There Are New Suns: Building a Transformative Narrative for the Black Reparations Movement

This report, titled after a quote from science-fiction writer Octavia Butler, is for advocates, organizers, strategists, writers, researchers, artists, cultural makers, funders, and anyone else interested in diving deeper into the essence of reparations and developing strategies that can forward this movement. Throughout the report, you’ll find activities, poems, and stories that we hope activate your imagination and inspire you to join us as we tell new stories in service of building a new world. 

“Payment of a debt owed; the act of repairing a wrong or injury; to atone for wrongdoings; to make amends; to make one whole again; the payment of damages; to repair a nation; compensation in money, land, or materials for damages.”
- National Coalition of Blacks for Reparations in America.

piece of organic material on rocky beach

The Reparations Narrative Lab launched in August of 2022 after a year of strategic planning and interviews with experts and advocates across the growing narrative change and reparations ecosystems. Over the course of the last year, it has brought together 13 brilliant champions across the racial justice movement to build a narrative schematic that we’ve dubbed the Narrative House. 

The Narrative House was constructed through months of discussion with Lab members, longtime advocates in the reparations movement, allies, cultural strategists, artists, and researchers. It invites an invitation to all to participate in this movement, particularly those interested in using the power of story to help situate reparations for Black people in the United States as a necessity in creating a just and equitable world.

This movement is necessary because it seeks to not only address the current economic precarity that millions of Black Americans find themselves in due to the systemic ways in which labor and capital have been extracted from Black communities but also address the psychological, social, cultural, and political harm Black communities have endured for centuries.

Passing a comprehensive federal reparations program will require building and sustaining narrative power, which we define as the ability to tell stories that shift the mental models and cultural mindsets that define our cultural norms. We believe that shifting the anti-Black paradigms that litter our society will elevate all people. 

The Lab and the Narrative House, together, are an attempt at building this kind of narrative power by fostering a type of radical alignment across movements that can advance a progressive racial justice agenda and eclipse the array of anti-Black narratives that block our collective liberation.

As we seek to build power around a set of transformative narratives and stories to uproot anti-Blackness at its core and deliver the promise of reparations to Black people, our opponents are also actively building power, passing harmful policies, and reframing critical pieces of history to fit within a white supremacist narrative.

In this first year of the Reparations Narrative Lab, we analyzed narratives used to challenge reparations,; how those narratives show up daily in movement organizing; the impact they have on our collective memory, consciousness, and understanding of race, racism, anti-Blackness, and the inner workings of harmful systems and frameworks like capitalism and colonialism.

The Lab convened conversations with movement leaders on topics like public opinion about reparations over time, white nationalism, the intersection of the Black-led reparations movement, the Japanese-American redress movement, the Indigenous-led Land Back movement, and different cultural strategies that could be applied to modern-day reparations advocacy efforts. We held focus groups with other activists across justice movements to inform the Lab’s thinking as it created the narrative schematic and strengthened partnerships with professional storytellers and content creators who already had a vested interest in using their platform to uplift stories and messages about reparations.

Throughout the process, we strived to honor the wisdom and knowledge of those who have produced thought leadership in the realm of social movements, organizing, power-building, history, and sociology. In one of our first sessions, movement elders like Makani Themba, Dr. Akinyele Umioja, and Dr. Mary Frances Berry helped to orient Lab members of the trajectory of the reparations and broader Black liberation movements, and put into context how we arrived at this current moment in time. We found among us there was both knowledge that affirmed existing assumptions and hypotheses as well as new learnings we hope can support storytelling initiatives in the future.

Reparations are one of the most defining issues of our time. While this report does not provide a landscape of all the efforts going on across the country, dozens of state and local governments and public institutions are exploring what reparations for slavery and its vestiges could look like in their locality.

In this report, we outline the various aspects that should be taken into account by organizers, activists, social justice organizations, artists, researchers, and anyone committed to the ethos of equity, justice, liberation, and freedom. We provide a detailed schematic that can be used to help foster internal conversation, ideation, and creativity within groups, resulting in more voices joining the reparations movement and telling stories alongside us that can truly transform society.

bipoc women holding hands
Introduction: A Word on Narrative & Reparations

“Little progress is made if we transform images without shifting paradigms, changing perspectives, ways of looking.” —bell hooks, Black Looks: Race and Representation, 1992

The United States is built on anti-Black narratives.

The stories we tell about race, about Blackness, help inform our entire worldview about life—they construct the mental models that guide our behavior, laws, policies, and social norms. It is through anti-Black narratives, which asserted that African people were subhuman, that the institution of slavery was justified and upheld for centuries.

