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Opinion: Black and Brown youth are powerful, not pawns

March 25, 2019 Category: FeaturedLongPurpose

Editor’s note: This is an op-ed written by Shani Akilah and Abdul-Aliy A. Muhammad, two of the three cofounders of the Black and Brown Workers Cooperative in Philadelphia. It was submitted for consideration after Generocity published two other pieces related to the allegations at the Attic Youth Center: Elicia Gonzalesopen letter to her fellow nonprofit executive directors, issued the day after Ernest Owens broke the allegations story at Philadelphia Magazine; and a subsequent article when the Attic’s board of directors published an official statement on the organization’s website.

White supremacy is global and therefore infects every part of our lived experiences as Black and Brown queer and trans people.

It is especially visible in the ways Philadelphia’s white, cisgender gay folx clash with queer and trans Black and Brown members of the community. This isn’t just a disjuncture in worldview, it is oppressive rhetoric from power brokers casting down on marginalized community.

This was brought to the fore again when one of the city’s most recognizable older gay white leaders, Philadelphia Gay News Publisher Mark Segal, published an inflammatory response to the Attic Youth Center allegations.

Segal penned an op-ed in the PGN, “Don’t use LGBT youth as pawns,” on March 14, 2019. In his words, he posits that young Black and Brown LGBT youth are being used by the Black and Brown Workers Co-op and former Attic Youth Center workers to levy our demands on organizations in Philadelphia.

He also claims in this piece that “all organizations have disgruntled staff, past and current, and for various reasons, not just racism.” Lastly Segal interrogates the claims of the young people alleging anti-Black racism and trans antagonism — which includes shaming transwomen for personal expression, low-pay and uneven accountability, and for not addressing sexual assault incidents adequately.

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Let us be clear. There is very little Mark Segal and the Black and Brown Workers Cooperative agree on. In this instance, one statement Segal penned in his recent op-ed resonates with us. Segal writes, “There are lots of moving parts to this, and it seems like we’ve been here before with the same litany of accusations. Taking all of them into account, a pattern appears. They all start the same way, with claims of some form of harassment. Next, the racist labels are applied.”

We wish to respond affirmatively. Yes, there is a pattern. Yes, it typically does resemble other patterns that have existed and continue to thrive in the Gayborhood. To oppressive people like Segal, these patterns always appear curious or suspect. To those of us whose backs carry the weight of these oppressive structures, our deepest knowing says: Duh. This is what white supremacy looks like.

We struggled with whether to respond to the ridiculous assertions of someone we consider a bona fide subscriber to white supremacist values. But when the violence is directed squarely at the youth in our communities — that is to question the narrative of a sexual assault survivor (particularly in the age of R. Kelly), we will always respond.

We first want to discuss how Mark Segal talks about “the credibility and motives of the accuser.” The survivor of a sexual assault incident met with the BBWC and stated that the alleged incident took place in July of 2018 when he was 17 years old. In his op-ed, Segal puts the responsibility squarely on the survivor and not the institutions who are supposed to protect and support vulnerable Black and Brown youth within the city of Philadelphia. His reframing or assertion to question the motives speaks to a larger and global problem which is a rape culture.

Philadelphia Magazine reported that on Tuesday, March 5, Carrie Jacobs, the longtime executive director and Christina Santos, director of programs and operations were suspended pending results of an investigation stemming from allegations of former staff. The BBWC launched a demands-list, crafted by Attic employees and community, which among them calls for the immediate resignation of Jacobs, Santos and Jacinto Grant, who is the associate director at the Attic.

The truth is a machete. Here is the truth as it concerns what happened within the walls of the Attic Youth Center. A young Black person was sexually assaulted in the office of the associate director of the Attic, Jacinto Grant. Grant not only knew that this assault had taken place, but was on site when the assault occurred. Carrie Jacobs’ alleged stellar 25-year record becomes null and void when she advises her staff, after a mandatory reporting training, to come to her when a sexual assault occurs at the Attic.

One also has to question why this young person was only given an in-house therapist referral to begin to sift through the devastation of sexual assault. It begs the question: If the requirement was reporting sexual assaults to Carrie instead of following mandated law to report sexual assault to the proper agencies, how do we know this hasn’t happened before? We know from narratives we’ve received, that sexual assaults within nonprofit spaces are frequent and this is just the tip of the iceberg.

Santos, who sat very comfortably in her position of power, is complicit in her silence surrounding this sexual assault incident.

We stand by our demands. The integrity of our work speaks for itself and we will continue to organize with Black and Brown QTPOC workers who are the souls of these institutions. Should these institutions continue to undermine, target, silence and direct workplace violence at our community members, these institutions will fall because the body cannot thrive without a soul. Most of all, the truth speaks louder than any body of work ever will.  Those who feel cut by the truth need to take a long and steady look in the mirror.

Did you have a moment, when you felt you should speak out about this?

And if yes, why didn’t you?

Why aren’t you outraged that the publisher of the PGN is using their platform to cast doubt on the survivor who is a young Black person?

Who is granted safety in this system?

If you are tired of hearing from righteously angry workers and the BBWC, try moving in integrity for a change and may your integrity be your insurance. After all, it hasn’t steered us wrong yet.

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