Activism & Campaigns June 30, 2021 at 12:00 pm

This 73-year-old woman just finished a 40-day hunger strike for slavery reparations

Francis Akhalbey | Content Manager

Francis Akhalbey June 30, 2021 at 12:00 pm

June 30, 2021 at 12:00 pm | Activism & Campaigns

Rachelle Zola embarked on a 40-day hunger strike to demand slavery reparations -- Screenshot via Rachelle For H.R. 40 #OURMISSIONISTHECOMMISSION on YouTube

A 73-year-old Chicago woman on Saturday completed a 40-day hunger strike she embarked on to demand slavery reparations for African Americans. Throughout the 40-day period calling for the need to pass the H.R. 40 bill, Rachelle Zola survived on a liquid-based diet of water, Pedialyte and bone broth, Chicago Tribune reported.

Sponsored by Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, the H.R. 40 bill proposes the establishment of a commission that will “study and develop reparation proposals for African Americans” and also “examine slavery and discrimination in the colonies and the United States from 1619 to the present and recommend appropriate remedies.”

In an interview with the news outlet, Zola, a former special education teacher, expressed her satisfaction with her hunger strike campaign – particularly with the conversations she had with local residents as well as the media. As part of her efforts to raise awareness for the campaign, Zola, who moved to Chicago in 2019 to familiarize herself with Black and Brown people as well as get to know their stories, put up a stand outside a church in Melrose Park where she engaged with people who were willing to talk about reparations.

Prior to the completion of the hunger strike, Zola also explained the actions were for a worthy cause. “My question to myself was, am I willing to die for this? And it became ‘yes’ because of all of the (Black and brown) people I know,” Zola said on day 32 of her hunger strike. “Am I willing to die for my brothers and my sisters when there’s an injustice? The answer is yes.”

And though Zola revealed she only became friends with a Black person as recently as 2015 and was not really initially active in anti-racism campaigns, she said her activism isn’t borne out of guilt. She, nevertheless, admitted that people of her race don’t really know the severe extent to which Black people suffered as well as their current plights, adding that it is not difficult for White people to ignore that.

“I look at myself as a case study,” Zola told Chicago Tribune. “How could I get to be this age and not know the harm? The quick answer is I wasn’t reading those books. I wasn’t reading ‘Just Mercy.’ I wasn’t reading ‘The New Jim Crow.’ I wasn’t reading any of it. What’s amazing now? ‘The Long Shadow’ — that documentary of 90 minutes — if that doesn’t touch your heart, I don’t know what will.”

Providing details on her future endeavors, Zola said she plans on liaising with local religious leaders in an effort to amass support for reparations. She also expressed her desire to someday take the podium to speak at fundamentalist churches in the South.

Zola also said she’s optimistic the H.R. 40 would be passed by the end of next year. “Am I optimistic? Yeah, I have to come from that place. I do have to trust that,” she said.

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