Here's what the Mazzoni Center's recent controversy can teach other nonprofits - Generocity Philly

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Apr. 26, 2017 12:58 pm

Here’s what the Mazzoni Center’s recent controversy can teach other nonprofits

CEO Nurit Shein is out. The LGBTQ organization's problems with alleged racial bias can be taken as a lesson to other nonprofits, LGBTQ and otherwise: Your leadership should reflect the population you're serving.

Mazzoni Center.

(Photo via facebook.com/MazzoniCenter/)

Amid claims of racial bias and ineffective leadership, Nurit Shein, the CEO of the Mazzoni Center, an anchor of the city’s LGBT community, stepped down this week.

“In light of additional information that was brought to their attention, the board of directors felt that asking for Nurit Shein’s resignation was the appropriate course of action,” Senior Communications Manager Elisabeth Flynn told Generocity. Mazzoni Center also published a brief public statement on Sunday regarding the issue.

Tensions at Mazzoni became public in January, when a Change.org petition circulated demanding Shein’s resignation amid allegations of organizational racial bias, including “Increased or imbalanced supervision or monitoring of  vulnerable staff especially Black and Brown Trans-women.”

In February, the Black and Brown Workers Collective (some members of which are former and current Mazzoni staffers) staged a protest calling for Shein’s resignation at a Mazzoni awards event, and on April 11, about 30 current staff members walked off the job following news that the organization’s medical director was being investigated for alleged sexual misconduct. Then, on April 20, another 60 or so staff members walked off, again calling for Shein’s resignation.

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As of this Friday, board leadership was still publicly stating its “confidence” in Shein.

Flynn also confirmed via email that Board President Jimmy Ruiz had resigned alongside Shein, emphasizing that it had been Ruiz’s choice to do so.

“In terms of the concerns within the organization regarding racial equity, we do want to acknowledge that we understand these concerns are very real and we are committed to working together with staff to evaluate and address them,” Flynn said.

It’s clear a lot went wrong here. According to several sources who requested anonymity, tensions had grown between staff and Shein in the past few months.

But it ought not be dismissed as only a Mazzoni problem.

“The fact is that at Mazzoni, it was rare for a person of color to get a senior executive position,” said a nonprofit executive familiar with the internal issues who was granted anonymity due to their ongoing nature. “And there were other problems but we can’t ignore that that is the case at a lot of LGBT groups and a lot of nonprofits.”

Black and Brown Workers Collective cofounder Shani Akilah told us last week that it’s essential for activist organizations to consider the voices of the marginalized — which is similar to what we’ve heard time and time again from nonprofit leaders across the city, that social justice and advocacy work must include input from those being served.

That frustration is brewing in other cities, too. Nonprofit leaders need to consider their own ranks: Do their staffs, including direct care and executive leadership, look like the populations they serve?

For most the answer is no, and that’s the lesson from Mazzoni.

What to do about it? Consider mentorship and professional development for young people of color.

“We have a new generation of strong, young leaders of color who aren’t going to wait for the change that needs to happen,” said the nonprofit executive. “This is a very serious and ugly national problem. Philadelphia is ahead of the curve there … but that’s not enough.”

This story includes additional reporting by Generocity Editorial Director Christopher Wink.

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