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When Valériana Chikoti-Bandua moved to Washington state in 2018 to take a job at a leading anti–sexual violence nonprofit, it didn’t take long for her to get the sense that her new colleagues considered her an outsider. 

One co-worker asked a lot of questions about her hair, which Chikoti-Bandua, who is Black, wore naturally. A sexual assault prevention expert she met at a conference asked her where her new employer had “found” her. And when she got involved in organizing a meetup for nonwhite workers in the field, her boss told her she’d be lucky if 10 people showed up. “The messaging was very clear,” says Chikoti-Bandua, a former Angolan refugee who took the program manager job at the Washington Coalition of Sexual Assault Programs (WCSAP) after working on human rights issues at the United Nations: “‘Welcome. And just so you know, there are barely any folks of color who are leading this movement.’”

It would turn out to be a self-fulfilling prophecy. Over the next two years, Chikoti-Bandua and Darin Dorsey, the other Black employee on the nonprofit’s staff of fewer than 10, say that what started as a handful of alienating comments became a pattern of anti-Black discrimination from colleagues and others in the movement, including WCSAP’s government funders. In February 2020, they and their allies on staff raised alarms about racism to their board of directors. A few weeks later, amid mounting conflicts with funders and people who worked with and for WCSAP, the board fired Chikoti-Bandua, citing a technicality in her terms of employment.

It didn’t take long for Dorsey to follow; he claimed the agency made his working conditions intolerable. “Apparently, WCSAP’s solution to dealing with anti-black racism in its organization and from its funders is to get rid of black employees,” his lawyer wrote in a letter to the nonprofit’s leaders. In a public statement the following year, the nonprofit’s new executive director, Susan Marks, wrote that Chikoti-Bandua had been “pushed out” of WCSAP in “the most stark and visible example of how racism has played out in our organization.”

WCSAP gave settlements to Chikoti-Bandua and Dorsey in 2020, resolving claims of racial discrimination, but it required them to sign nondisparagement agreements forcing them to stay silent about negative experiences. In response to questioning from Mother Jones, WCSAP’s board voted not to enforce NDAs against former employees who had experienced discrimination at the nonprofit, allowing them to speak freely to me for this article. “The mistreatment upon mistreatment, the layers of it—it’s hard to quantify the pain that I’ve experienced at WCSAP,” Chikoti-Bandua says.

Despite the social justice bent of their profession, Chikoti-Bandua’s and Dorsey’s experiences aren’t exceptional in what’s known as the “mainstream” movement against gender-based violence: the nonprofit, largely government-funded sector of advocacy programs and shelters that offer resources to survivors of sexual assault, domestic violence, and stalking while trying to change the culture that enables that violence. According to Black advocates who have spent years in the field, workers of color have long been trying to draw attention to racial hostility and discrimination in movement workplaces, as well as the overrepresentation of white women in leadership. These trends, they say, affect not only Black workers, but also the survivors who need their services.

“I have a very complicated relationship with this work as a Black woman, because I’ve watched women of color be harmed by the work,” says Monika Johnson-Hostler, president of the board of the National Alliance to End Sexual Violence. “We’ve been shouting this for a very long time,” says Arlene Vassell, vice president of programs, prevention, and social change at the National Resource Center on Domestic Violence. “The gender-based violence movement is guided by white women’s cultural norms, promotes white supremacy, and reifies institutional practices that value whiteness.”

As a state-level coalition, WCSAP acts as a kind of trade group for rape crisis centers and other programs that work directly with survivors in Washington. With about 100 member organizations, it provides training to advocates and lobbies the government for funding and survivor-friendly policies. And like many other groups in the movement, it has long made public statements about the importance of grappling with racism alongside rape culture. In 2020, after the murder of George Floyd, WCSAP and the majority of state-level coalitions in the country signed onto a letter that stated their movement had failed survivors of color, in part because of its historical support for expanding policing, prosecution, and imprisonment, rather than investing in solutions to violence that worked better for nonwhite survivors. “I can probably count on one hand the coalitions that are not talking very intentionally with their members about providing alternatives to police involvement for survivors,” says Vanessa Timmons, executive director of the Oregon Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence.

