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‘Why We Can’t Wait’ Campaign Builds on Unprecedented Support for HR 40 to Address Racial Injustice

Washington, DC, August 3, 2020 — The US Congress should address systemic racism by bringing House Resolution (HR) 40 to a full vote once it reaches the floor, more than 100 civil rights, human rights, and civil society organizations and businesses said today. The federal bill would establish a commission to investigate the legacy of slavery and its ongoing harm, and come up with proposals to Congress for reparations.

The organizations mobilized under the new campaign “Why We Can’t Wait,” initiated by groups including the National African American Reparations Commission (NAARC), Human Rights Watch, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), and the National Coalition of Blacks for Reparations in America (N’COBRA).

The campaign begins as both reparations and HR 40 have experienced a surge in support, amid the nationwide protests against systemic racism – by far the largest social movement in the US – and an increasing number of local reparations initiatives. A majority of Americans now support the creation of the HR 40 commission, according to a new poll from Democracy in Color and Civiqs released this week. According to the poll, support for HR 40 jumped 19 percentage points since last year, from 31 percent to 50 percent, and 56 percent of Americans who responded said that Congress is “doing too little” to address racial inequality.

HR 40 was originally introduced by the late Congressman John Conyers during every legislative session between 1989 and 2017, after which it was reintroduced by Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee in January 2019. It has garnered a record number of co-sponsors in the past year amid Americans’ growing concerns about racial justice. The late Congressman John Lewis was among its strongest and most consistent supporters.

“We can’t recover the lives lost to systemic anti-Blackness and heinous racial terror,” the letter to Congress reads. “We can’t undo the trauma that has wreaked havoc on Black communities and bodies. But what we can do is pass HR 40, and its Senate companion S 1083. It is what the moment requires.”

The letter to Congress and signatories are available here below.

For more information, please contact:
Gerry Johnson (English), Human Rights Watch: +1-609-923-1816; or
Don Rojas (English), NAARC: +1-410-844-1031; or

Letter to Congress and signatories


July 31, 2020

Dear Speaker Pelosi, Leader McCarthy, Chairman Nadler, and Ranking Member Jordan:

Cc: Majority Leader McConnell and Minority Leader Schumer

Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s seminal text, “Why We Can’t Wait,” was written in 1963 and has emerged as more prescient than ever in this moment. The multi-racial, cross-generational protests across the United States have ushered in a national reckoning on structural racism—and a sea change in attitudes. A majority of people in the US support the protests and believe that racism is a serious issue in this country. We, the undersigned organizations, believe addressing it can no longer wait.

People in the US are now more eager than ever to pull back the curtain on institutions to see whether they have helped to advance or stall racial progress, and the US Congress is no exception. One bill in particular can demonstrate support for meeting this moment in a reasonable, rational, and compassionate way: House Resolution (HR) 40. We urge House and Committee leadership to bring this bill to a full vote once it reaches the floor.

The current social movement, the largest in US history, is in response to problems that are centuries in the making—issues intractably tied to the horrors of settler colonialism and the enslavement of Black people in the United States. People in the US are increasingly aware that there is no way forward from the current strife without addressing one of the nation’s most egregious violations of human rights—the institution of slavery. HR 40 would establish a commission to investigate the legacy of slavery and its ongoing harms as well as come up with proposals to Congress for redress and repair.

HR 40 is simply a first and reasonable step—it is a commitment to truth-telling, studying and coming up with ideas to treat the disease, rather than a commitment to the treatment itself. The bill has been introduced for 30 years—yet for 30 years, it has languished. If the protests have demonstrated anything, it is that action cannot wait.

  • HR 40 can’t wait, when Covid-19 is harming Black people in the US  at three times the rate of white people, with disparities across all age groups and areas of the country.
  • HR 40 can’t wait, when Black infants are more than twice as likely to die as white infants—making the disparity worse than it was in 1850, when Black people were enslaved.
  • HR 40 can’t wait, when heads of white households who only have a high school diploma are sitting on almost 10 times more wealth than Black households with the same level of education. If Black families did “everything right,” the advanced degrees would still allow them to accumulate less wealth than a white family whose head of household only had a high school diploma. They’d be disproportionately denied mortgages and fair lending rates regardless of their incomes.
  • HR 40 can’t wait, when the gap between Black and white wealth is as large as it was in 1968.
  • HR 40 can’t wait, when school districts that serve higher populations of Black and brown students receive $23 billion less in funding compared to mostly white school districts, even though they serve the same number of children.
  • HR 40 can’t wait, when Black students are disproportionately punished and criminalized in their schools, beginning in preschool, facing greater rates of suspension, expulsion, and arrest compared to their white peers, often for the same behaviors.
  • HR 40 can’t wait, when experts say that systemic racism is leaving Black people with symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorderharm to their immune systemspremature aging, and in Washington, DC, life expectancies that are a staggering 14.9 years shorter than white residents’—all while Black people are less likely than white people to have access to mental health services and more likely to receive poor quality care.
  • HR 40 can’t wait, when the suicide rate for Black children is rising faster than for any other racial and ethnic group, and the second-leading cause of death for Black youth aged 10 to 19.
  • Don’t ask us to wait, when governments’ infrastructure plans have racially segregated cities across the country, creating separate conditions of life for Black and white people through “urban removal,” highway construction, restrictive zoning laws, and use of eminent domain.
  • Don’t ask us to wait, when as a result of government-imposed segregation, health outcomes in Black neighborhoods are disproportionately impacted by heat levels and environmental hazards due to the close proximity to places like oil refineries, trash incinerators, construction sites, and waste dumping sites.
  • Don’t ask us to wait, when even after the broken promise of “40 acres and a mule,” formerly enslaved Black people and their descendants managed to own 14 million acres of land at the start of the 20th century, while today at least 90 percent of that land is not in their possession, due to systemic oppression, targeted racist violence, and an inequitable legal system.
  • Don’t ask to us wait when the property tax system has discriminated against Black families throughout history and across the country, saddling them with an unfair tax burden – and when to this day, Black people pay 13 percent more in property taxes than similarly situated white families.
  • Don’t ask us to wait, when even dying costs Black people more — end-of-life care under Medicare is $7,100 more expensive for Black individuals compared to their white counterparts.
  • Don’t ask us to wait, when Black people are more than six times as likely as white people to languish behind bars for possessing drugs for personal use, even though Black and white people use drugs at the same rates.
  • Don’t ask us to wait, when 1 in 1,000 Black men and boys in the United States can expect to die at the hands of police in a country where it’s rare for police officers to face legal consequences — and even rarer to face a conviction — for killing Black people.
  • Don’t ask us to wait, when Black women in the United States are three times more likely to die of preventable pregnancy related causes than white women, and are nearly twice as likely to die from cervical cancer.

