AHRA discusses Amherst College collaboration, public consulting phase

Sept. 20, 2022 | Rory Liddy

AMHERST – With a final report due to the Town Council in June 2023, Amherst’s African Heritage Reparations Assembly (AHRA) discussed a collaboration with Amherst College and documentation for its public consulting phase during a Sept. 12 Zoom meeting.

After a brief introduction, the meeting began with a special guest appearance from Sirus Wheaton, a senior at Amherst College and the current student body president, as well as president of the school senate. Wheaton expressed a longing on his behalf and those of his classmates to become more involved with helping Amherst’s Black community in any way possible. The student senate reached out to AHRA Chair Michele Miller in April to begin discussions of what this help might look like on a practical level, and Miller met with Wheaton individually at the beginning of September to bring the idea to reality.

Wheaton described Amherst College’s contribution as twofold. The first component is a “boots on the ground” labor approach, whereby students perform in-person tasks for the AHRA, such as collecting AHRA census data and handing out informational materials to help increase public engagement. The second component was a financial contribution. Wheaton said he was not sure what the exact figure would be or how the money would be spent, but he was confident that the contribution would be made and said “I’m really excited, a lot of the student senators are really excited, and this is something I’ve talked to the Amherst College president about too.” Wheaton was invited back by the assembly, along with his fellow student senators, to further discuss the college’s dual contribution in greater detail at a date to be determined.

Next on the agenda was an update on the public engagement campaign. Engage Amherst, the online portal where Amherst residents can submit feedback on a wide variety of public matters and ongoing projects, will soon feature an AHRA page. This page is where Amherst residents who identify as Black and/or of African heritage can submit their information to become part of the reparations movement.

The form was originally called the AHRA Registration Form. However, Dr. Irv Rhodes noted that the word choice of registration seemed “problematic” to him, explaining that it made the form seem like the sign-up for the military draft, and the rest of the assembly agreed. Dr. Amilcar Shabazz suggested the substitution of “inclusion” to replace it. After some deliberation, the substitution was agreed upon, and the questionnaire was renamed to the “AHRA Inclusion Form.” The AHRA logo was also given a new color scheme. The previous autumnal blend of earth tones was replaced by a black, green, gold and red combination in honor of the Pan-African flag. Finally, Shabazz also pointed out that the form’s question of “Do you identify as black” should be broadened to ask participants of their specific ancestry, be it Caribbean, African or otherwise. The other assembly members agreed, and the decision was made to amend the question.

Once the changes are made final, the portal should be up and running within the next few weeks, though no exact date was given. Once active, residents can submit their feedback and ideas for how the town’s allotted $2 million reparation fund should be spent. This public consultation process constitutes the final step of the process before the AHRA’s final report is submitted to the Town Council in June 2023.

Maura Keene spoke during the public comment section of the meeting with two messages from the Amherst Community Land Trust (ACLT). The first was to inform of a $125,000 home purchase subsidy available for application. The previous would-be recipient of the subsidy ended up receiving a home that was donated to the ACLT, and as such the subsidy is still available. Keene said that the ACLT would “love the subsidy to go to someone of African-American heritage.” The application form can be found on the ACLT website, and will be awarded to first-time home buyers on a first come, first served basis. Applicants must earn 80 percent of the area’s mean income or less, and recipients have six months to find a property after the subsidy has been granted. Keene also said that the ACLT will be hosting a meeting at Mill River on Oct. 15 between 2 and 4 p.m. that will be open to the public. Refreshments will be provided, and a walk will occur after the meeting is adjourned.

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