Last week, the Detroit City Council unanimously appointed four members to serve on the city’s first-ever Compensation Task Force.
The two Detroiters who headed the reparations task force, Lauren Good and Keith Williams, were elected co-chairs. They are joined by two working coordinators: Reverend JoAnn Watson and Dorian Tyus, who have a long history of advocating for compensation at the state and national level.
Hood is a writer, urban planner, and community developer with an interest in the arts. He is the director and founder of the AfroUrbanism Institute, a think tank he launched in 2021.
Hood was born in Detroit and lived in Chicago and New York. He is a graduate of the University of Detroit Mercy, where he received his master’s degree in community development.
Hood has spent 15 years working in community development, with 10 years focused on racial equity. He also serves as the chairman of the city planning commission and the historic district commission.
“I worked on urban planning initiatives and that’s why I started the institute. I know that institutions don’t really take community input seriously. That’s why I created a research that does that, so we have a year doing research. That’s what black people need to thrive,” Hood said. “You can fit any effort into a designated category.”
It won’t be quick or easy, Hood said. “It took us 100 years to get here. It’s going to take us a long time to repair ourselves from here,” he said. “We need quick wins to show agency and efficiency. But I think we need to repair the parity we’re trying to achieve. … the damage has affected us for generations. So it just takes a long time. I need people to be patient.”
Williams is the chairman of the Michigan Democratic Party Black Caucus, which led to Proposition R, a push for a ballot initiative.
“We chose to go the ballot initiative route because we wanted to get citizens involved,” he said. “My whole life of election and community involvement is about making sure people have a chance at the American dream.”
Williams said he is pleased the compensation task force is a reality. “Now is the time to work to repair and restore the damage done by past acts of racism,” he told The Detroit News. “I haven’t talked to anyone about how we’re going to do it, but to me, the first thing is to get together and meet with all the new board members. Second, we need to understand how we’re going to do this task force.” govern yourselves and make sure we adhere to the language of the petition that the citizens of Detroit voted for.”
Rev. JoAnne Watson
Watson is the chairman of the board of the Urban Unity School of Ministers, from which he graduated in 2009. He was ordained by Unity Ministries Worldwide in 2010, and as of August 2018, Watson is the senior pastor of West Side Unity Church in Detroit. He served as a pastor in the church since 2009.
Watson has a long track record of working on compensation initiatives and is mentored by advocates including activist Dr. Imari Obadele; civil rights lawyer Rev. Milton Henry; Chokwe Lumumba, Mayor of Jackson, Mississippi; Ray “Ray Compensation” Jenkins; Dr. Claude Anderson, President of Powernomics and the Harvest Institute; and activist Dr. Maulana Karenga.
Watson was director of public policy staff for Representative John Conyers from 1997 to 2002 and played a key role in the resolution of HR 40, the reimbursement legislation sponsored by Conyers. He organized panelists for the annual Braintrust Hearings for Congressional Black Reps.
In 2001, Watson was a delegate to the United Nations World Conference on Racism in Durban, South Africa, which declared that “The transatlantic slave trade was and must always be a crime against humanity.”
Watson served ten years NOBRANational Council (National Coalition of Blacks for Reparations in America) and chaired the Detroit chapter of NCOBRA for seven years. In June 2019, an NCOBRA convention chaired by Watson was held at the Charles H. Wright was held and had 1,000 attendees to hear speakers such as Conyers and Judge Greg Mathis.
He is also a contributing author to “Should America pay?,” edited by Dr. Raymond Winbush, 2003 edition of Compensation.
“When councilor Sheffield told me he wanted to appoint me, I told him I would be honoured,” Watson told The News. “It will be important for the task force to identify goals that are rooted in Detroit’s history and its future. This is a priority for Detroiters. We know from the approval ballot, and they need to move forward.”
Tyus is a city attorney who was born and raised in Detroit.
He attended the University of Michigan, where he studied politics and sociology, and then enrolled at Howard University School of Law in 2009.
He is an executive board member and criminal justice committee chair for the Detroit branch of the NAACP, political action chair for the Michigan NAACP State Conference, and serves as senior communications consultant for the Michigan Democratic Party.
“I’ve seen firsthand how black people are often targeted and attacked through racist narratives that are then used to justify policies that harm them,” said Tyus, who now leads conservation efforts. Party voters help. “Last year I switched roles to be the party’s senior communications adviser so I could proactively combat misinformation and instead spread the truth about good politics.”
As for the repair group, he said: “We will hit the ground.”
“We have a lot of work to do given the long history of exploitation of Black Detroiters,” Tyus said. “This means educating the residents and the region about this painful history. We also need to demand changes in the system itself. By the end of the project, I hope that the working group will be able to provide the City Council with a set of specific policy recommendations that will be implemented if implemented. some of these profound economic, housing and social injustices will be eliminated.”
How the rest of the working group is selected
It’s the latest development since June, when the council approved City Council President Mary Sheffield’s decision to appoint her to the task force’s first four-member executive committee. The council will appoint the remaining nine members to a 13-person task force that will help address what many Detroiters say is the legacy of systemic government racism in the nation’s largest majority-Black city.
The nine board members can nominate two each, and board members are also allowed to nominate themselves. The board interviews 18 or fewer Internal Operations Committee candidates, and the entire board votes on the top nine candidates.
In November 2021, more than 80% of city voters approved a compensation commission focused on housing initiatives.
The task force is expected to develop short-, medium-, and long-term recommendations over the next year to address generational wealth creation and increase economic mobility and opportunity in the black community.
A local survey conducted by the council received 412 responses, with a majority indicating that the task force should have between 6 and 15 members, and that commission members should be Detroit residents for at least 6 to 11 years.
More than 220 respondents, or more than half of those polled, disagreed that all members should be African Americans and that Arabs, Asians, Latinos, Native Americans and White Detroiters should be considered.
According to survey responses, “(Representative races should be) everyone who supports this. There are black Latinos who can sit on the committee; gender diversity … a range of demographics that represent the city’s past and future.
The steering committee studied what other major cities around the country are doing to inform Detroit’s approach. But some Detroit civil rights leaders are skeptical that the new group will successfully accomplish what they have failed to accomplish over the past several decades.
The task force is required to submit a written report of its findings and recommendations to the City Council no later than 18 months after its first formal meeting.