As Dr. King argued in 1963, the movement for racial equality and equal rights under the law calls on us to move courageously towards repair. We can’t get back those years and wages that Black people lost while in bondage and unfairly behind bars. We can’t recover the lives lost to systemic anti-Blackness and heinous racial terror. We can’t undo the trauma that has wreaked havoc on Black communities and bodies. But what we can do is pass HR 40, and its Senate companion S 1083. It is what the moment requires. It is an opportunity to start moving the United States out of this deep quagmire of inequality and to finally make it whole.


1Hood Media

African Ancestral Society

Alianza Nacional de Campesinas

Allard K. Lowenstein International Human Rights Clinic, Yale Law School

American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)

Amnesty International USA

Appeal Incorporated

Autistic Self Advocacy Network

Bend the Arc: Jewish Action

Black Alliance for Just Immigration (BAJI)

California Alliance for Youth and Community Justice

Center for Community Alternatives

Center for Gender & Refugee Studies

Centro Legal de La Raza

Change The Ref

Chinese-American Planning Council

Chi-Town Impact

Council of Jewish Women

Church World Service

Columbia Law School Human Rights Institute

Community Healing Network, Inc.


Demand Progress

Disability Rights California

Drug Policy Alliance

Dynamic Force Productions, LLC

Faith Action Network – Washington State

First Christian Methodist Episcopal Church

Fit, Fyne & Fabulous, LLC

Giving Blueprint

Global Human Rights Clinic at the University of Chicago Law School (for affiliation purposes)

Hawai’i Institute for Human Rights

Health in Justice Action Lab, Northeastern University School of Law

HERitage Giving Fund

Historic Vernon AME Church

Human Rights Watch

IKAR Jewish Community

Immigrant Legal Defense

Institute of the Black World (IBW) 21st Century

International Black Women’s Congress

Japanese American Citizens League (JACL)

Johnson & Klein Law

Justice Roundtable

Keep The Change, LLC

Let’s ReUp

Life Line Financial Group

Matthew Shepard Foundation

McPherson Strategies, LLC


Murph-Emmanuel AME Church

Nathalie Molina Niño, LLC (O³)

National Action Network (NAN)

National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP)

National African American Reparations Commission (NAARC)

National Association for Black Veterans, Inc.

National Coalition Against Domestic Violence

National Coalition of Blacks for Reparations in America (N’COBRA)

National Conference of Black Lawyers

National Council of Churches

National Council of Jewish Women

National Lawyers Guild (NLG)

National Lawyers Guild – International Committee

National Partnership for New Americans

NETWORK Lobby for Catholic Social Justice

New American Leaders

New Yorkers for Culture & Arts

One World Exchange Project Blueprint

Pacific Community Ventures


Primera Impact

Radical Health

Raleigh Immigration Law Firm

RaVae Entertainment, Inc.

Red-Horse Financial Group, Inc.

Reparations Pledge


Rise Up Kingston

Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference


SimonSays Entertainment, Inc.

Sixth Episcopal District African Methodist Episcopal Church

St James African Methodist Episcopal Church

Stetson University College of Law

Strive Till I Rise

Sunrise Movement

Terence Crutcher Foundation

T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights

The Association of Black Psychologists, Inc.

The Taifa Group, LLC

The Chocolate Factory

The Husseini Group, Inc.

The Mezzanine Fund

Third Avenue Business Improvement District

Tyler Household Girl Chat 3.0

Umbrelly Welly

Union for Reform Judaism

University Network for Human Rights

Ureeka, Inc.

USC Gould School of Law International Human Rights Clinic

Vote Run Lead#WeAllGrow Latina Network

WESPAC Foundation, Inc.

WOCstar Fund

Women’s Law Project

Woodhull Freedom Foundation

World Within Labs


Zehner, LLC


The National African American Reparations Commission is comprised of an assembly of distinguished scholars, civil rights, human rights, faith, labor, business and professional leaders committed to advancing the multigenerational quest for reparations for African Americans. For more info -