Yet advocates I spoke with say that, inside movement workplaces, the rhetoric about race often does not match reality. “Everybody loves to quote Audre Lorde,” says Michelle Osborne, former race and social justice manager at the YWCA Seattle. “But somehow, nobody wants an Audre Lorde to be their executive director.”

In Osborne’s view, the solution to the problem has long been obvious—hiring, promoting, and resourcing advocates of color, and not subjecting them to greater scrutiny than their white counterparts. And, she says, there’s another crucial step: accountability for the past. “WCSAP isn’t a one off. WCSAP isn’t an aberration,” Osborne says. “WCSAP is part of a pattern that’s been going on since this work got off the ground 50 or more years ago. This is not unusual, and that’s what’s so awful about it.”

For workers in the movement against gender-based violence, the professional is often deeply personal. Many, including Chikoti-Bandua, identify as survivors themselves. A career at a rape crisis center, domestic violence shelter, or anti-violence education program is a chance “to take the trauma that happened and do something with it, to change lives and outcomes and hopefully prevent it for other people,” as Johnson-Hostler puts it. But the conditions can be grueling. Pay for client-facing staff can hover around $35,000 per year. Hotlines and shelters operate 24/7.

In 2016, at the request of anti-violence coalitions in Texas, University of Texas Medical Branch associate professor Leila Wood undertook a study of job-related stress among advocates. The resulting survey, of hundreds of movement workers in the state, found that 30 percent reported experiencing or witnessing racial microaggressions at work. Those incidents were associated with high rates of “compassion fatigue”—the toxic mix of burnout and secondary traumatic stress that often drives people to quit their jobs. Black advocates, who reported experiencing or witnessing microaggressions at some of the highest rates, were also the most likely to be planning to leave their agencies.

“We’re leaving because when we’re in the work, we’re not valued,” one advocate told University of Maryland–Baltimore County assistant professor Nkiru Nnawulezi, in a series of interviews for a project with Vassell examining women of color’s experiences in the movement. “Black women were exhausted,” another participant in the research said. “You have to put up with so much that you wonder if it’s even worth it.”  

For Dorsey, a soft-spoken, bespectacled 30-year-old, it was worth it—for a time. In college, he’d found a calling teaching healthy masculinity to a group of mostly Black and brown high schoolers from low-income families. When the funding for his position was cut, he stayed in the movement, becoming a program director and the coordinator of a sexual assault response team of prosecutors, police, and hospital staff. Then he got the job offer from WCSAP to lead its statewide efforts on sexual violence prevention.

Before he accepted, Dorsey asked colleagues what they knew about the Washington nonprofit and started hearing rumors of turmoil. In recent years, WCSAP had issued settlements to resolve discrimination claims, including allegations of racism, by multiple former workers. Dorsey didn’t know all the details, but he figured he’d dealt with similar things before; he could handle WCSAP, and maybe improve it. “I decided, ‘I know that this place has a history, but also, I’ve navigated a lot of racist organizations, and a lot of racism in organizations,” Dorsey says. “I was not going to let white people’s racism keep me from this opportunity.”

Chikoti-Bandua joined WCSAP as program manager a few months after Dorsey. It wasn’t long before they understood what they were facing. In particular, an abrasive co-worker seemed to single Dorsey out, lashing out at him over paperwork mistakes and accusing him of selfishness when he talked in a staff meeting about making company benefits more equitable, according to three former WCSAP employees. Chikoti-Bandua alleges that in a private meeting the staffer physically lunged at her, telling her that she would never answer to her. (In a statement, the staffer says her remark to Dorsey about benefits was “sarcastic” and she never lunged at Chikoti-Bandua; Chikoti-Bandua, she adds, “may well have taken umbrage at my efforts to clarify things” about her chain of supervision.)

