Reflections on Recent Conversations About Reparations, Place and People
Compton Fellow Audrey Jacobs (she/her) is the founder and principal of The Sarafina Group, Inc., which helps people focus on what matters most. She provides philanthropic advisory services and partners with individuals, families, and organizations passionate about making a difference in the world. She creates change by being authentic, taking time to understand, listen, and develop deep relationships.
The reparations conversation has evolved into a movement. I understood that in early April, when about 300 people from throughout the US came to my home, Atlanta, for a conference hosted by Decolonizing Wealth called Align, Alight, Arise: Advancing the Movement for Repair. An arc of realization began with words from Ta-Nehisi Coates and continued past the conference’s conclusion after thoughts from Nikole Hannah Jones.
Seeing Nkechi Taifa walk around the meeting room holding two copies of her book Reparations on Fire high in the air was a powerful moment for me. The Decolonizing Wealth team who organized the conference was intentional in reaching out and reaching back, inviting some of our “elders” to be part of the conversation. It was noteworthy and appreciated since many in the audience are part of the generation after me, and even further from our elders. Do they know Taifa’s work has spanned more than 40 years? Have they heard of The Debt by Randall Robinson, written two decades ago? Have they read Ta-Nehisi’s 2014 article The Case for Reparations? It was a reminder that reparations has been on the table for many years, that many people have been working on reparations for Black people in America for decades to get us to Atlanta last week.
Realizing this was the first national conference on reparations was significant. We were with funders, at least 40, ranging from the largest mainstream foundations to grassroots funds. Some have “Repair” as part of their title. That signals something, I hope.
Attendees came from all over the country, people working hard around reparations. I learned about new organizations such as the Reparations Finance Lab led by Enith Williams. Living in Georgia, “reparations” is not a term I hear frequently. Yet at this conference I heard about the Fulton County, GA, Task Force on Reparations. Interesting. From this conference, I learned that New York State is exploring reparations. Actor Erika Alexander introduced her documentary, The Big Payback, and spent three days in community with us, absorbing, sharing, inspiring and energizing as only Erika can do.
As Nikole Hannah Jones said upon entry, “This is a good-looking group here”: one of the rare occasions where a conference of any kind is comprised mainly of Black and brown people. It was interesting to observe the white attendees move through the space and time. Some appeared uncomfortable in a space where they were not in the majority. Others connected and spoke, acknowledging this sacred space held for the Black and brown people in the room. This conference, like ABFE’s annual Harambee, provided intentional space and included music that resonated with the audience. For Align, Alight, Arise we were not moving from room to room for sessions. We were all together in the same space for four days. It felt safe and it felt as though care had been placed in making it a space for us to breathe while listening, learning and connecting.
Already, I’m listening to the playlist created. Learning the music of the next generation. Reminded of the moments in time spent in community, in the deep South.
I left the conference having learned much yet wanting to hear and see more from so many of the Black women doing great work around reparations — like June Wilson of the Compton Foundation and Aria Florant of Liberation Ventures. I’m reminded of Trevor Noah’s words, “If you want to know what to do, how to do it — the best way, most equitable way — talk to Black women.”
In many ways, there was comfort and ease. Except when looking at the plain-clothed security guards at the stage, and outside the meeting room checking bags. And being encouraged not to disclose our location on social media. Safety and security concerns were real and evident throughout the four days.
Backlash, whether editorial, verbal or potentially violent, is another sign that reparations is truly a movement and not a “debate” or “conversation” anymore. My hope, as we move forward in the wake of the United States Supreme Court’s recent decision around affirmative action, is that the momentum from this conference is not lost. Rather, the momentum continues. Communication continues, and more states consider reparations task forces. The conference announced $20 million for campaigns for reparations across the country. This provides me with hope that the issue will not be dismissed again as something to maybe, possibly, be reckoned with at some unknown future date.
Audrey Jacobs, Compton Fellow
Audrey is the founder and principal of The Sarafina Group, Inc., which provides consulting services to philanthropic and nonprofit organizations. Audrey focuses her efforts on philanthropic families and family foundations. Prior to launching The Sarafina Group, Audrey was Director of the Center for Family Philanthropy at the Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta. There, Audrey worked with a team of advisors to engage individual and family philanthropists. Audrey is a certified 21/64 advisor and is currently pursuing the Chartered Advisor in Philanthropy designation.
With more than 25 years of experience in the sector, Audrey also helps nonprofit organizations fulfill their mission. She has worked with several organizations in New York City including Lenox Hill Neighborhood House, the Federation of Protestant Welfare Agencies, and the New York Women’s Foundation.
Audrey is a graduate of Leadership Atlanta, and is a past president of the Emory University Board of Visitors. She serves on the boards of CAF America (Charities Aid Foundation), Georgia Planned Giving Council, Johnson C. Smith Theological Seminary, and the U.S. Board of The African SOUP.
Audrey received her undergraduate degree from Barnard College, Columbia University, and a Juris Doctorate from New York University School of Law. She resides in Sandy Springs, Georgia, with her husband, Roland Matthews. Their two sons have been launched and are successfully adulting in New York City and Charlotte, North Carolina.