Workers and community supporters protest racist practices
Oshkosh, WI – 30 community members came out, July 8, to protest the leadership of the Boys & Girls Club of Oshkosh. Community activists, artists, teachers, parents and children gathered peacefully on a corner armed with chalk, chants and messages of anti-racism and solidarity with the pro-Black Lives Matter workers.
When protests erupted around the country in late May over the police killings of George Floyd and countless others, the Boys & Girls Club released a statement of solidarity for the Black Lives Matter movement on their social media accounts in early June. The workers, who have been impacted by these repeated killings, were given no external guidance on how to respond or what types of conversations would be expected of them in their classrooms. They assumed the social media posts from the Boys & Girls Club were a green light for employees that wanted to show solidarity.
On June 9, an employee developed their weekly theme around solidarity and propped up signs in the windows that read “Black dreams matter,” “We stand united,” and “Black voices matter.” Supervisors and CEOs alike voiced their immediate concern for their reputation amongst donors and the “non-Black” children and families who would see those signs and feel “left out.” During business hours and despite the employee’s refusal to take down the signs, they were removed in front of a Black staff member.
Multiple private meetings with supervisors as well as two CEOs and the Boys & Girls Club ended with the conclusion from the organization that workers were to remain neutral and that they must not put “opinions” or “personal beliefs” in the windows for the public to see. This did not sit well with employees on the front lines and led to further actions in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement.
Ten days later, the Boys & Girls Club's ‘neutrality’ remained firm and tensions were still unresolved between workers and management. This tension expanded further after a Black staff member who solely worked outside for recess experienced a heat-related emergency that was disregarded as hostility. Other staff members rushed to provide basic first aid while supervisors were nowhere to be found. The staff member working outside wrote “I can't breathe” in chalk in the parking lot as another way to speak out against the Boys & Girls Club of Oshkosh's awful working conditions and treatment towards Black staff. This chalk message was removed by maintenance after business hours.
The Boys & Girls Club sought legal counsel through their labor law attorney connections and spoke privately with donors about what could be done. Employees were left in an exhausting cycle of meetings that included repeating statements, workers being taken away from their classrooms, and threats of termination. Management demanded more time to reflect, welcomed suggestions via email, but remained firm on their position of neutrality as to not lose “critical” donations that keep programs running.
The hostility and subtle gaslighting experienced behind the scenes led to two Black staff resigning to preserve their mental and emotional well-being. A large meeting was called by staff to meet with superiors on June 25 and it was agreed by CEO Marc Dosogne that this meeting would take place as long as it was indoors, private, and no media was in attendance.
The meeting was only minimally effective, but employees were able to share experiences, anger, and explain how crucial it is to publicly defend the Black Lives Matter movement as an organization that serves dozens of Black youth. Workers demanded 100% solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement, zero neutrality, real representation for front line staff at every board of directors meeting, shirts in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement, and a possible paid day to volunteer and participate in a Black Lives Matter related action.
A week passed as if nothing had happened despite staff quitting and looking elsewhere for other positions. The staff and concerned parties reached out to grassroots organizations locally to help apply pressure and to expose this specific organizational branch's cover up of racist employer practices. The accounts of racism have sparked outrage in the community. Despite the outrage, the Boys & Girls Club still maintains direct connections with many powerful institutions including the Oshkosh Police Department, whose officers murdered and slandered an unarmed Black man named Isaiah Tucker back in 2017.
The day after the Black Lives Matter chalk-walk protest, social media accounts displayed the Boys & Girls Club of Oshkosh tagged with the Oshkosh Police Department thanking children for hand delivering candy and cards. Workers and their supporters in the community intend to hold future protests for tangible change, equality and genuine solidarity.