After Dorsey and Chikoti-Bandua reported the co-worker, they began to work from home while the board determined how to handle the situation, according to emails. Dorsey was upset that he was instructed to change his behavior to accommodate the staffer’s schedule. “There was a period where it wasn’t safe for me to go to the office,” he says. The staffer left WCSAP after about a month, before the board took further action.

Then, in early 2019, WCSAP’s executive director stepped down to become a lobbyist, and WCSAP’s board of directors asked Chikoti-Bandua to take on the role as interim. She suggested that another co-worker, Michelle Dixon-Wall, share the job—putting them both at the head of sexual violence advocacy in Washington state. Dixon-Wall, a queer white survivor who had worked at WCSAP since 2013, would bring the “historical knowledge,” Chikoti-Bandua explains, “and I bring the vision. Let’s do some good, badass work together.”

For a while, that’s exactly what they did. While Dixon-Wall looked after the finances, Chikoti-Bandua focused on human resources, looking for ways to make the organization anti-racist while encouraging the same among its members. “We were really focused on training that was centering people of color,” Dixon-Wall says. “We did a lot of reaching out to membership agencies that were from culturally specific, marginalized communities.” That year, the WCSAP conference—an annual event that draws advocates from around the country—included workshops on missing indigenous women, the R. Kelly abuse revelations, and the needs of homeless and incarcerated survivors. The coalition expanded its political agenda, too. Whereas the nonprofit’s previous lobbying had focused on the criminal legal process—issues like rape kit testing and statutes of limitations—in 2020 it promoted an effort to stop immigration officials from arresting people at courthouses, where abuse survivors must go to seek protective orders. And it supported a bill to create a working families tax credit, to better support those whose lack of income keeps them and their children trapped with an abuser.

“People were being creative,” says Talcott Broadhead, WCSAP’s organizational services coordinator. “People who had been extremely restricted and oppressed in that space were coming out of their offices and participating, and getting excited, and making great contributions.”

To Osborne, observing from afar, the partnership at the head of WCSAP was an exciting development. “As I began to see the newsletters and messages that they were putting out, I thought, ‘This is very powerful,’” she says; Chikoti-Bandua was a “symbolic representation of the forward progress and momentum of the movement in Washington state.” Dixon-Wall, Osborne adds, appeared to be an “accomplice in promoting anti-racism.”

But behind the scenes, the pressure was building.

It started with questions about WCSAP’s new leadership. Not long after the interim co-executive directors were announced, one of the coalition’s most influential members—Mary Ellen Stone, the head of the King County Sexual Assault Resource Center, which provides counseling, legal advocacy, and other services to survivors in the Seattle area—sent an email to WCSAP’s board of directors expressing her “concern” over the arrangement. The email, co-signed by five other executive directors in the state, recommended that the WCSAP board replace Chikoti-Bandua and Dixon-Wall with an externally recruited, temporary leader. “Our primary concern remains the maintenance of a strong state-wide entity representing the interests of survivors of sexual assault,” Stone wrote. At a board meeting that summer, Stone made comments that seemed to attack Chikoti-Bandua’s abilities but not Dixon-Wall’s, says a former WCSAP board member who was present. “The overall feeling was that Valériana didn’t have the credentials or the competency,” says former board member, who recalls Stone questioning whether Chikoti-Bandua knew how to manage people or write contracts. Stone also contacted WCSAP with questions about why it had published a “management tip,” written by Chikoti-Bandua, warning against practices she termed “financial oppression,” like severe wage disparities and secrecy around budgets. (Stone says she doesn’t remember singling out Chikoti-Bandua at the board meeting. Asked whether she believed her actions fit into a larger pattern of racial discrimination, she says, “I can see how that could feel like that. If that’s how people experienced that, I am sorry.”)

