The Attic Youth Center responds to ‘serious’ allegations against it

Accusations came out this week against The Attic Youth Center, Philadelphia’s independent LGBTQ youth center, claiming an alleged sexual assault against a minor occurred on its premises, and racism was rampant among its staff.

The allegations were first posted March 4, on the Facebook page of the Black & Brown Workers Co-op.

The following day, Attic Board of Directors Vice President Jasper Liem sent a memo to staff members saying, “The Board is deeply disturbed by these allegations. We are launching an investigation … Effective immediately, [Executive Director] Carrie Jacobs and [Director of Programs and Operations] Christina Santos have been relieved of their duties, pending the conclusion of the investigation.

“We will hire an objective, independent third-party to lead the non-biased investigation into the allegations. We will continue to deliver services to our youth in a safe supportive environment, which is the core of our mission. … This is a critical and difficult time for The Attic,” Jasper’s memo stated.  “Our goal is to make sure we are supporting you as you continue to serve our youth and we work together in the coming weeks. We are committed to a fair and transparent process and will keep you updated throughout coming weeks.”

This is the first allegation of racism against The Attic Youth Center, which was started in 1993 and primarily serves black youth. The center is located at the intersection of 16th and Spruce streets in Center City.

Shawn Leavitt, president of The Attic board of directors, confirmed to PGN that allegations had been made by at least one former employee. He said the alleged sexual assault would have violated policies on protecting the youth served by The Attic.

“These allegations are serious,” Leavitt stated. “It’s incredibly important we address them and determine what — if anything — has happened, and to make sure The Attic is — and continues to be — a safe place for our community’s youth.”

The investigation, being conducted by The Attic’s law firm Morgan Lewis, began this week and also will help determine whether The Attic’s policies on safety were followed and whether the policies are strong enough, Leavitt said.

A policy he mentioned was one concerning contact between adults and youth. He did not know about any policy changes since the allegations were presented.

He added that board members are concerned about other allegations — one of them included racism — and members also are concerned about the employees and trying to help them. He did not know what was said during the former employee’s exit interview.

Leavitt said he did not have information on the alleged sexual assault, including when it is said to have taken place, and could not say anything about the person considered to be the victim citing privacy issues.

Leavitt said that when the investigation is complete, its results will be released. There is no timetable at this point, but the investigation’s main goal is to determine what, if anything, happened, and therefore will be completed as quickly as possible, but will not be rushed.

Furthermore, Leavitt said he is not aware of any reports or complaints officially filed with the Philadelphia Police Department or any other city agencies.

That said, a source close to The Attic told PGN that the former employee had made no complaints of racism while being employed there, nor in an exit interview.

The source also said the alleged sexual assault happened more than a year ago, adding the alleged victim was male and continues to visit the center regularly and take advantage of its services. The source also indicated that a new policy spurred by the alleged incident was put into place requiring The Attic alumni to sign in when visiting as well as be chaperoned the entire time they are on the premises.

PGN also spoke to two people from the Black & Brown Workers Co-op, which had announced the allegations. The organization’s Facebook page includes a 53-minute video discussing the situation, and three pages of allegations and demands.

Both of the Black & Brown Workers Co-op co-founders — Abdul-Aliy Abdullah Muhammad and Shani Akilah, who responded to PGN separately by phone — agreed nothing had changed since the group initially posted the allegations.

The BBWC stands by the posted allegations and demands, which Akilah said were drafted by the employees and shown on the last of the three pages. The demands include the immediate resignation of Jacobs and Santos as well as the resignation of Attic Associate Director Jacinto “Jay” Grant. The board’s memo to employees said Grant “will temporarily oversee operations working closely with board members Jasper Liem and Shawnese Givens.”

Additionally, the demands include auditing and changes to the board of directors, the “Entire Staff [sic] be trained in anti-Adultism,” and “severance pay to former staff who have suffered under the misleadership of carrie jacobs [sic] and management staff.”

Muhammad said neither they nor the group is acting as an adviser to anybody, but standing in solidarity with the workers who are whistleblowing.

Akilah wrote in a statement to PGN, “What these former Attic workers are doing is courageous and also birthed out of necessity. Speaking the truth about the treatment of Black and Brown Trans women and non-binary femmes goes against the grain of the toxic culture that exists at The Attic Youth Center. The Attic is a product of an anti-black, trans-antagonistic, queer-antagonistic society. The managerial staff at The Attic is complicit in a rape culture that places zero value on the bodies of queer and trans youth of color. Because of these former workers speaking out, that silence has been broken and The Attic’s management’s complicity exposed. Now justice must be done in the name of our community. The BBWC stands with these former workers now and until their demands are met.”

The BBWC post gives The Attic a deadline of March 18 to take action on all of its demands.