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AP all-formats team looks at town’s Black reparations through the eyes of a retired professor

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Few issues are as fraught as reparations — Americans are bitterly divided on whether to make the payments to Black people and others who have suffered injustice. And even those who support the idea disagree on who should pay and how much.

So when the college town of Amherst, Massachusetts, declared itself an anti-racist community and began taking a hard look at providing practical payouts to Black residents who have suffered from a centuries-old legacy of discrimination, the AP’s Boston bureau set about using it as a backdrop for a national look at where things stand on making amends.

Video journalist Rodrique Ngowi soon found the perfect subject to make the project visually driven and character-centered: 96-year-old former University of Massachusetts professor Edwin Driver,who arrived on campus in the 1940s as one of the nation’s first Black faculty members at a flagship university — only to find no one would sell him a house because of the color of his skin. He said he was also denied pay raises for decades despite being one of the institution’s most published professors.

With an assist from news researcher Jennifer Farrar,Ngowi tracked down Driver’s adult children to find out if the elderly professor had the physical strength and mental acuity to be interviewed. He did,and after Driver readily agreed,reporter Philip Marcelo,joined by photographer Charlie Krupa,arranged to interview the professor from outside the house as he sat,socially distant and safe, in the doorway of his home.

The all-formats AP team came away with a powerful and illuminating portrait of a Black man who’d been wronged — a compelling way to frame the earnest but complicated public effort to make things right.

“If reparations could make up the lost salary,I would appreciate it. I would enjoy it. I would celebrate it,” Driver said,but he added skeptically: “I don’t think that’s going to ever happen.” Underscoring how reparations can involve more than money,Driver suggested the university rename the campus chapel where his first office was located in his honor.

The AP’s reporting was timely: This week,Evanston,Illinois, became the first U.S. city to approve cash payments to Black residents for past discrimination and the lingering effects of slavery. Other efforts at various stages are in the works in the state of California; Providence,Rhode Island; religious denominations like the Episcopal Church; and prominent colleges like Georgetown University in Washington.

The package was widely used by customers and was one of the most-shared and commented-upon stories of the week on social media,garnering nearly 10,000 likes,shares and comments on Facebook and touching off a spirited debate on Twitter.

For impactful and highly visual storytelling that helped put a face on a provocative and politically charged issue — one the nation will be wrestling with for years to come — Ngowi, Krupa and Marcelo earn the week’s Best of the States honors.

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