The Black labor and reparations movements have gained traction in recent years with more frequent hearings about H.R. 40, California’s creation of a reparations task force, and the historic vote to create Amazon’s first-ever U.S. labor union all pointing to progress.
The movements, however, are only as strong as the people behind them. Here are three emerging leaders showing results that Black America should keep an eye on in the Black labor and reparations space.
1. Chris Smalls
The former Amazon employee rose to fame in 2020 when he was fired from his position as an assistant manager in the e-commerce giant’s Staten Island warehouse after he organized an employee walkout in protest against unsafe working conditions as a result of the covid-19 pandemic.
Amazon claims it fired Smalls because he violated the company’s quarantining protocol after coming into contact with a worker who tested positive, but Smalls said he was “retaliated against” for “speaking out.”
Since then, Smalls has continued his efforts to help Amazon employees unionize and clinched a major victory on April 1 when workers voted yes to create the Amazon Labor Union, the company’s first-ever in the U.S.
Amazon has worked against unions for a long time. Now Smalls and his friend and co-organizer Derrick Palmer are receiving emails and messages from people around the country.
Smalls said he didn’t set out to become an activist but the work is rewarding and they’ve accomplished something established unions have been unable to.
“Amazon’s been around for 28 years. You know, that’s it. These established unions had 28 years to try. We did it in 11 months,” Smalls said on a Twitter Space conversation, NPR reported.
“We were just living our normal lives, going to work every day, just going home, watching sports. We had no intentions of doing any of this. And that is the god-honest truth,” Small continued.
2. Kamilah Moore
Attorney and activist Kamilah Moore, 29, is the chairwoman of the California Reparations Task Force, the first of its kind in the nation. She was voted into the position during the task force’s first meeting on June 1, 2021.
The UCLA grad has an extensive academic background in reparatory justice and international law and has spent her academic and law career exploring the harms imposed by racism, human rights violations and gender violence.
Moore practices entertainment law professionally but dedicates much of her spare time to reparatory justice causes, which she has long been passionate about.
She serves on the advisory board of the Coalition for a Just and Equitable California (CJEC) and the National Assembly of American Slavery Descendants (NAASD).
She is an advocate of lineage-based reparations. “In terms of reparations for the institution of slavery, those enslaved Africans, they were promised reparations though 40 acres and a mule but it was rescinded through the broken promise of reconstruction and because of the assassination of Abraham Lincoln,” Moore said during an interview. “So those freed African slaves never got repair and then the harms that they faced were transferred upon their direct descendants.”
3. Dr. William ‘Sandy’ Darity
Duke University professor and author Dr. William ‘Sandy” Darity has dedicated much of his life and career to advocating for reparations for Black Americans.
Darity and his wife, Kirsten Mullen, wrote the award-winning book, “From Here to Equality: Reparations for Black Americans in the Twenty-First Century,” which makes the case for reparations for Black Americans.
He is the Samuel DuBois Cook professor of public policy in the Sanford School at Duke University and is also a professor of African and African American studies, economics and the director of the Samuel DuBois Cook Center on Social Equity.
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Darity has won numerous awards for his work and is sought after as a speaker and advisor on economics, the racial wealth gap, and reparations.
In his expert opinion, Darity said he believes the current proposed H.R. 40 bill, which will create a commission to study reparations, doesn’t go far enough. In 2021, Darity called on President Joe Biden to establish a presidential reparations commission.
We need “a very different type of initiative — something akin to a plan for reparations for Black Americans who have ancestors who were enslaved in the United States,” Darity said in an interview with CBS News in April 2021. “I would be very excited if the president would establish a presidential commission that would take up the task of reparations for Black Americans.”
Photos: Sandy Darity, left, https://www.minneapolisfed.org/; Chris Smalls, center, at the Amazon Labor Union press conference and rally, Staten Island, Aug. 11, 2021. (Rainmaker Photos/MediaPunch /IPX); Kamilah Moore, https://oag.ca.gov/ab3121/members/bios