WE: Calling for Anti-Racist Action
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NOTE: This letter below has been co-signed and shared with the board of WE Charity. Over 150 former employees put forward their names in support and 50 current employees endorsed anonymously. To increase accountability, we are asking for endorsement via this petition by the community-at-large.
While this is an Anti-Racist support letter, we also recognize many past and current staff from WE, as well as program participants, have experiences of systemic violence and abuse of power. We stand in solidarity with you.
Dear Board of Directors, WE Charity:
Over 10 days ago, a former employee of WE bravely stepped forward to share her experience of racism at WE - see Amanda Maitland Story of Racism at WE Charity along with follow up talk with Raia “Coach” Carey WE Are Stronger Together. This past week we also saw a colleague, Santai, publish a blog about horrifying allegations against WE and Marc Kielburger, read Santai’s first hand account here.
Although the above are only two accounts, they are not the only ones. Each employee signed (in the letter to the Board) has been a victim of, witnessed or been complicit to the abuse of power related to leadership. Today, we come forward in solidarity to seek transparency, accountability and due process.
For Amanda, in an action that is too common for Black women, she not only had to deal with the initial impact of these actions against her at the time of their occurrence, but then took on the additional burden of confronting the actions by sharing her story with the world.
Amanda’s story is true and her experience is very real. She was hired as a speaker and facilitator and while on an anti-racism tour without her knowledge her anti-racism speech - which shared personal experiences and mental navigation of being a Black woman - was disregarded and rewritten without her knowledge by a platform of primarily white folx.
The experiences of other Black employees at WE have, unfortunately, been if not similar in act, very similar in nature and impact. We have all personally witnessed actions against, or inaction against, Black, Indigenous and People Of Color (BIPOC) team members that corroborate many stories of overt racism, trauma from a culture of fear, abuse of power, silencing tactics and microaggressions being used. One example that we see today is WE using the website (WE.org) as a mechanism to showcase their commitment to anti-racism by highlighting the only two people of colour in leadership and the Black and Indigenous people who have appeared on the WE Day stage. This act is not only performative but also a form of violence towards BIPOC people.
While apologies could never be enough, doing so would indicate a first step toward acknowledging the hurt, pain, and suffering they, the WE movement – white folx working within a white-founded and predominantly white-led organization – caused their #1 Stakeholders: their employees.
Considering what we now know, it is shocking that co-founders Marc and Craig Kielburger, and their executive team, have failed to give a formal apology or taken any ownership or responsibility for the hurt they’ve caused to so many people. Instead, WE has chosen to post performative statements and affiliations on their website that do not begin to tackle the root causes of racist behaviour and systemic racism: the refusal by senior leadership to take accountability and commit to the deep personal learning required to build anti-racist workplaces and spaces.
In addition to countless stories of individual racist and discriminatory actions against employees, there has been:
-No acknowledgement that the social justice programming WE created, and profited from, comes from a long line of uncredited social justice educators, in particular from BIPOC, Disability and LGBTQ+ communities.
-No acknowledgement that WE profited off of tokenizing frontline BIPOC employees and that the conditions they were asked to work in often felt unsafe (for example being asked to travel and work in locations known for violence against Black folx).
-No acknowledgement that senior leaders were not justified in making decisions affecting Black employees when WE had next to no Black leadership at any senior level of the organization.
Apologizing and admitting we were/are wrong is a part of doing anti-racist work. It honors the experiences of those who have been oppressed and hurt, and validates their experiences to the rest of the world. It is a part of the healing necessary for change to occur.
Apologizing does not discredit the good work that has been done and is continuing to be done, especially by the thousands of youth and educators worldwide who have committed themselves to taking actions with WE support.
At the risk of this letter and its demands being misunderstood, we want to be clear about our intentions. Some of the undersigned still work at WE; others left recently; still others transitioned years ago. All, however, care deeply about the work and feel accountable to the beneficiaries and past and current colleagues. Were this another organization or if the people who contributed to WE did not feel an abiding responsibility, we would not be engaged in this difficult process right now. This letter is written in the spirit of WE, through collaboration, in the hopes of bettering the organization.
We are demanding that WE takes purposeful actions that prove their on-going commitment to anti-racist work and commits to “doing good”, for all people, especially BIPOC folx.
1. A formal and public apology made by Marc and Craig Kielburger to BIPOC employees (past and current- starting with Amanda Maitland) for the systemic racism that went unaddressed at WE for years and the unwillingness to address issues of racism that were raised that caused harm to BIPOC staff. This needs to come directly from the Co-Founders as the primary leaders; do not put the burden of this too on the newly appointed Chair of the Board or the one woman of color on your executive team. Leadership means taking ownership for your actions and the actions on behalf of your organization.
2. Commit to the redeployment of the grant from the Liberal government of the total funding amount directed to WE Charity and re-prioritize paid work through mechanisms such as the Canada Summer Jobs Program. Mandate allocation of funds go to equity-seeking groups (youth-led, BIPOC-led, etc.) See petition here.
3.1 Meaningfully hire BIPOC womxn educator(s) who have experience facilitating organizations through this kind of transformation towards becoming anti-racist, and demand your executive team follows the recommendations they give. Do not hire the current US Board Chair for this role as there is an obvious conflict of interest.
3.2 A complete reformation of WE leadership, including BIPOC representation at the executive and leadership levels.
4. Allow for a safe and open forum (led by BIPOC educator from 3.1) discussion from those you’ve embarked with on your “listening tour” (ref: https://www.we.org/en-CA/) – including your current and former staff, educators, and the youth of the WE Movement.
5. Provide free-of-charge and accessible support services for past and current staff who have been impacted by the entrenched racism and microaggressions, including open access to counselling, therapy, and mental health support.
6. Share your Action Plan publicly, and the steps you’ve taken to advance on it quarterly on your website.
As an organization run and led by two white men who hold a lot of power internally and in the world, it's not good enough to be not racist- we are calling for active anti-racism, which requires ongoing work personally and within the organizational system-at-large. This could mean losing funding to reposition it to communities that can do the work meaningfully or needing to reform your executive leadership structure to reflect more diversity.
You are a new Board of Directors. You are also our friends, former colleagues, or mentors to many of us who have had careers or affiliations with WE. You have an opportunity, and a responsibility, as a new board, to choose how you will show up today and every day to serve the mission of the organization you represent. You have a unique position to demand of the senior leadership that which they have refused to do for far too long.
To be an organization known for educational change and leadership, that privilege demands you show up for and actively commit to the Anti-Racist movement. You have a responsibility to the millions of youth and educators you serve globally to do better. We are eager to publicly witness you taking action on the above demands.
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