HIGH POINT — The City Council agreed Monday to create a commission requested by the High Point NAACP branch, but it wasn’t quite what the organization wanted.
The council voted 9-0 to create a “One High Point Commission,” but its membership, duties, powers and other details will be worked out in the coming weeks in talks between city staff and NAACP representatives.
The structure of the commission and other specifics will be developed in the “spirit” of a resolution put forth by the NAACP that calls for a commission “to study and develop reparation proposals for African Americans.”
It lays out a formation process and scope of work, but Monday’s vote did not adopt the resolution.
Supporters wanted the term “reparations” attached to the commission but stressed that the word means repair, healing and making amends, and does not suggest that they support giving money to the descendants of slaves.
In the end, the council opted to leave the term off the title of the commission.
“We are asking for a commission. We’re not asking for a check to be mailed out next week,” said James Mayes, chairman of the High Point NAACP branch reparations committee. “There’s a reason why we said, ‘reparations.’ There’s a reason why we listed the history.”
Supporters of the initiative argued that it’s needed to address socioeconomic disparities suffered by minorities.
“Across every measurable outcome, Black people are at the bottom,” Councilman Cyril Jefferson said.
Councilman Michael Holmes said he was shocked by the findings of a Resilience High Point study that found life expectancy in the city’s poorest neighborhoods is about 70 years, while in other parts of the city it’s about 87 years.
“That brought me pain and I’ve felt that pain since I heard that information, so if there’s anything we can do that can alleviate that kind of struggle and suffering to improve the quality of lives of our fellow man, we should make every effort to do so,” Holmes said.
Mayor Jay Wagner said he’s not opposed to creating a commission, but he thought the resolution, as presented, needs work to make it clear that the city’s powers are limited when it comes to reparations.
“We’re extremely legally restricted in what we can do, and that’s the main thing that concerns me about this proposal,” he said. “I understand the history. I’m a student of history. I do a lot of reading on my own about the injustices of slavery and Jim Crow, so I get the ‘why,’ and I understand there are disparities. The issue I have about the current proposal is the ‘How.’ ”