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Flint, MI—A Flint leader has been chosen to be part of a nationwide effort to create racial reparation solutions for communities of color.
Asa Zuccaro, executive director of the Latinx Technology and Community Center was recently named a community fellow within the program “Crafting Democratic Futures: Situating Colleges and Universities in Community-based Reparations Solutions.” He will represent Flint during the three-year program, providing context for research at the University of Michigan.
Referred to as CDF, the program goes into cities like Flint, where researchers speak to residents about their experiences living in the city. The information they gather will be used to understand how systemic racism now and in the past has negatively affected the lives of people of color in the city.
Zuccaro said he was “elated” when he first heard about CDF getting involved in Flint.
“When they mentioned cities like Flint and Detroit were going to be in this project, well, there is nothing more exciting to an individual that’s from Flint who is passionate about social justice.
In Zuccaro’s eyes, cities like Detroit and Flint were built off the backs of Black labor before suddenly being plunged into economic duress, and have a lot to offer in terms of understanding and uncovering how systemic racism affects a community. He said being able to identify these long-standing inequities will do a lot for coming up with viable solutions for reparations.
“Just looking at the history of these industrial cities and other places like Gary and Chicago, they have very unique histories. There was this incredible boom in the economy, something made possible mainly by Black labor which was followed by complete economic devastation. A lot of challenges that these communities face today are definitely a clear result of systemic racism and systemic oppression,” Zuccaro said.
Having gotten his bachelor’s from UM-Flint in Africana Studies, Zuccaro said seeing the topic of reparations being applied to a city like Flint was “exciting.”
CDF was founded by Earl Lewis, director of UM’s Center for Social Solutions. The program, which will be headquartered in Ann Arbor, is made up of nine universities spanning the eastern United States. As part of its mission, CDF was tasked with identifying a handful of communities within Michigan to carry out its research.
Jessica Cruz Ph.D, the CDF’s managing director, explained how Flint came to be one of the cities chosen for the program.
“For the U of M team, we were thinking, of course, Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti because that’s where central campus is located and we believed it was important to look in our own community as well. Given the university’s geographic location, we thought of course, we have to look at Metro Detroit. Then there was Flint. I think it’s just so deeply important to consider Flint when we’re talking about Southeast Michigan in general,” Cruz said.
Though Flint’s physical proximity was an important factor when choosing what cities UM would focus on, Cruz said that certain aspects of Flint’s history made it a unique candidate for the program.
“There is the pressing matter of the water crisis that people are still navigating and managing today and we thought that was important to acknowledge and that it needed to be part of the project,” Cruz said.
Cruz further explained that the program was specifically designed to be community-based. For that aspect of the project to work, Cruz said, “we can’t go into any community and say this is what we are going to do, and this is what we are not going to do. We want to have community conversations and dialogue to learn about what’s important in that particular neighborhood or community.”
This is where the project’s community fellows come in. Zuccaro, a Flint native whose family recently celebrated 100 years living in Flint has experienced first-hand the effects of systemic racism.
Zuccaro remembers growing up hearing how I-475’s construction forced his grandparents to leave their home so the interstate could be built over it. As an adult, he watched those same grandparents leave their east side home once again after their water bills became too high.
Despite those experiences, Zuccaro said, “I’m blessed to be from Flint.”
When talking about reparations, both Cruz and Zuccaro emphasized the fact that reparations can come in the form of more than just financial compensation.
Cruz used one of the CDF’s partners, Concordia College as an example. The team at Concordia is focusing specifically on intergenerational trauma. Cruz explained how in that part of Minnesota, many Native American children were forced to go to boarding schools designed to assimilate them into western culture. In these schools, children were taught to speak only English, dress in European styles and eventually ignore their culture.
In this process of deculturalization, many children were subjected to physical and emotional abuse, creating a cycle that has plagued Native American communities for years.
According to the CDF’s website, suggestions for reparations in the Fargo-Moorhead area where Concordia is located, have taken the shape of social programs designed to “promote much-needed healing for Native American families,” and “improve the educational situation for Native American students in our schools.”
“In Concordia, they are looking at intergenerational trauma caused by Indian forced boarding school experiences and so as a result of that, they are looking at language learning as a form of reparations. It’s important to highlight things like that because reparations can be financial, I think that’s the piece people think of most often, but they can be non-financial too in the form of services, education and more,” Cruz said.
Examples of reparations like the one at Concordia and Evanston, Ill. where the first successful reparations program was implemented in March of 2021, will be used to guide the efforts of other CDF teams like the one in Michigan.
In Flint, however, the program has just taken root and solutions will likely not come until CDF has had time to establish community connections. For now, Flint’s community fellow is still in the process of learning exactly what type of solutions Flintstones would most benefit from.
When asked about his opinion on what reparations entail, Zuccaro said that was “the key question.”
“I’m going to say the best way for me to explain it is that I don’t have a clear definition yet of exactly what that looks like,” he said. “It’s beyond just the 40 acres and the mule, right? It’s beyond just a payment. I think we need to look at different policy decisions that have been made, many of which are rooted in historical racism and systemic oppressions. … We have to look at our communities and ask what they would look like if these types of policies had not existed. What would Black America look like if historical racism didn’t exist? That’s the conversation to have. Remove the oppressor and ask yourself what your future would look like.”