A group of Black community leaders gathered outside St. Paul City Hall on Tuesday to criticize the City Council's hiring of a non-African American policy aide to staff the city's new reparations commission.
Hours later, city officials said Jennifer Lor, who currently serves as a policy aide for Council Member Nelsie Yang, had withdrawn her name from consideration for the role.
"It's not about the person," said Trahern Crews, one of the leaders of St. Paul's reparations movement. "It's just that we need somebody who has the lived experience, knowledge of reparations, knowledge of the racial wealth gap and how it impacts the descendants of slavery who reside in St. Paul."
In January, after a yearlong study, the council voted to create a permanent advisory board to make recommendations to city leaders on policy and budget decisions related to reparations for descendants of chattel slavery. The commission's first 11 members were appointed in late June.
The group has not yet held an official meeting but plans to start later this year. The council has said solutions could aim to address a range of racial disparities, including those in generational wealth, homeownership, health care, education, employment and pay, and the criminal justice system.
In early June, the council posted a job listing for a senior policy aide who would spend half their time working on reparations policy. The hire would also serve as the council's district council liaison and help with other duties.
"That in and of itself is a problem — the fact that we can't be allotted a full-time position to work on something that's so much work, so deeply rooted and so historical," said Chauntyll Allen, a St. Paul school board member and leader of Black Lives Matter Twin Cities. "We're talking 400 years of oppression that needs to be addressed."
Allen and others at the news conference called on city leaders to re-examine their applicant pool, saying they know qualified Black candidates who sought the role. Otherwise, they said, the council should repost the position and recruit African American candidates.
"This is total disrespect to the Black community, and we're not going to stand for it," said Tyrone Terrill, president of the African American Leadership Council.
Council Member Jane Prince, the lead author of the reparations ordinance, said she was given little involvement in the hiring process.
"The council failed its first reparations test by our failure to recognize the African American community's investment in a representative process," said Prince, adding that she considers Lor "a smart, talented and highly capable professional."
"With the commission seated and able to advise the selection process moving forward, we now have the opportunity to try to earn the community's confidence."
City staff and other council members did not respond to requests for comment or declined to comment on the hiring process. Lor did not respond to a request for comment.
Mayor Melvin Carter's budget proposal for 2024 did not include funding for reparations programming, but Crews said he and other community members have requested that change. In an interview on TPT's "Almanac" last month, Carter said he looks forward to hearing the commission's conversations about reparations.
"We really want the mayor to be engaged in the process," Crews said.