Dorsey, too, was facing opposition from a powerful source—an employee at the state Department of Health, which was responsible for allocating about $780,000 annually in CDC funding for sexual assault prevention. In an interview with a DOH human resources consultant, Dorsey alleged that the state employee questioned his ability to represent WCSAP in conversations about funding; disregarded his feedback on how the funding should be used; and, after he pushed back, started cutting WCSAP out of meetings. (Dixon-Wall, who was interviewed as well, raised the same issues.) When Dorsey asked for backup from his grant manager at the state’s Office of Crime Victims Advocacy (OCVA)—WCSAP’s chief government funder, responsible for the bulk of its budget—the grant manager failed to stand up for him, he says. Dorsey and others at WCSAP continued to press OCVA for a stronger response, according to emails. Eventually, the grant manager wrote to Dorsey that she did not have the “tools, skills, or knowledge to address racial violence in the way you are asking me to.” (The grant manager did not respond to a request for comment; the Department of Health said it was committed to anti-racism but declined to comment on personnel matters.)

As the conflict mounted, WCSAP received a letter in February 2020 from an official at the state Department of Commerce shutting down the ongoing conversations about racism between the nonprofit and OCVA and directing complaints to a higher up. “Is WCSAP at risk of losing current or future OCVA contracts or grants…because we have brought forth concerns of racism and discrimination?” Dixon-Wall wrote back in alarm. The official reassured her that reporting racial discrimination would not affect DOH funding decisions. Yet the fear wasn’t unreasonable: Later that year, Vera House, a New York domestic and sexual violence agency, lost funders and board members after it committed in a strategic plan to “dismantle the white supremacist and racist foundations and systems of the organization.” Embrace, a rape crisis center and domestic violence shelter in Wisconsin, lost $25,000 in county funding after it displayed a Black Lives Matter sign and put out a statement saying that “racism, police violence, sexual violence, and domestic violence all have the same root causes, and they interact and compound on each other.”

By then, WCSAP had made Chikoti-Bandua’s and Dixon-Wall’s shared leadership permanent. But the relationship between the two had broken down. Chikoti-Bandua says she felt Dixon-Wall didn’t believe her when she talked about her own experiences of racism. Dixon-Wall, in turn, says she was “so tired”: by the conflict with OCVA, where many of her closest friends worked, and by the frequent apologies she found herself sending about her actions in the workplace. “I feel such a struggle to be grounded and listen deeply,” Dixon-Wall wrote in one such apology after a contentious staff meeting. “I feel myself embodying all those crazy white women I have worked for my whole career in this movement. I have been arranging the vital work of anti-racism and anti-oppression to a lower level in my hierarchy of daily priorities.”

Then, in mid-February, Dixon-Wall told the board she would resign. “Trust [Valériana]; she knows what to do,” Dixon-Wall wrote to them.

Shortly afterward, at the request of the staff, the board called a “listening session” to discuss WCSAP’s leadership and employee experiences of racism. Attendees say it was an emotional meeting, with members of the board claiming they were unaware of the issues and apologizing for not doing more to support the employees. But a few minutes before everyone had sat down, Dixon-Wall had emailed a whistleblower complaint to the board chair and treasurer, accusing Chikoti-Bandua of steering WCSAP money to her fiancé and brother, whose business was on her resume.

The sums were small, and all had been approved by either Dixon-Wall herself or a board official, Dixon-Wall tells me; Chikoti-Bandua says her co-workers, not her, had asked her fiancé and brother to help out on a few minor projects—designing a website banner, moving office furniture, and speaking on a panel about Black immigration—and that she no longer had a stake in her brother’s business. Still, the complaint spurred the board to shut down WCSAP temporarily. “We ended up deciding we needed to cease operations to get a handle on what was happening,” says then-board treasurer Patrick Morrison, a domestic violence/sexual assault advocate. Staff weren’t told the full reason for the closure. “The WCSAP board of directors has determined that there must be a break to help heal as an organization and to examine WCSAP activities,” read a letter from the directors to employees. Laptops, office keys, and credit cards were confiscated; email and server access were suspended. “We knew folks were not going to be happy,” Morrison explains. “We wanted to limit who could speak on behalf of the organization.”  

