An African-American think tank in New Haven has begun a statewide campaign to generate support for slavery reparations both locally and nationally.

On Feb. 12, Black Thought for Justice and Change submitted letters to state Senators Martin Looney and Toni Harp asking for their support on slavery reparations issues. The letters call for the Senators to introduce state legislation supporting The Commission to Study Reparations Proposals for African Americans Act, or Congressional Bill H.R. 40.

The federal bill, introduced in 1989 by Michigan Rep. John Conyers Jr., calls for the formation of a federal commission to examine the impact of slavery on today’s African-American community and make recommendations to Congress about how best to redress any lasting effects.

Calling the payment of slavery reparations “America’s main unfinished business,” Divine Shabazz, Minister of Information for Black Thought, said the bill has languished in Congress too long.

“We could help and play a part by asking our senators to get behind slavery reparations,” Shabazz said. “This country encourages all to pay up to what they owe. It’s time for this country to pay up.”

Black Thought had received no response from either senator as of March 4. Looney and Harp did not return phone calls requesting comment.

“We’re willing to work with the senators if they are willing to embark upon this issue,” Shabazz said. “If any elected official stands behind slavery reparations, he stands behind the issues of African-Americans everywhere.”

In addition to asking for state support for the federal bill, Black Thought also asked Looney and Harp to undertake initiatives exploring slavery reparations in Connecticut.

The letter submitted to the senators also requested the formation of a state commission “to quantify the debt owed to both individual African slave descendants and African-American communities who had and continue to have their collective human and civil rights violated.”

But Shabazz said he sees signs of progress in Connecticut. Last summer, the New Haven Board of Aldermen passed a resolution supporting Congressional Bill H.R. 40.

Ward 12 Alderwoman Shirley Ellis-West, co-sponsor of the resolution, said it was more than just symbolic.

“It started a dialogue about what slavery reparations meant for us in New Haven and in Connecticut,” she said. “In some areas of the city, people are having some real dialogue about this issue and how we can improve the quality of life for African-Americans.”

Although the Board is not involved in the current campaign in support of the congressional bill, Ellis-West said she believes the Board’s resolution was an important first step.

“If anything else happens, it will be because of what people have done to follow up on this resolution,” she said.

Shabazz said Black Thought hopes that any reparations paid could be used to combat lingering effects of slavery, including the disproportionate incarcerations of African-Americans, wage gaps, and health care concerns.

“Japanese Americans ended up receiving $20,000 a piece [after World War II], which is not necessarily what we want,” he said. “We’re saying reparations could be used to combat white supremacy and institutional racism.”

Shabazz said Black Thought has also submitted a letter to the Black and Puerto Rican Caucus, asking for its support on slavery reparations legislation. He added that the organization is looking for additional support from a variety of sources, including the state-appointed African-American Affairs Commission and the NAACP.