Almost 50 years ago, amid the 21st-century resurgence of the Black-led reparations movement, the now-defunct Pew Research Center released a survey that found over 70% of Black people supported reparations, but only 7% of Black people believed it would happen in their lifetime. Activists at the time described this phenomenon as the “hope gap,” as it illuminated the utter lack of belief that the federal government would ever provide redress to Black people across the country.
When HR 40 was passed in 2030, the belief that reparations were possible amongst the Black community stood at 55%. When the first federal reparations policies were enacted in 2034, the belief that reparations policies were possible stood at 90%.
Somehow, advocates were able to enact a policy solution that was not only deeply unpopular amongst a small and vocal minority of the U.S. public, but also reinvigorated a Black population that had no faith in a legal system that had let them down time and again.
How was this possible in a deeply partisan country where anti-Blackness ran rampant for over 400 years? Over the last half-century, the movement for reparations strategically built power across progressive movements and tied the story of reparations as the key to unlocking true healing across society. It ushered forth what many now consider a Third Reconstruction and transformed a culture deeply rooted in violence and individualism into one rooted in care and community.
Examining this movement and how it both inspired and harnessed the hope of Black people will be significantly critical for continuing to implement reparations policies and create a racially just world.
The Uprisings of 2020
On May 25, 2020, a Black man named George Floyd was arrested for the possible use of a counterfeit $20 bill. One of the arresting officers, Derek Chauvin, shoved his knee into the back of Floyd for close to nine minutes until Floyd stopped breathing. The deadly encounter sparked mass protests against police brutality and anti-Blackness across the globe. The clarion call that Black lives matter reverberated in streets from Oslo to Harlem as thousands of people took to the streets in protests that lasted for months in some cities.
While reparations were not a central call of the 2020 uprisings, the increased attention on racial inequality, anti-Blackness, and the carceral system in conjunction with the fallout of the Trump presidency and the attack on the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021 created an opening within our national discourse on race that the reparations movement graciously stepped into.
On June 17, 2021, President Biden signed a bill into law that made Juneteenth the 11th holiday officially recognized by the federal government and cemented an annual reminder that this country still had much reckoning to do.
An Interconnected and Intersectional Movement Appears
With more funding, sustained organizing, and increased exposure to the topic, support for reparations steadily increased across the country. Culturally, there was a crucial turning point; perhaps the most critical moment, at least within the cultural context, came when HBO, a legacy, corporately controlled media outlet, released their epic series “Reconstruction” in 2024, which told the fictional story of how the country would look in the 21st century if the era immediately after the Civil War was successful. The show portrayed the true story of Hiram Revels, the first Black person elected to the United States Senate, and fictionalized accounts of Black people gaining political, economic, and social power.
By showing what the world would look like if formerly enslaved people were given the 40 acres as the federal government promised them, the show simultaneously inspired hope that a progressive pro-Black society was attainable and pushed the movement to think critically about where to build power locally and empower the movement at large strategically.
For the first time, the country could collectively imagine what a world without anti-Blackness actually looked like, energizing a litany of Black people, particularly young Black people, to join the movement for reparations.
The 2028 Election & Sustained Hope
If HBO’s “Reconstruction” brought about a cultural revolution across Black America, the election of Stacey Abrams, the nation’s first female president, catalyzed a political revolution that changed the trajectory of the reparations conversation.
After nearly losing the election in 2024 after another challenge by former President Donald Trump, the Democratic party realized it had to radically shift its leadership to one that better represented the increasing diversity of America.
Stacey Abrams, who was no stranger to the national political scene, surprisingly chose Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC) as her running mate. The choice ran afoul of the type of candidate that Democrats could foresee increasing support for a Presidential candidate.
The summer before the election, after Abrams won the Democratic primary and announced that AOC would be her running mate, the world experienced a heatwave it hadn’t seen in over 125,000 years. From Spain to Pakistan and the U.S., temperatures elevated to 130 degrees Fahrenheit, and those still in denial that the climate crisis was real finally understood that our time on Earth was dwindling unless radical action was taken. That year, a record 10 million people died from extreme heat—the world was finally ready for change.
Of course, this elevated the Green New Deal, the sweeping legislative package that created 100% clean, renewable energy, and put a carbon tax, a jobs guarantee, and free college at the top of their policy agenda.
They noted that the Green New Deal would have to deal with the nation’s two founding sins—Indigenous land theft, and the enslavement of African people. Abrams proclaimed it is “only then that rebuilding can happen.”
They also argued that the U.S. and other nations in the West owed climate reparations to the Global South as they’ve been forced to deal with the brunt of the climate disaster despite countries like the U.S. being the largest contributors of greenhouse gas emissions. This added a new global lens to the reparations conversation and elevated the perspective of people of color within an environmental movement that was historically white-led.
After the pair won the election, they acted swiftly in coordination with Congress to pass the Green New Deal, which included specific language that would create a Department of Reparations, that would study the legacy of slavery and colonialism, direct Congress on where and how financial compensation should be directed, and recommended changes to laws that would transform the systems that entrench anti-Blackness and other forms of discrimination.
Their presidency laid the foundation for where we are today. A nation with still a lot of work to do, but one that has accepted that we owe our future generations a world radically different from the one we inherited. The movement for reparations ushered forth a new era in this country, and for that, we should be eternally grateful.