For a month, WCSAP staff were sent home with pay as outside lawyers conducted interviews, looking into the allegations of financial impropriety as well as racial discrimination. If the investigation ever reached a conclusion, former employees who spoke with Mother Jones say they were never informed of it. But according to Morrison, even before the investigation finished, the five remaining board members had voted to fire Chikoti-Bandua.

On a Zoom call on March 24, 2020, the chair of the board—Michelle Woo, a program director at an LGBTQ youth center—informed Chikoti-Bandua that she was being “discharged” from her position. “We hired you to serve as a Co-Executive Director to share the responsibilities of the role with your counterpart,” Woo stated in a letter. “In light of Ms. Dixon Wall’s recent resignation, the Board needs to hire an Executive Director who possesses all of the skills and experience necessary to perform all the necessary responsibilities of the role.”

No other reason for the firing was given besides Dixon-Wall’s departure. But Dixon-Wall never actually left WCSAP. After she resigned, she says the board asked her to stay on temporarily. She would remain in a management position for the next two years.

In Morrison’s telling, the board fired Chikoti-Bandua largely because she had not “deescalated” a range of conflicts with people who worked with and for WCSAP—especially the fight with OCVA, without whose funding WCSAP couldn’t operate. The conflicts Morrison cited as examples all involved Chikoti-Bandua’s allegations of racism: clashes in which she refused to back down, to smooth things over, to let go of words or actions she believed were discriminatory to her or Dorsey. “We did not think that there was real leadership, what we would have expected an executive director to do, to deescalate situations,” Morrison says.

To Morrison, these amounted to “performance” issues; to Chikoti-Bandua, they are racial ones. “All of their responses, and the way that they behaved, was like, ‘Could you just stop bringing these things up,” she says. “What they wanted was for me to behave, basically, as a white [executive director]. What was evident in that whole process was that I was discarded.”

The movement against gender-based violence didn’t always work like this. Fifty years ago, at the height of second-wave feminism, small collectives of women gathered to share personal experiences of violence and then decided to do something about it.

Many of those early activists saw how police and the legal system mistreated victims, says Osborne, who is writing a history of violence against women. They set up the first rape crisis centers and domestic shelters, sometimes in houses and apartment buildings, working without pay and at the margins of the criminal-legal and medical systems. But they needed money to grow the work—”to hire, to have resources, to have training for staff, to have all these supports for the women that you’re trying to serve,” Osborne explains. “So then people begin to talk about it as, ‘We need more serious funding.’”

Getting that money meant winning government support in a conservative political climate. So, through the ’80s and ’90s, some of the activists professionalized, transforming grassroots collectives into nonprofit agencies that provided more standardized assistance to survivors. Along the way, many developed approaches to ending violence that relied heavily on police and district attorneys. It worked: They received money in laws like the 1984 Victims of Crime Act and 1994 Violence Against Women Act, which remain crucial sources of revenue to this day. But government funds often came with restrictions that excluded groups and projects specific to marginalized survivors, according to Osborne. In some places, for instance, culturally specific victim service providers couldn’t receive state funding if they didn’t run a 24-hour hotline, even if they found a hotline less useful for survivors in their communities. And sometimes the legislation had direct harms: VAWA was passed as part of the notorious 1994 crime bill funding new prisons and policing and lengthening criminal sentences.

“The anti-violence movement had won mainstream legitimization [as] a result of key decisions that softened the radical politics of the work and ultimately betrayed the visions of the early grassroots feminist, anti-racist activism,” sociologist Beth Richie writes in her book Arrested Justice: Black Women, Violence, and America’s Prison Nation. The movement had become a hierarchy of well-meaning social service nonprofits, rigidly structured and often beholden to state bureaucrats.

