Knoxville city council approves McKenzie’s African-American Equity Restoration resolution

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — The Knoxville City Council unanimously voted Tuesday night to move ahead with Vice Mayor Gwen McKenzie’s “African American Equity Restoration” resolution.

The resolution is an apology for removal policies that impacted mostly Black residents back in the 1950-1970s during the city’s urban renewal efforts and it also calls for $100 million funding over the next decade.

The $100 million will come through grant funding over a 10-year span to create opportunities of economic equity so the African American population can thrive, according to city leaders.

The resolution also creates a task force that would help find and apply for that grant funding; members of the task force will be appointed by city administration.

Vice Mayor McKenzie said during the discussion of the resolution Tuesday night that the city would look to the task force for guidance as well as finding ways to create more job opportunities and job training programs.

Ultimately, the specific goals of the task force wouldn’t be determined until the task force was created.

During the council meeting and before the vote, at least 16 residents voiced their opinions about the resolution.

Rev. Renee Kesler, president of the Beck Cultural Exchange Center, was one of those who spoke.

Part of what she said was on behalf of Nikki Giovanni, a famous poet from Knoxville who lived in the area during the urban renewal project.

“Renee, tell them Mulvaney street is my home. Cal Johnson Park is where Joan Miller and I played tennis, or watched Marvin and Matthew battle each other,” the quote started.

All of the speakers were for the resolution, however some believed the resolution doesn’t go far enough.

They pointed out that the city already has programs to help the black community, but yet there was still a high level of poverty.

They questioned why the city was possibly going to put in taxpayer money to help build a baseball stadium, but this resolution only committed to looking for mostly grant funding.

Some city council members brought up that argument as well.

During public forum unrelated to the resolution, residents compared the possibility of passing the sports authority resolution (which did pass) and it being the first step towards a baseball stadium in downtown to the urban renewal project.

“I’m not sure whether you see in irony in proposing the sports authority knowing you’re in conservations to get public debt towards the stadium. Committing tens of millions of dollars towards this, but you will not commit tens of millions of dollars towards the black community who owned the land before it was taken in the process of urban renewal. This was the very land that was called the bottoms,” Charles Al-Bawi, a Knoxville resident, said.

Many of the speakers in the public forum regarding the African American Restoration resolution hoped the passing of the resolution was just the first step to leveling the playing field for the black community, but hoped the city would still do a lot more.

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