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A letter from Demetrius Amparan, Interim Executive Director at Young Chicago Authors
Our 90 day safe space plan, public town hall announcement and status of Louder Than A Bomb

March 8, 2021

On February 24th, members of Young Chicago Authors (YCA) staff, including myself, decided to pause all programs until senior leadership and the YCA governing board address concerns that YCA spaces were not safe. This issue was brought to the staff’s attention largely due to the bravery of an acclaimed author and friend, who named her abuser, Roger Bonair-Agard in an open letter. Upon reading this letter and learning more about the organization’s history of responding to complaints, we reported our concerns to YCA’s Board of Directors. We were also responding to our students, educators, artists and community members, who have been publicly calling for YCA and other Chicago arts organizations to have more transparent protocol in place when responding to complaints of harm and to establish preventative systems to ensure the safety of our participants.

Our board of directors responded by naming me Interim Executive Director. More importantly, they expressed full confidence in the YCA team’s commitment to create a 90-day plan for safer spaces. Before I address how we will move forward, let me be clear about where we have been.

In late 2013, YCA was first made aware of these assault allegations against Roger Bonair-Agard. These allegations did not involve a YCA student and the organization immediately severed ties with him. However, in the eyes of our community, YCA was not transparent about the process and failed to do enough to ensure the safety of YCA participants in subsequent years. Many in the YCA community want to understand how this person could be allowed to work at other youth arts organizations after being dismissed at YCA. They want to know what has been done to ensure similar incidences won’t happen again. They have passionately delivered letters of demand and made recommendations on what we should do as an organization. To put it plainly, seven years later our community still believes that the systems in place to prevent harm are inadequate and that a culture of silence prevails.

We firmly believe our biggest responsibility to young people as youth service organizations is to ensure the spaces we create for them are safe and to provide a fundamentally positive impact on their development. There is no compromise with such responsibility. YCA must be a leader in this field because our participants share stories that are often expressions of grief and trauma. Many of our young people often experience harm in their own lives and they trust us to provide a space that will support them.

As a father to two amazing daughters, one who would have participated in our Louder Than A Bomb festival this year for the first time, I am committed to ensuring we bring in the proper resources and external partners to ensure our young people and their adult coaches have what they need to feel cared for. Too often the burden of restoring communities that were disregarded falls upon the shoulders of Black and Brown people who experience the effects of that harm. From this point onward, my promise to our community is that we will listen, respond and act in full transparency for the betterment of our young people’s lives.   

Our team has made the following decisions that we believe will chart a course for Young Chicago Authors to be the space our community and young people need:

  1. We will fully cooperate with Chicago Public Schools (CPS) investigation into our partnership. To be clear, we have no knowledge of any minors being involved in sexual harm at YCA spaces or at YCA activities at CPS locations.
  2. We are postponing our Louder Than A Bomb Poetry Festival until late spring.
  3. We will focus our collective efforts on implementing a 90-day plan to strengthen our safe space policies and expand our resources available to students. Our plan will be a collaborative, transparent effort led by an accountability team composed of our staff and the board, community members and key external partners. At a minimum, this will include a comprehensive review of each staff members history with the organization, safe space protocols, mandatory trainings for YCA staff on topics of consent, mentorship, and safe space, public townhalls for community members, routine consent based public workshops for young people, a review of our safe space creed, full disclosure of all YCA responses from complaints of harm since 2013, a revision of our employee onboarding processes, and an investment into mental health, well-being, and trauma based supports for young people who participate in Young Chicago Authors programs. This plan will begin with an open town hall scheduled for March 16th 2021. More information on this gathering and our safe space plan can be found at youngchicagoauthors.org/about/yca-safe-space.

As an alumnus of this organization, I wholeheartedly understand the positive impact YCA can have when it puts young people at the center. I know our community expects more from us and our team is committed to addressing issues of safe space so that we can continue providing participants with a place to tell their stories and realize the power in their voices. We just need to listen.


Leadership Changes at Young Chicago Authors

March 4, 2021

The Young Chicago Authors’ (YCA) Board of Directors is announcing changes to the YCA executive staff. These efforts are a direct result of actions by staff on behalf of the community we serve. We acknowledge community members have been advocating for improvements in YCA’s safe space protocols going back as far as 2014.

