I arrived at the George Wiley Center action outside the Pawtucket Public Library Saturday morning with only a sleight idea about what was going to take place. I talked to Zainab Ilumoka, who would later that day be elected the new President of the George Wiley Center Board by members of the Center.
“We’re here today to take back the Board of the George Wiley Center,” said Ilumoka. “The executive committee has kind of gone rogue and are now using the Board to benefit themselves. They’ve created positions for themselves, they’re paying each other, they’re running side businesses through the Center, it’s gross.
“And of course they’ve block myself, Myra [Paulino] and Tony [Ansah], three people of color, from joining the Board,” continued Ilumoka. “We first applied to be on the Board in 2015. In that time, multiple white members have been seated. They also didn’t have to go through the process that we went through. We had to interview, we had to submit our resumes – It seems as if they knew someone and they were invited to sit, they were invited to the table, so we’re taking back our seat at the table.”
I asked Ilumoka what the Board’s response has been to this community’s demands. “One of the members [Virginia Gonsalves],” replied Ilumoka, “she’s an older woman, she’s been on the Board the longest, she said that she supports a fresh, new Board.
“Then we reached out to Calvin [Drayton]. He was the black member who was bullied off the Board. He said he’s focusing on his health issues.
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“We reached out to Ben Evans, he tried to set up a meeting between us and the Board and they all refused to meet with us, without explanation. Susan [Rohwer] sent me a private email, but never really followed up with me.”
“What do you expect to happen today?” I asked.
“Honestly,” said Ilumoka, “Best case scenario, they realize the error of their ways. I think, actually confronted by the members of the George Wiley Center, they will succumb, hopefully. But we also understand that when people hold power they don’t want to let it go. So we’re prepared to report them to the Attorney General’s office, we are prepared to let funders know what is being done with the money, we are prepared to share this with the press, we’re prepared to go for as long as possible, until they have to pay for their actions.”
“From my perspective,” I said, “As someone who supports [the mission of] the George Wiley Center… I didn’t really know much about this. I don’t think anybody, really, is aware of this. This seems to have come out of nowhere but you’re saying that this has been bubbling under the surface for years?”
“I didn’t know much about it either,” said Ilumoka. “Because I work in Boston and I was in Grad School, I fell away from the Center. I checked in once in a while to see when they would seat me but there was never any explanation. Camilo [Viveiros, the George Wiley Center organizer] was dodging me. He didn’t want to expose what was going on.”
“He didn’t want to put himself in the middle of the things?” I asked.
“Yeah, ” said Ilumoka. “I think the last straw was the financial misuse. Where, okay, something must be done now. This has gone too far. Now they’re employing each other and they’re all just using the Center for their own, I don’t know, their own social standing, or whatever it is they’re seeking. I don’t know what their mission is, but I definitely don’t think it’s worth losing your morals or integrity over.
“It’s a shame because most of our donors are poor people, who are donating $5 a month. You know what I’m saying? It’s gross.”
I entered the George Wiley Center with nearly thirty people, a group that included members of the George Wiley Center and members of the new Board. There was a Board meeting in progress. Dr Michael Fine congratulated me on receiving the Red Bandana Award, which coincidentally is also being given to George Wiley Center organizer Camilo Viveiros.
Viveiros was talking. Lesley Bunnell asked Viveiros, “What are you talking about?” then said, “Actually, I’m not talking to you now because this is going on. I’m not answering your questions.” Members unfurled a large banner that said, “Executive Committee Resign!”
Viveiros was talking about nearly $8000 in what he claimed to be inappropriate payments that he wanted returned. He said some other things as well, before being cut off by the group that had who had just entered the meeting.
The members read their statement to the Board:
“We the members, volunteers, former workers, and former board members of the George Wiley Center have come here today to hold the Board accountable.
“The George Wiley Center should be an organization led by the members, for the members—not by an authoritarian board of directors.
“In your time as board members you have:
- Obstructed sitting board members, as 3 unanimously nominated board members of color were denied seats on the board for over a year while during this time, another unvetted, uninterviewed, unknown, white board member was elected and joined meetings regularly.
- Failed to address gross conflicts of interest, as Lesley Bunnell created a job listing, accepted resumes, and applied for the job, all while sitting on the Executive Committee and Board of Directors.
- Committed financial mismanagement, as funds donated to the George Wiley Center for the purpose of fulfilling the mission have been used to pay severance to fired employees and pay Lesley Bunnell (on two accounts) for “volunteer” work.
