For decades, the granting of racial reparations in the United States appeared to be a political nonstarter. Even self-described progressive politicians ran from the issue.

But after years of inaction on the federal level, Robin Rue Simmons, a local lawmaker from Evanston, Ill., took a pioneering step: She proposed that her city grant its own reparations. Recently, it became the first in the United States to approve a compensation program intended to address historical racism and discrimination.

How did the policy come to pass, and can it be replicated in other parts of the country?