by Robbie Jackson
Reparations is no longer a distant folktale. It is a movement with a lot of traction, and the momentum will continue to be on an uptick. So, with reparations in headlines across the nation, it is especially important now more than ever for Black people everywhere to better educate themselves on the topic.
But where do we begin? In the book “Got Reparations? 21 Questions, 21 Answers,” author Menhuam Ayele lays out some basic principles of what reparations means for Black people in America, through asking a series of questions and answers.
The author describes the book as barbershop-beauty shop style of exploring the conversation around reparations. “Got Reparations? 21 Questions. 21 Answers” is the type of book you go back to more than once. Born in the Fillmore, San Francisco, Calif., Menhuam Ayele lived in the Pink Palace projects from the age 0 to 4, and at the age of 4, he was adopted by a couple, a Black woman and a white man. Biologically, his father is a Black man and his mother is a white woman.
He laughed as he describes that as “a kinda switch” for him. The Bay Area native’s extensive knowledge of Black history shines in his recent book, making it an easy reference guide anyone can understand. With two master’s degrees, in Architecture and Ecological Design, he recalls writing his first poem in the fifth grade, dropping out of college to become a carpenter, only to return to college to complete his education. Six books later I got the chance to interview Menhuam Ayele, and the information shared was valuable to say the least. But don’t take my word for it. See for yourself.
Robbie Jackson: Let’s get right into it! What inspired you to write a reference book on reparations?
Menhuam Ayele: Well, I’ve been following the history of reparations petitioning via literature and books because I’ve been involved in following the political consciousness of Black people. I have been interested in what reparations represent for Black people in terms of healing and repairing the damage.
What inspired me to write a reference book on reparations is due to the fact that most of the
conversation is about money. It seems to be one sided and lame. Not enough about repairing the damage of three to four hundred years of institutionalized slavery.
Money to me is a shallow conversation. It’s a frivolous conversation. It’s a fake conversation. So, I realize that someone had to write something more definite on what reparations means and what it really is to Black folk. I knew it had to be written. I also thought that there were many questions being asked that needed answers.
Robbie Jackson: If you could debunk one misconception about reparations, what would it be?
Menhuam Ayele: Reparations means to repair. It must fix what was damaged. We need to debunk the myth that reparations are just about money because if money doesn’t fix the problem, it won’t be reparations. So, what we first must look at is what was damaged.
Money is being made such a priority in this conversation with the government and media that we are missing the point. I don’t hear enough around fixing Black family problems and issues. I hear more about the money. And to me repairing Black people is not to just give us money. It is to fix the Black family and relationships that have been destroyed living in America. It is bringing back MAAT, and letting us have more references to our ancestors.
Reparations means getting the language of our ancestors back on our tongues. Reparations is not integration. It means repairing what was damaged from the beginning. So, I want to debunk that when we get a check things will go back to normal. No. We will never be the same again after reparations and we have to see it in our heart in order for it to truly happen.
Robbie Jackson: Recently the SF Reparations Committee released its first draft report. What’s your thought on their draft and proposal?
Menhuam Ayele: I’ve actually attended about two meetings. I’ve seen some of their agendas. I
actually like the initial $5 million claim. It was good, I think. It was good strategy. I even raised my eye at it. I proposed $1.5 million over 50 years in my book, knowing that’s a conservative number. The committee did always say that was just 1 of 111 demands that they have made which have a lot to do with reform. Fixing things in the system that allow Black people to have advantages in life. Reform.
Before the committee formed I was on the reparations conversation. It’s interesting to watch the drama, all the characters and influencers. I think it’s great that it’s a wave. I notice the theatrics though. We have to be careful of the characters that pop up. Because it’s all about money. Black people have to understand that we are doing this formality before a white civic body. It’s more of a ceremony. Black people need to have the conversation amongst themselves to really know what’s real.
Robbie Jackson: In the book you talk about life after reparations. In a perfect world, what do the days following that reception look like to you?
Menhuam Ayele: I’m so glad you asked this as a last question. OMG I wrote this because it’s very important to look at the day after since a lot of us are just waiting on it to come. I’ll quote a portion of the book:
“Surprisingly there is not much literature or commentary in journal columns on what life would be like after reparations. Not many people have played out the various scenarios of how Black people will live after we obtain our 40 acres and a mule. Consider the areas we currently live in within America. Will we continue to live in these same places? We should think about the current systemic industrialization process of meeting our everyday needs – like food, clothes, shelter, products, safety – and develop new models.”