- Failed to elect vital officer positions including a board President and Vice President and Secretary.
- Failed to perform the duties of Treasurer in a timely, satisfying manner while receiving compensation for a volunteer position, endangering our meeting space.
- Repeatedly disenfranchised members, volunteers and staff of color; and
“Violated the following By-Laws:
- Article II (Purpose);
- Article III, Section 2 (Election and Term of Office);
- Article III, Section 11 (Compensation);
- Article IV (Annual Meeting);
- Article V, Section 1 (Officers);
- Article V, Section 8 (Treasurer);
- Article VI, Section 1 (Appointment of Committee Members);
- Article VI, Section 3 (Standing Committees);
- Article VI, Section 5 (Executive Committee);
- Article VI, Section 9 (Nominating Committee);
- Article VIII (Authorized Signatures)
“As members of this organization we are here to take back the center and demand that the executive committee immediately resign:
“Michael Fine, Joan Dagle Susan Rohwer, Lesley Bunnell
“The community no longer has confidence in your ability to represent the mission of this organization or its members. A seat at the table is no longer enough, we are taking back the table.
“THIS IS OUR ORGANIZATION.”
A series of testimonies from members and blocked Board members were read aloud, beginning with Ilumoka:
The members began chanting, “Membership Revolt!” and other chants.
Ilumoka rose and made a motion to elect the members seated around the table to the Board of the George Wiley Center. Members identified themselves, then they elected themselves by acclamation.
A lot more chanting…
“I am pleased to resign, actually,” said Dr Michael Fine, attempting to deliver a statement, though he was constantly interrupted by the excited members. “I am really proud of the work you’ve all done. It gives me great hope., to see the work you’ve done, to see the preparation…”
After some more back and forth, Fine signed a letter of resignation that had been prepared by the members and the new Board. The previous Board members then got up and left the George Wiley Center.
Later, two members of the board, Robert McConnell and Michael Mullane, separately emailed resignation letters in to the new Board. Mullane wrote that he was “honored to be asked to serve on the Board, but also that he regrets “that my service and motives, and that of other Board members, was lied about and misrepresented to the group who took over the Board meeting of June 8, 2019. I had hoped to continue to serve on the Board of the Wiley Center, but as my service appears to be unwanted as a result of the lies and misrepresentations fed to those who took over the Board meeting of June 8, 2019, I hereby resign from the Board, effective June 8, 2019.”
Late Saturday evening the previous Board released a statement that was, confusingly, signed onto by Dr Fine, Mullane and McConnell, as well as by previous Board members Rohwer, Bunnell and Dagle. It is unclear from the statement whether or not the previous Board intends to fight the takeover of the Board, or if this statement is intended to somehow nullify the resignations of Fine, Mullane and McConnell.
The statement reads:
“On June 8, 2019, at 10:00 AM, at a scheduled George Wiley Center Board of Directors meeting we were interrupted by a group who identified themselves as George Wiley Center volunteers with the purpose of forcing the entire Board of Directors to resign.
“In response to the accusations leveled against the Board of Directors of the George Wiley Center, we would like to clarify that:
“We’ve been honored to serve as members of the George Wiley Center Board of Directors for between 2 and 15 years. We note with great sadness how the internal affairs of the George Wiley Center have been marked by internal dissension and division since the death of our comrade, founder, and hero Henry Shelton in 2016.
“Furthermore, we have always acted in good faith and any suggestion to the contrary is false. We as individuals and as the Board of Directors have dedicated our lives to fighting for justice in our communities. We have always acted within our fiduciary responsibilities, serving as the Board of Directors, working towards the long-term sustainability and viability of the George Wiley Center.
“We are concerned and saddened that our well-founded actions, prudent choices, and responsible decision making have been misrepresented to a community we care deeply about and with whom the George Wiley Center has been working since its founding.
“We are attaching an email we all received today as a warning to others. The struggle for justice cannot abide blackmail from either the left or the right. And we hope that our commitment to justice is always matched by our collective commitment to the truth.
“This statement was written without the knowledge or input of Board of Director members, Ben Evans or Virginia Neves Gonsalves.
“We will release more information when it is prudent.”
Here’s the email the statement from the previous Board referred to as “blackmail.”
I sent a series of follow-up questions to the previous Board, but have not received an answer as of this writing.
I received a statement saying that the new Board has the full support of Camilo Viveiros, organizer for the George Wiley Center.
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