Accusations came out last week against The Attic Youth Center, Philadelphia’s independent LGBTQ youth bastion, claiming an alleged sexual assault against a minor occurred on its premises and that 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 next day, Attic Board of Directors Vice President Jasper Liem sent a memo to staff members of the center.
“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,” the board wrote.
According to the memo, the board planned to hire anindependent group to investigate the claims while the center continues its core mission to serve youth.
“This is a critical and difficult time for The Attic,” the 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 opened in 1993 and primarily serves youth of color.
A former Attic employee reportedly made the allegations.
Shawn Leavitt, president of The Attic’s 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 center.
“These allegations are serious,” Leavitt said. “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 own law firm, Morgan Lewis, began last week and also will help determine whether the center’s policies on safety were followed and if those policies are strong enough, Leavitt said.
A policy he mentioned was one concerning contact between adults and youth, and said that board members are concerned about other allegations and about the employees.
Leavitt said he didn’t have any specifics on the allegations, but that the results of the investigation would be released.
Furthermore, he said he wasn’t aware of any reports or complaints officially filed with the Philadelphia Police Department or any other city agencies.
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 the two founders of the Black & Brown Workers Co-op, which posted the allegations. The organization’s Facebook page includes a 53-minute video discussing the claims, as well as three pages of allegations and demands.
Abdul-Aliy Abdullah Muhammad and Shani Akilah responded to PGN separately by phone and said nothing had changed since the group initially posted the allegations.
The BBWC alscontinus to stand by its 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, that 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 the BBWC isn’t acting as an adviser but just 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 post gives The Attic a deadline of March 18 to take action on all of its demands.