But there’s a deeper legacy of feminist anti-violence work in this country. In 1866, Black survivors including Frances Thompson, a formerly enslaved transgender woman, told their stories about being raped by white men amid a race-motivated massacre in Memphis to a committee of congressmen investigating the slaughter. Then, in the 1890s, there was Ida B. Wells, the anti-lynching investigative journalist who blasted the lack of consequences for white men who raped Black women. Fifty-two years later, when young Rosa Parks was working for the Alabama NAACP, she investigated the rape of Recy Taylor, a Black woman attacked while walking home from church, and campaigned for Taylor’s white rapists to be brought to justice. Many others have made their mark, and the work continues to this day—such as with Tarana Burke, the anti-violence activist who began using the phrase “me too” in 2006 to support young survivors of color, only for actor Alyssa Milano to receive credit when the phrase sparked a global movement in 2017.

Despite this history, white women today are overrepresented among leaders in the mainstream movement, claims Vassell, who is working with Nnawulezi to examine the experiences of women of color in the movement. Johnson-Hostler says there’s no up-to-date nationwide data on racial demographics of leaders in the field, but a 2014 survey of anti-violence executive directors in four states found that over 80 percent were white; in small and mid-size organizations, workers from “underrepresented groups” were more likely to be employed in lower-level positions regardless of their experience level. “Structurally, over the last thirty years, there have been very few shifts in the leadership within the anti-violence movement and within organizations,” the report, by the Women of Color Network, concluded.

Johnson-Hostler, who was hired to lead North Carolina’s sexual assault coalition in 2001 and remains its executive director, says she was an “early token”; today, she dispenses advice to younger Black advocates and sees common patterns. “It starts out mostly with microaggressions,” Hostler says. “But the places I’ve really seen the harm is the directness around, ‘Well, why do you think you’re qualified?’” One agency leader, Hostler says, recently told her about a board member who said she wasn’t “polished” enough to be an executive director. “I felt that to my soul,” Hostler adds. Vassell says that today, she conducts “safety planning” with Black advocates in the anti-domestic violence movement, talking to them about how to take care of themselves when they’re facing discrimination in their agencies. “What I’m finding out now is younger—just by age, not wisdom—Black women in this movement now are experiencing the same [things] that I experienced for the last 30 years,” she says. “And I don’t want, moving forward for the next 30 years, the experiences to be the same.”

Clients, too, bear the consequences. “Maybe what they can hope for is to occasionally encounter an advocate who looks like them, or comes from the same community as them,” Broadhead says. In Washington State in 2006, OCVA published research exploring how non-white, immigrant, or LGBTQ communities regarded their local victim service agencies. Of the few people who had heard of their local programs, the vast majority said they would never use them. There were language barriers and physical accessibility issues, but on top of that, many simply believed agency workers wouldn’t understand their culture. Others feared they would call the police. “Law enforcement was not seen as a help,” the report emphasized, “and often seen as an oppressive force to contend with.”

Osborne, who once conducted research into why several cultural communities in California weren’t using local domestic violence services, discovered agencies that were “earnest and kind” but nonetheless “didn’t understand how to serve communities that were not white.” They lacked staff who spoke languages other than English, for instance, or enforced shelter rules that unintentionally discriminated against clients of color. Sometimes, “it was as simple as ‘you can’t bring your grandma to shelter with you,’” Timmons says—a policy that excludes survivors in multigenerational households. At the shelter where she worked earlier in her career, nonwhite clients tended to leave quickly. “I remember saying to a friend of mine, ‘I can tell when I’m in a staff meeting whether or not they’re talking about a Black or Latina family,’” Timmons says.

“I have watched, literally my own self, there were Black children who were too noisy during quiet hours, they were given two warnings and exited,” says Sarah Lloyd, the former executive director of SafePlace, a shelter and crisis center in the same region as WCSAP. “People who look like me are dying, because they’re living with their abuser, because when they approach the services that could save their lives, they’re encountering primarily white women who can’t get over themselves.”