  • Rebecca Hunter has resigned from her role as executive director at Young Chicago Authors (YCA). Hunter had previously announced in November 2020 her plan to end her tenure June 2021.
  • Kevin Coval’s contract to serve as YCA’s artistic director has been ended.
  • Demetrius Amparan will serve as interim executive director. Amparan has previously served YCA as Donor Relations Manager and Director of Publications and Communications.  Amparan, who is an alumnus of YCA, has the full support of the board and staff. We’re confident in his ability to lead staff during this transition period.

The board also is responding to these issues by supporting the staff’s call for a 90-day plan to create safe spaces that are affirming and restorative. We as a board understand that our position provides power to promote safe space and respond to safe space violations. With guidance from staff and community, we commit to a process of learning to improve our response to these situations.

Young Chicago Authors has a 30-year commitment to support Chicago’s youth in finding their own voices and telling their own stories. This mission is enduring, even as our community works to reckon with its own collective story. As a governing board, we hold dear our opportunity to serve this community and create spaces that are safe, affirming, and restorative for us all.

Sincerely,

Young Chicago Authors
Board of Directors

 


YCA Public Statement 2/25/2021

YCA Leadership’s Sexual Violence Accountability Statement and Commitment to Safer Spaces

YCA leadership is listening. We hear you.

With deep regret about past failures, we are committed to doing better. We acknowledge that violence has taken place amongst members of the communities with whom we work and serve. We acknowledge there is much more YCA needs to do in our accountability work to be responsive to survivors of harm, their needs and safety, and transparency to protect our community and staff.

We conducted an internal accountability process beginning in 2013 when we received statements from a number of survivors regarding violence and abuse of power by an artist we regularly collaborated with. Although we severed professional ties with Roger Bonair-Agard in 2013, informed partners and collaborators of this fact, and undertook an internal investigation into our own hiring and personnel policies, we acknowledge our response was not enough.

We fell short by focusing on internal policies and not publicly sharing that work. We did not engage with the wider community about our accountability nor did we create avenues for input. We also did not publicly name Roger as a harm doer and were, therefore, complicit in his harm. We fell short in not holding other organizations accountable who continued to employ Roger, knowing the extent of the harm he had caused.

We renew our commitment to creating ongoing measures for safer spaces and a culture of accountability with the young people we serve, the artists who deliver the programs, the staff who support the pedagogy we advance, and the educators we partner with. We commit to putting resources toward and actively working on accountability

partnerships. The intention is to provide long-term support for staff and students on harm identification, harm reduction, and consent, as well as to develop avenues of support for survivor-centered resources when harm occurs. We recommit to building an environment that allows for a clear, trusted, transparent, and thorough response to safe space violations. We acknowledge an urgent and sustained need to do better in advocating for victims, severing ties with perpetrators of harm, and interrupting sexual violence that is embedded in our community. Sincerely,

Rebecca Hunter, executive director

Kevin Coval, artistic director

 


YCA Public Statement in 2020

Statement of Solidarity from Young Chicago Authors

Dear YCA Community,

We stand in solidarity with the courageous Black women in Chicago who have publicly and privately shared their stories of being sexually assaulted by artist and community organizer Malcolm London. As of last week, a third Black woman publicly alleged that London assaulted her.

YCA played a central role in London’s artistic development, empowered and mentored him as a young artist and promoted his work in YCA spaces as he established himself in the poetry and music scene. He also lead our work as a teaching artist in numerous spaces in Chicago and nationally.

When the first allegations about London came out in 2015 we remained publicly silent but internally severed professional ties with London and requested he not enter into any YCA programmatic spaces. As an org we are committed to restorative and transformative practices, understanding that harm is generational and that our space can contribute to positive community accountability. When London entered into a public accountability process with the first survivor who came forward we were deeply respectful of the process lead by BYP100. After the accountability process had been completed we were interested in how YCA could restore with London also. However, it became clear that YCA’s community were not included in the restorative work London had participated in and that this community would require its own process in order to begin to even think about any form of restoration with London. We continued to be supportive of London’s accountability work but requested he not be present in YCA’s programmatic spaces. This third allegation is heartbreaking and means the restorative process at YCA is now not possible.

To the survivors who bravely share their stories publicly we believe you and commit to the continued work of doing better to support you. We support Black and Brown women and girls and members of the Trans community for your leadership, for calling for better accountability.