Now many people are split on what the day after looks like. And since the focus is money, a lot of us just want to count dollar bills. I don’t even hear much about housing. In my world I’m actually designing a development. I have two degrees in architecture.
My suggestion is for us to build Black towns. Develop and flourish sustainable Black families and communities that would reestablish the ideas of MAAT from ancient Kemet – learning how to keep peace and maintain. Would it be like Wakanda? Yes, but it wouldn’t be world oriented with Western powers. It would be oriented for our space. I do see Black establishments, villages, states and nations.
Robbie Jackson: I love the dedication at the beginning of the book. After dedicating it to your children, you say: “This is to all the brothas and sistahs out there in dem streets who don’t have the time to reflect on such matters as Reparations, because they are on the front lines of the repercussions of its necessity. With love I set this book before our people to nurture our thoughts about how our Black existence can be improved out of such a horrific experience of being ‘Black in America.’
“Finally, I dedicate this to our children’s children’s children; for the posterity of our gene pools which hold the seeds of our ancestor’s redemption to become a restored and regenerated people once again. This is also dedicated to Mother Earth. As Black people repair themselves from the damages we have incurred from white terror, we will indirectly help restore our planet by reconnecting with the values of our ancestors which revered the Earth as our home and co-dependent upon which we could not sustain ourselves without. The Earth’s healing will be in direct proportion to our healing and recovery.
“It is hoped and intended for this book to set the tone for the dialogue in the repair of our people’s physical, mental and spiritual health, as well as our overall communal and environmental health in America. Finally, a book that lets everyone address their own issues and relate to other Black people that they have not been able to open up to.
“There’s no turning back now. Forward Black man, woman and child; we are here! No one but us can prescribe the antidote to heal the pain and suffering of Black people; as well as offer a sustaining solution that invigorates the posterity of the people. Nakupenda sana watu yangu. Ukombozi sasa!”
The vulnerability shown in the first pages set the tone for an honest conversation on a hot topic. How has fatherhood affected your journey as a Black man?
Menhuam Ayele: Fatherhood haha. I love being a father, and this journey of being a Black father, being a little Black boy, to being a young Black man, to being an old Black man. Living in the United States. It’s been a great challenge. It’s umm…well a lot of Black people are discombobulated around parenting because there is no structure. There isn’t like a union or something. We don’t really have structure as Black people. We choose to feel good and get along. For Black people being parents while taking a Black political stance is has had obstacles with basic living like housing, jobs, quality health care, clothes, while often not being able to get those things on time, all the while trying to find the time to parent a midst living in hell. I press on because there is more for us to give in. Black man don’t need to be single parenting. Black women don’t need to be single parenting. We need to bring our families back. I’m not going to play this strong Black father concept. I’m just going to say we need to bring our families back
Robbie Jackson: Being born and raised in Jacksonville, Fla., I found the information on Special Field Order No.15 super interesting. What do you think a place like that would look like today if that order was actually executed with Black people’s best interest at heart?
Menhuam Ayele: So, the area that you see on the coast is 400,000 acres of land. That’s South Carolina. That was the allotted amount given to about 11,000 Black troops and their family as a reward for fighting in the Civil War. It is a tradition in war to give people land in order to advance themselves. This land was given as a token by Gen. Sherman. He also issued Special Field Order 15 which confiscated that land. So, understand 400,000 acres is a lot of land. You can almost say that would be half of California.
Now California is the richest state in the country. If we had half of it, we’d be pretty rich too. I believe that Black people would have been at a state similar in trade and commerce, art, culture, technology and science just as any other culture would have been if Black people were given the opportunity to build a settlement. This settlement is bigger than any Black town has ever been. It was a grand gesture by a white military army general as a token to his Black troops.
But what would it look like today if that would have stayed in place. It was a great step in the direction. It was right. But wrong got in. That’s why it was vetoed and reversed. The more conversations had with people who have put in the work to fully understand what reparations is, the more we learn that money is a small part of a bigger picture. And often those who lead this country use money as a distraction from the ultimate goal: Healing and repairing ourselves – not just for the near future but the days in the distance. The ones we won’t see or live in, but our children will.
After talking to Menhuam Ayele, it has become more clear than ever that repairing the damage done by forefathers comes at a price, and money just is not enough, no matter the amount. $5 million per resident is life changing, and should be a part of the package. The things that truly matter are the things that fix our hearts and souls as well as the ones who come after us, and that’s just something money can’t ever buy.
Robbie Jackson is a student of the San Francisco Bay View’s Community Journalism Class, which is funded by the California State Library.