The abolition of U.S. chattel slavery and the brief era of Reconstruction did not bring an end to anti-Black narratives. In fact, they were altered and repackaged to substantiate an apartheid state through the rule of Jim Crow laws. This gave rise to the largest carceral state in the world where Black people now make up 38 percent of people in prisons and jails despite composing only 13.6 percent of the population.1 It also created an environment conducive to white vigilantism and state-sanctioned violence against Black people.

These anti-Black narratives follow Black people throughout their lives, from birth to death, and are apparent littered in every aspect of our society. It is why Black children are four times more likely to be suspended from school than white children2 and why formerly incarcerated white men are more likely to get a job than a Black man with no criminal record.3 It’s also why Black women are three times more likely to die during childbirth than white women.4

At the same time that federal, state, and local policies helped grow white wealth, there were laws enacted that either helped to extract from or block Black wealth, which has created what long-time reparations organizer Nkechi Taifa calls the “racial wealth chasm.” Today, the average white family has ten times as much wealth as the average Black family.5

Entertainment, educational, political, and cultural institutions in the United States have not only created the aforementioned disparities but also continue to sustain and reinforce them through a matrix of related stories that shape how all people view Black communities. Stories regarding race have mostly served to degrade, dehumanize, or exploit Blackness while framing whiteness and all it encompasses as “normal.” The Black-led reparations movement seeks to upend this and radically transform the way in which Blackness and Black people are seen, understood, and accepted.

Doing this will require social justice movements, in general, to reframe common arguments against reparations, build a strong and powerful base of individuals who persistently advocate for reparations, and build enough power to shift white-supremacist and capitalist mindsets that have deemed reparations and other similar policies as radical or unobtainable. We’ll have to align around a set of narratives while organizing across communities to motivate our elected officials to ultimately introduce and pass reparations policies at the local, state, and federal levels.

Increasing support for reparations among all groups will require changing not only the stories we tell about reparations, but also about racism, anti-Blackness, colonialism, white supremacy, and the history of this country. It will require us to shift these stories from the current harmful ones—so many of which are based on outright lies and myths—to those that are cohesive, honest, and transformative. We believe this will only happen through an intentional and coordinated narrative and cultural change effort.

The Narrative House, along with this report, serves as an invitation to join the reparations movement and build power alongside old and new organizers. Our vision is for the Narrative House to be utilized as a tool by racial and social justice organizations and support their efforts in building internal narrative capacity so that we might expand the movement. The more organizations that align on a cohesive narrative will allow us to radically grow our “choir,” fortify our “base,” and move those who are “persuadable” closer to our side. This will foster an environment conducive to the passage of a comprehensive federal reparations bill.

We also hope that artists, cultural makers, and creatives who use their platforms or art forms to influence our understanding of race, racism, and white supremacy will use the Narrative House in support of their creative direction and artistry. It is through the saturation of these narratives within our culture that we will normalize reparations as a requirement to create a racially just world, and it is through organizing and building power around these narratives that we will secure a base of supporters for this movement.

The report’s title is inspired by the science-fiction writer Octavia Butler, who noted that “there is nothing new under the sun, but there are new suns.” Over time, we have witnessed decolonial movements that have transformed our way of being and produced a new society that looks and feels radically different than the one it discarded. The reparations movement, in coordination with other liberatory and decolonial movements across the globe, has the potential to transform the world—to give rise to a new sun.

We hope the Narrative House and the research from the Lab laid out in this report will inspire you to join or participate further in the movement for reparations. What follows is truly an invitation to craft your own individual and organizational narrative, build power alongside the organizers carrying forth these narratives every day, and support the creation of a new and much more liberated world.

 1. Wessler, Mike. “Updated Charts Provide Insights on Racial Disparities, Correctional Control, Jail Suicides, and More.” Prison Policy Initiative, May 19, 2022.

 2. Toppo, Greg. USA Today. ‘Black Students nearly 4x as likely to be suspended.’ USA Today, June 7, 2016.

 3. Von Zielbauer, Paul. New York Times. “Race a Factor in Job Offers for Ex-Convicts.” The New York Times, June 17, 2005.

4. Taylor, Jamila, Bernstein, Anna, Waldrop, Thomas, Smith-Ramakrishnan Vina. “The Worsening U.S. Maternal Health Crisis in Three Graphs.” The Century Foundation. March 2, 2022.

 5. McIntosh, Kriston, Moss, Emily, Nunn, Ryan, Shambaugh, Jay. “Examining the Black-White Wealth Gap. Brookings. February 27, 2020.