The Attic Youth Center has named an acting executive director and launched two investigations following damaging allegations that a minor was sexually assaulted on its premises and that former employees had experienced racial discrimination while working at the LGBTQ youth-serving nonprofit.
Attic board member Shawnese Givens stepped into the acting executive-director role, replacing Carrie Jacobs, who was immediately relieved of her duties when the accusations surfaced in early March.
The replacement was announced on April 4 in an open letter to the community, which stated that Givens, a self-identified feminist and social-justice advocate with a background in marriage and family counseling, was expected to begin her duties on April 15.
Kate Wilhelm, director of Ceisler Media, a public-relations and issue-advocacy firm hired by The Attic following the allegations, told PGN that Givens, who has been on The Attic board since 2016, will report to board president Shawn Leavitt as she “oversees day-to-day operations, represents The Attic in the community and makes sure the legal council gets access to anything they need to conduct thorough and complete investigations.”
Wilhelm told PGN that The Attic has obtained two law firms to handle each allegation facing the center. Abara Law is conducting the investigation into the claims of racial discrimination against employees, while Morgan Lewis is looking into the claims of sexual assault.
“Both law firms have also been charged with providing recommendations on policies and procedures that will make sure [that The Attic] will always be a safe, inclusive environment,” Wilhelm said, estimating the investigations would take a couple of months to be completed.
She said The Attic is committed to being transparent throughout the process. All new information will be shared with the community via open letters posted on the organization’s website.
The Attic is also working with gay-owned social-media marketing company ChatterBlast Media to ensure that its messagging “reaches as many people in the community as possible” through the center’s Facebook, Twitter and Instagram platforms.
“We want people to feel they are hearing from us,” Wilhelm said.
The accusations of sexual assault and racial discrimination were revealed on the Facebook page of the Black & Brown Workers Co-op (BBWC).
The group released a 53-minute video discussing three pages of allegations and demands including the immediate resignation of three top-rung employees — Jacobs, Director of Programs and Operations Christina Santos and Associate Director Jacinto “Jay” Grant — and changes to the board of directors.
Jacobs and Santos were relieved of their duties, but Wilhelm said Grant remains in his position and the board is intact, other than Givens stepping into the role of acting executive director.
“Any further changes at this point would be premature,” she said. “We can explain our decisions once we reach them. We want to be thorough and thoughtful in this process, always keeping in mind that our commitment is to delivering the promise to our youth that they will have the safe, welcoming environment they expect.”
The BBWC did not respond to PGN’s requests for comment, though Wilhelm said the group is watching the proceedings closely and that The Attic respects its input and “wants to be as responsive as possible to them.”
“We are doing our best to acknowledge and respond to all of their concerns in a way that is very thoughtful and very intentional,” she said. “We want to work alongside them, because we feel this is a moment others — not just our organization — can learn from as well. We have a great amount of respect for what they do. They are trying to make change and so are we. We are united in that, but sometimes that just takes a little time.”
Wilhelm said the main focus of The Attic at this time is “serving the youth who depend on our center and participating fully with the investigations that are underway.”
She said that the controversy hasn’t had a negative impact on donations to the nonprofit, and youth are accessing the organization just as much as they were before.
“Attendance has been consistent — some days it has actually increased.”