Less than three months after firing Chikoti-Bandua, amid national protests over the murder of Floyd, WCSAP’s board released a public statement titled “In Support of Black Lives.” “We denounce racism and are committed actively to anti-racist work within our organization and the communities we serve,” the board stated. “WCSAP will not be silent in the face of our country’s greatest struggles.” It finalized non-disparagement agreements with Chikoti-Bandua and Dorsey that summer. (WCSAP had previously testified in support of a bill to ban the use of non-disclosure agreements to silence victims of workplace sexual harassment.)

“To watch the cumulative toll of all of these incidents lead up to this point where a Black woman was pushed out of the agency, I just realized that there was so much more insidiousness and betrayal happening within our movement than I ever, ever knew,” says Tabitha Donohue, WCSAP’s child advocacy specialist, who quit after witnessing the departures. Looking back, says Broadhead, who also left, “It felt very much, working there, like we were participating in the very thing that the movement seeks to end and disrupt.” Four more former WCSAP employees have created a group, the Legacy Collective, to advise other workers dealing with what they term “intra-agency violence”—workplace discrimination that “mimics the dynamics of intimate partner violence and is pervasive in the anti-violence movement…Advocates…need their own advocates,” the collective wrote in a statement. “For a movement that focuses on eradicating power and control, we sure like maintaining power and control.”

Since 2020, WCSAP has had no Black staffers. It’s hired two racial equity consultants, created a “Diversity, Racial Equity, and Inclusion” charter, and had staffers read the book So You Want to Talk About Race. Last fall, continuing to face questions from members, WCSAP’s new executive director, Susan Marks, made a public statement addressing the upheaval of 2020. “Given the entrenched history of racism and oppression at WCSAP, when a Black woman was named as a co-director, it was a set up for failure,” she wrote. Later, she told me that WCSAP was a “clear case study” of racism in the movement. “I know we’re not the only one,” she said. (Marks quit two months after our conversation, saying she wanted to spend more time with family and serve her local community.)

After resigning her post as co–executive director, Dixon-Wall returned full time, becoming an advocacy services manager. When I spoke with her in February, she said she never knew the reason Chikoti-Bandua was given for her firing. I shared the information in the letter Woo had given Chikoti-Bandua. A day later, Dixon-Wall submitted her resignation. “I shouldn’t have made a commitment to Valériana that I broke,” she tells me. “I made a commitment to her to co-lead, and I wasn’t in it, and she ultimately was the one who lost her job because of it. Because I said, ‘I don’t want to do this anymore,’ and I didn’t think about how it was going to impact her. I was just thinking about, ‘I’ve got to go. I’m so tired.’”

In a statement, WCSAP’s current board of directors apologized to “those people who feel disrespected” by the organization. “WCSAP has undergone many changes over the past three years including a complete turnover of the Board,” they wrote. “While none of us served on the board at the time of these events, we take all claims seriously and are working to address past and present harms to ensure a stable, anti-racist future for WCSAP.”

Both Chikoti-Bandua and Dorsey say they don’t believe WCSAP is capable of serving out its mission in Washington. Dixon-Wall says it’s possible the nonprofit could fold and let another organization take on its role and state funding. “I just don’t want any other Black person to go through this again,” Chikoti-Bandua says. After being fired from WCSAP, she started her own business—teaching other organizations about racial violence and inequity in the workplace. “It’s a gift now to actually live and breathe it out audaciously without the threat or the fear of it being interrupted,” she says. “The experience I’ve had of being erased or pushed out or sidelined, if anything, has given me even a deeper fire in my bones.”

She still considers herself a part of the movement—if not the mainstream. “The movement,” she says, “is greater than an institution. It’s greater than an organization. It’s greater than a few people who are holding power in a space. I’m a survivor of sexual violence. So I will always be in the movement. I cannot be erased.”


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Our team has been on fire lately—publishing sweeping, one-of-a-kind investigations, ambitious, groundbreaking projects, and even releasing “the holy shit documentary of the year.” And that’s on top of protecting free and fair elections and standing up to bullies and BS when others in the media don’t.

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