As an organization we remain committed to the complex work of providing safer spaces for each other, the young people of Chicago and the educators we partner with. As an Arts Organization we recognize our limitations in this work and commit to continuing to seek out partnerships with organizations and individuals who specialize is survivor lead processes and practices and to bring that work into our spaces where possible.

A Long Walk Home recently shared in their statement the stark truth of violence

  • For every black woman who reports a rape, at least 15 black women do not report;
  • One in four black girls will be sexually abused before the age of 18;
  • One in five black women are survivors of rape;
  • Forty to sixty percent of black women report being subjected to coercive sexual contact by age 18.

To do our part we commit to

  • Seeking the necessary training about sexual assault and examine the safe spaces for Black women and girls in our community;
  • Pause and to reflect on our journey thus far;
  • Practice an intersectional framework
  • Condemn sexual violence

As an organization that has been made aware that violence has taken place amongst members of the artistic, educational and youth communities we acknowledge that we are part of a system that has failed Black and Brown women. The young people that make our programs so vital will lead us all through this movement of racial justice and toward a radical future.

We stand with you. #survivingloudly

 


YCA Public Statement in 2018

In 2013 YCA was informed of several allegations of sexual violence accusing a long-time artistic collaborator of the organization. When the allegations were received YCA suspended professional ties with the individual.

For legal reasons YCA cannot name the individual accused.

Our internal process, when allegations of harassment or violence are received is to suspend professional ties and conduct an internal investigation to gather information. In this case we hired an independent legal advisor to conduct the investigation. The findings of the investigation determined that the allegations were substantiated. We severed professional ties with the accused and informed colleagues, partners and peers of this decision.

No legal action was and has been taken against the accused to our knowledge. No minors were involved to YCA’s knowledge.

A restorative process, which YCA values, has not been put in place with this individual to date.

YCA is committed to creating ongoing professional development and trainings about issues relating to sexual violence, leadership models, creating and maintaining safe spaces and code of conduct for staff, teaching artists and mentors and support for teaching artists and mentors. These programs are designed and implemented in conversations with Chicago based organizations including ICAH and RVA who are also presented as resource to YCA staff and youth in order to build partnerships with experts in the field.

If you have questions, concerns or information that you would like to share please do not hesitate to contact YCA’s ED Rebecca Hunter. rebecca@youngchicagoauthors.org

Below is YCA’s Policy and Code of Conduct which is shared with all staff and contractors.

Anti‐Discrimination, Anti‐Harassment, Anti-Violence Policy / Code of Conduct
Young Chicago Authors will not tolerate instances of discrimination, harassment, violence or
other forms of abuse in conjunction with our programs or organization.

Respect and consideration for others, both within and outside workshop sessions, readings and other activities are core values to be upheld by all.

Harassment or violence of community members on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, national origin, age, marital status or disability is unacceptable and will not be tolerated. Program participants, staff and contractors are expected to adhere to all federal, state and local laws and regulations while engaged in a YCA program or representing YCA.

Should a staff member, instructor, volunteer or participant be found to violate any aspect of the organization’s code of conduct, YCA reserves the right to dismiss her /him/them from the program or activity.

Consequences include, but not be limited to, suspension, dismissal from the current program or activity, and/or ineligibility for all future activities.

Policy on Sexual Harassment
It is the policy of Young Chicago Authors has no tolerance for any member of the YCA community—instructors, staff, administrators, contractors, fellows, workshop participants or third parties—may sexually harass any other member of the community.

Sexual harassment violates the community values and principles of our organization and disrupts the living and learning environment for all. Sexual harassment or any unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature, which includes, but is not limited to, unwelcome sexual advances; the use or threatened use of sexual favors as a basis for YCA program decisions; conduct that creates a hostile, intimidating or offensive environment; conduct that has the effect of unreasonably interfering with an individual’s activity in YCA programs; and other verbal, nonverbal, or physical conduct of a sexual nature that is sufficiently severe, persistent or pervasive to limit a person’s ability to participate in or benefit from a YCA program or activity. Examples of sexual harassment may include:

  • Pressure for a dating, romantic or intimate relationship
  • Unwelcome sexual advances
  • Unwelcome touching, kissing, hugging or massaging
  • Disregarding “no means no”
  • Pressure for or forced sexual activity
  • Unnecessary references to parts of the body
  • Remarks about a person’s gender, nonconformity with gender stereotypes, or sexual orientation
  • Sexual innuendoes or humor
  • Obscene gestures
  • Sexual pictures or posters
  • Sexually explicit profanity
  • Stalking or cyberbullying that is based on gender or sex
  • E‐mail, texting (“sexting”) and Internet use that violates this policy
  • Sexual assault

Resolution
If a complaint of sexual harassment is found to be substantiated, appropriate corrective action will follow, up to and including separation of the offending party from YCA programs and activities.

Retaliation
YCA prohibits retaliation against anyone for registering a complaint pursuant to this policy, assisting another in making a complaint, or participating in an investigation under this policy.

Anyone experiencing any conduct that he/she/they believes to be retaliatory should immediately report it to the staff person designated to receive such reports.

 


YCA Public Statement in 2014

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

We are writing to inform you of the actions we have taken in response to allegations of sexual violence YCA received regarding an artist with whom we had collaborated.

We learned of the allegations in confidence, just over a year ago and immediately sought legal advice, retained an independent lawyer to investigate the allegations and make recommendations, and took action to sever ties with the individual pending the results of the investigation. Based on the results of the investigation, the individual has not been involved in YCA programs since we received the allegations and has not been welcome in our space.

It is important to share that none of the allegations we received involved minors. To our knowledge, no legal actions have been taken against the individual to date. YCA has not received information which mandate us to take legal action against the individual and has not done so.

However, as a youth-serving organization we want to ensure, to the greatest extent possible, that we are diligent about maintaining safe spaces for our entire community.

In addition to the steps above, we have taken and continue to take the following actions to reinforce YCA’s values:

Working with employment lawyers, core staff and close collaborators to review our harassment policies and complaint reporting mechanisms to ensure our procedures are comprehensive, current, and best practices.

Implementing a series of training sessions for YCA staff, contractors and affiliate teaching artists in consultation with experts in the fields of gender, race, leadership and social justice.

Fundamental to YCA’s philosophy is respect for each individual, passion for listening as well as speaking, a place to be heard and the belief that integrity and honesty are the best ways to deal with any difficult and complex issue.

Young Chicago Authors remains committed to creating safe spaces and platforms across the city of Chicago and beyond for young people to express themselves. Young Chicago Authors remains committed to the struggle to counter racism, sexism, classism, inequity and violence of all kinds in our city and beyond.

We remain committed to creating a culture that transforms the lives of young people and their communities by bringing together participants through writing, publication, and performance education for civic discourse and community celebration.

Sincerely,

Kevin Coval Artistic Director

Rebecca Hunter Executive Director


YCA Public Statement in 2013

November 6, 2013

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

We are writing to address the serious matter involving disturbing allegations we have received regarding Roger Bonair-Agard – an artist and poet educator with whom we have regularly collaborated.

As those in leadership of a youth-serving organization, we want to inform you of the actions we have taken in response to these allegations. Also it is important to inform you, to our knowledge, these allegations do not involve minors and that no legal claims against Roger have been taken to date.

As soon as we learned of the severe nature of the allegations, we took action to sever ties with Roger and sought legal council. Accordingly, Roger is no longer involved in YCA programs.

We are taking a number of actions, including the following steps, to reinforce YCA’s values as we move forward:

  • We have been working with an independent lawyer to conduct an investigation to determine the facts and recommend actions

  • We are working with employment lawyers, core staff and close collaborators to review our harassment policies to ensure our procedures are comprehensive and current.

We are planning a series of staff training sessions and community meetings in consultation with experts in the fields of gender, race and social justice.

YCA has a special obligation to ensure, to the greatest extent possible, that adults engaged in our work are vigilant about maintaining safe spaces for our students.

Fundamental to YCA’s philosophy is respect for each individual, passion for listening as well as speaking, a place to be heard and the belief that openness and honesty are the best ways to deal with any difficult issue. We invite you to contact us directly, please do so; we remain receptive to all communication about this issue.

Sincerely,

Kevin Coval
Artistic Director kevin@youngchicagoauthors.org

Rebecca Hunter
Executive Director rebecca@youngchicagoauthors.org