Waheedah Shabazz-El, the goodwill ambassador for Philadelphia FIGHT, led a chant Monday in a conference room at the office for the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations.
“People with AIDS are under attack,” the group chanted 12 times.
Midway through the demonstration, a PCHR employee walked in, requested them to quiet down and offered them the opportunity to chant outside the office. The group ultimately decided to quiet down.
Twelve FIGHT employees and board members marched from the organization’s Locust Street office to PCHR. The group, which included 10 people of color, protested what they called “misrepresentations” of the nonprofit regarding racism and organization practices.
About an hour after the protesters entered the office, PCHR Deputy Directors Pam Gwaltney and Randy Duque met briefly with the group. PCHR Executive Director Rue Landau was not available for the meeting but Gwaltney said she would be available on March 1 and requested that the group send two or three representatives.
In its report, “Inform, Monitor, Enforce: Addressing Racism and Discrimination in Philadelphia’s LGBTQ Community,” PCHR presented findings on racism in Gayborhood bars and LGBT-serving nonprofits. The report stated that “past and current employees of certain LGBTQ social-service agencies report patterns of discrimination relating to the agencies’ employment practices.”
The report also provided recommendations that “board members, directors, management and staff of the Mazzoni Center and Philadelphia FIGHT must receive training on the FPO and implicit bias.”
“We are all here together because we believe in the institution of Philadelphia FIGHT,” Shabazz-El told PGN. “We are here because we are demanding that this report gets taken down along with an apology to Philadelphia FIGHT. We are here demanding that Rue comes over in about a week and have a tour. [We want to] allow them to tour the building and see how much work we get done. At the end of the day, it’s about the patient and all of us are committed to giving the best service to the patient that we can.”
The Rev. Jeffery Haskins, FIGHT’s Project TEACH coordinator, told PGN that 175 FIGHT employees signed a “Petition Against Threat to Dismantle Philadelphia FIGHT.” The signees said they “wish to condemn in the strongest possible terms, any wicked and selfish plans by aggrieved ex-employees including Elisabeth Long and Danica Moore, to dismantle Philadelphia FIGHT and throw us and our dependent families into disarray while pushing our clients out of essential health services.”
Long previously accused FIGHT of “pervasive racism” in a staff-wide email upon her departure from the organization, while Moore aired her grievances on social media upon her termination.
“We’ve complied to all that was in this report and we’ve updated it and there has been updates on that report. It’s outdated. It’s not current and so when people read that, they will look at Philadelphia FIGHT and think that we have not improved. We have met those requirements by law.”
Additionally, the petition notes that FIGHT CEO Jane Shull has “spearheaded the fight of equal health for all.”
“Jane’s efforts and true compassion for others created a safe space for all,” the petition reads. “Only those who have not walked the journey of being discriminated against, stigmatized and denied treatment because of their economic deprivation or color can seek to undermine the glass ceiling roof that Jane Shull has broken in the health-care and social-services field.”
In the petition, the employees called on racial-justice organization the Black & Brown Workers Cooperative to pull down its social-media posts about FIGHT. This includes memes with Shull’s face superimposed on a white woman who is being fitted for a corset by a slave as well as accusations of paternalism and plantation politics.
In a statement to Philadelphia Magazine, BBWC called FIGHT’s protest a “misinformation campaign.”
“This is not an attack on Philadelphia FIGHT,” the statement reads. “This is about the removal of toxic leadership. This is about transferring power from leadership that has proven itself to be illegitimate through its targeted violence. That is why we must work with those most impacted to shift power back to workers and the community.”
BBWC announced in a statement that the group will hold a press conference 3 p.m. March 1 on the corner of 12th and Locust to deliver demands to FIGHT. Current and former staff supported by groups such as ACT UP Philadelphia, the Womanist Working Collective and a group of workers from a Federally Qualified Health Center crafted the demands, according to BBWC's statement.
A FIGHT spokesperson provided PGN with an outline of its employee makeup: 51 percent African American, 41 percent Caucasian, 6 percent Latinx and 2 percent Asian. Additionally, three African Americans, two Caucasians and one Asian individual comprise the “top-management staff.”
In an email, the spokesperson noted that FIGHT would not disclose the names of board members who were patients but of the organization’s 19-member board, approximately two-thirds are African American and two-thirds are patients. While there is an overlap between the two populations, it should not be construed as the same people, the spokesperson said. Additionally, one quarter of the board is Caucasian.
This meeting with PCHR came days after FIGHT announced a collaboration with Health Partners Plans and Broad Street Ministry to improve health-care access to individuals struggling with homelessness and chronic-health conditions. BSM will expand its services with FIGHT’s satellite clinic, which will include a full-time HPP social worker.