beginning this cycle that is going to continue to lead to more reparations,” she said Monday. “But also, with this reparation coming in, we’re going to continue to do the work and continue to show up.”
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Change Today, Change Tomorrow said their anonymous donor stressed the need not only for individual action but also for governmental action to provide reparations.
This April, the U.S. House Judiciary Committee voted 25-17 to advance H.R. 40, which would create a commission to study “slavery and discrimination in the colonies and the United States from 1619 to the present and recommend appropriate remedies.”
The legislation was first introduced by Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., in 1989 but failed for over two decades to get a vote in either chamber of Congress. The 40 refers to the unfulfilled proposal to provide 40 acres (16 hectares) of land to newly freed slaves as the Civil War drew to a close.
President Joe Biden has expressed support for H.R. 40, but it faces a hurdle to pass and overcome a potential filibuster in the evenly divided Senate.
In March, the city council in Evanston, Illinois, which is north of Chicago, voted 8-1 to implement what many called the nation’s first reparations program for Black Americans, though some residents opposed the use of the term “reparations” to describe the plan.
Evanston’s program will initially provide 16 Black residents with housing grants of up to $25,000 if they either lived in Evanston between 1919 and 1969, are descendants of those residents or can prove they experienced housing discrimination due to the city’s policies after 1969.
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The Black households will be able to apply for the program starting this summer. The grants can be used to purchase a house, pay off a mortgage or make home repairs, under the approved plan.
Hundreds of communities and organizations across the country also have considered reparations. They’ve included cities like Amherst, Massachusetts, Providence, Rhode Island, Asheville, North Carolina, and Iowa City, Iowa; religious denominations like the Episcopal Church; and prominent colleges like Georgetown University.
No legislation surrounding reparations has been considered in Louisville, but the city has spent the past year grappling with systemic inequities brought into the spotlight following the police killing of Breonna Taylor.
As a historical marker in Jefferson County notes, slavery was a part of Kentucky long before statehood was granted in 1792, and tax lists from 1800 showed 40,000 slaves living in the commonwealth.
Louisville once was the site of slave markets where Black men, women, and children were sold and shipped downriver to plantations in the Deep South.