To Our NOC Community

To our NOC community:

The heart of our work at Neighborhoods Organizing for Change (NOC) has been about building real and lasting power for communities of color and under resourced communities in Minnesota. Whether we are building transformative movements for police accountability, workers’ rights, quality public education or any number of worthy causes, one thing has always been true about us: our communities are the core and backbone of this organization. But, these are very challenging times. Our resiliency is being tested by an emboldened right-wing, both in Washington and here at home. Our communities are under continuous attack, requiring the very best of all of us.

In the midst of all of this, our NOC community has faced a difficult time that has tested us as a movement organization. Earlier this year, allegations of sexual harassment and abusive conduct were raised against one of our employees. We must acknowledge that a great many people were hurt and impacted by the situation. Some have been personally triggered by the allegations being made. For others, this situation may have called NOC’s work and commitment to our community into question. We hear and see you. We know it hasn’t been easy. 

We want to take an opportunity here to outline, to the extent that we are able, what has happened, what’s next for NOC and how our community can support this important process.

Our intent is to operate from a restorative framework, acknowledge impact, center harm where it has lived, and acknowledge the humanity of everyone involved in the situation. These are more than empty phrases, they have to be a practice. We have had to balance our responsibilities as employers, as organizers and ultimately as members of the communities we organize in and that hold us accountable. In that regard, navigating the past several months has been very difficult for NOC’s staff, board and core leadership. This is not meant to be an excuse; however, we want to be transparent in that we struggled internally with finding the best path forward. While we may not have agreed on every point, in our best moments, we tapped into our commitment to our work as an organization and our values. 

With regard to the allegations being made against a staff member, Mike Griffin, we recently completed a thorough independent investigation, aided by attorneys at Gray Plant Mooty. As the employer in this scenario, we are duty-bound to conduct such an investigation in order to support any kind of action against an employee. 

In short, they found no evidence to substantiate the allegations. Their statement on the matter is available here.

While there was no finding of fact by the attorneys, we know that questions may still remain: most potently for those directly involved in the allegations. There may be harm, on either end, that these individuals will have to navigate. To that end, as an organization, we commit to supporting the facilitation of a restorative justice process for all of those at the center of the situation, should they choose to pursue that. A mediated restorative process can often foster healing, accountability and clear communication between parties in conflict where harm has occurred.

In the meantime, Mr. Griffin and NOC have mutually agreed to end our employment relationship so that both parties can move forward. We acknowledge his many contributions to the organization and to the work.

For movement organizations, and all of us organizing in our communities, situations like these pose great challenges. Grievances aired out on social media can often become openings for those not aligned with our mission to attack our work and rarely result in mitigating harm. In fact, what might feel like accountability can often spiral into a cycle of harm based on rumor, that worsens already painful situations and fails to achieve healing.

On the other hand, organizations that are ill-equipped to deal with conflict, that lack the necessary sense of urgency to engage in tough conversations and that do not constantly commit to the hard work of undoing privilege, cannot call themselves safe homes for our work.

The truth is, there are few models for handling these conflicts with grace, dignity and integrity. Movement groups like ours must face these challenges head-on in order to truly be worthy of our mission. Our important campaign work often takes center-stage, but learning how to navigate internal conflict doesn’t always get the time it warrants.

How do we navigate allegations like these when they are made, especially when those allegations are not made by those directly impacted? How do we do a better job of ensuring the emotional and physical well-being of everyone in our organizing communities? How do we ensure that everyone’s dignity is seen and valued? And, ultimately, how do we manage conflict in ways that don’t mirror cultures we are seeking to pivot away from?

These are a few of the hard and necessary questions we’re asking ourselves right now at NOC. We are embarking on a process to figure out what works. This won’t be fast, it won’t be easy and there likely will be moments of discomfort for everyone. Organizing with integrity means asking ourselves what we could have done better in this situation. There is no question that this is a moment of tremendous importance to NOC’s future; a moment we’re taking seriously.

In the coming weeks, we’ll announce plans for a community-driven panel to look at these issues in-depth. This will be an opportunity for the organization to look at the full picture: Where we can improve in our processes; what tools are available to support us in strengthening our commitment to restorative values; and, ultimately, where we failed to meet up with our values. The panel will submit its recommendations to our Board, and we will take swift action to strengthen NOC’s ability to support our community, staff and work.

As this process gets underway, Executive Director Anthony Newby has decided to take a brief period of time to support his own critical reflection on the important issues raised throughout the process and dig deeper into his own learnings. Anthony will be using this opportunity to grow as an organizational leader, while receiving guidance and training from valuable members of the movement community. Forming the core of this group to support his process are Charlene Sinclair from Center for Community Change and Jenn Epps-Addison from The Center for Popular Democracy. Anthony will also be seeking guidance from elders, other executive directors, trainers and those with the necessary experience and wisdom to help him ensure NOC is not only equipped to move forward, but also strengthen a foundation of real trust, safety and accountability. Anthony also intends to meet with key stakeholders during this time, including some former staff and board members, to gather and share feedback during this process of organizational growth.

Our senior staff is prepared to ensure the organization’s work on our important campaigns continues in earnest, but we will be prioritizing this process for NOC’s future. This, too, is the work.

We’ve done some amazing work together for the Twin Cities, Minnesota, and the nation. And, we have important campaigns ahead of us that our people are depending on us to win. But, that is not enough. History tells us that movements that navigate conflict poorly, and that do not take opportunities for self-reflection, ultimately fail. It is in this spirit, and in the sincerest desire to be the organization that our people need, that we recommit to building an inclusive and safe home for our communities to win critical victories.

We will see you on the frontlines.

NOC BOARD OF DIRECTORS

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  • commented 2017-08-05 16:10:04 -0500
    I applaud your diligence in navigating these difficult times as an organization and as individuals. NOC has, and I believe will continue, to hold a powerful, important place in movement work in Minnesota and beyond. I thank you for your efforts and look forward to standing with you on the front lines.

    In solidarity,

    Joy Marsh Stephens

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