An Update from the Board of Directors
These last few weeks have been hard ones for the PNA as well as for all of you, we’re sure. It is a new environment where our thoughts are constantly invaded by COVID-19, fear and stress for ourselves and our loved ones, and economic uncertainty. On top of that we are isolated from each other – this is clearly not the PNA way!
Today we are writing to share our knowledge of several situations that have occurred in our community and how we are responding. We know this message is long, so thank you in advance for your attention.
Along with organizations and businesses around the state, PNA’s doors shut in mid-March. With that closure came the loss of our physical community gathering space, as well as most of the organization’s revenue. We have lost income from rentals, tuition, and in-person events and fundraisers for the foreseeable future, which are the primary fiscal supports of PNA’s many community-based programs. Despite this, PNA’s amazing staff and volunteers have continued their great work in feeding people in need, providing childcare for children of first responders, engaging in creative outreach and assistance to our neighborhood seniors, and uplifting our community in a thousand ways. We are so grateful for and inspired by all the work of our staff and volunteers.
But while many members of the community were stepping up, someone else was on the attack. On April 6, Dar’Nesha Weary, PNA’s executive director, and Raymond Chao, the Development Director, both people of color, received in their PNA email inboxes a vile and racist message which contained three cartoon images of disgusting racist stereotypes with captions that denigrated their work at and leadership of the PNA. The email “sender” was identified as “Real Neighbors” at the email address of “[email protected]”
This is not the voice of the PNA. Dar’Nesha immediately forwarded this frightening email to several PNA board members. We took swift action, talking with police and sending a message to all PNA staff informing them of what had happened and condemning all forms of hate speech in our community. We have not yet been able to identify the sender of that message.
Though we talked at the time of the need to publicly condemn this horrific act that has had such a traumatic impact on Dar’Nesha and PNA’s staff, we became overwhelmed with the crisis-management tasks related to COVID-19, and we delayed engaging the community. We should have been able to prioritize this deeply needed reckoning because we recognize that silence in cases of hatred and discrimination can, and often does, act as complicity. We regret that we delayed action and caused unnecessary anxiety, pain, and stress among our deeply valued PNA staff, particularly staff of color including Dar’Nesha and Raymond. We are taking steps to ensure this won’t happen again and we will strive to hold ourselves accountable in using our positions as community leaders to call out and condemn racism and other acts of bias and discrimination.
Within days of this April 6 attack and the traumatic experience it created, PNA leadership was making difficult staff reduction decisions to see PNA through the financial crisis created by COVID-19. Nobody disputes the need to reduce PNA’s spending in these unprecedented times, but the way that staff was notified of staffing decisions, as well as who was laid off (preschool co-op teachers) and the limited communication leading up to that decision, have led to high emotions and important questions from our community that the PNA board must address directly.
We’d like to share that an apology was sent to all staff acknowledging missteps in the process and expressing deep regret that a focus on complying with deadlines and technical legalities overshadowed a focus on the importance of personal connections and recognition for service. A special apology goes to Chardell Paine, who has dedicated 27 years to PNA and is the reason many of us are involved. PNA staff believe in PNA’s mission, love their colleagues like family, and are willing to personally sacrifice for PNA’s survival. How the layoffs were handled should have reflected those fundamental PNA values, but unfortunately did not.
Regarding the co-op teacher layoffs, the PNA board thanks the leadership of all three co-op preschools (Phinney Cooperativa Preescolar en Español, Phinney Neighborhood Preschool Co-op, and Ballard Preschool Co-op) for coming to the table so quickly to engage in meaningful discussions. As a result of our conversations, PNA has reinstated all of the teachers through the end of the school year. The Board and PNA staff will also be working with the co-op leadership to clarify and formalize the organizations’ lines of communication and relationships so that we can continue to support each other in the future. Our co-op preschools are valued PNA programs that embody our mission to build community, and preschool families are vital and energetic members of the PNA community.
Before we began this productive dialogue to address co-op concerns, public and private hurtful communications occurred. On April 28, Dar’Nesha shared with the leadership of the three co-ops that in response to the co-op teacher layoffs, she had received emails that were offensive and even racist in tone. Simultaneously, a false narrative was raised on social media that PNA (and by extension its leader) had mismanaged or committed “robbery” of co-op reserve funds. This notion is both offensive and has a racist connotation in our age of mass incarceration and the disproportionate impact against people of color in our criminal justice system.
In the course of our communication with the co-op communities in responding to these messages, some people have felt that the broad communications have unfairly accused co-op communities as a whole of racist acts as a result of the generalities of our communications.
This was truly never our intent. We are sorry that our communications might have led to that misrepresentation with any of the PNA’s supporters. We appreciate that all of the co-ops are committed to fighting racism and inequality in all of its forms and join with you in that effort.
As we shared at the beginning of this letter, this is a challenging time for all of us, and our inability to meet face-to-face has made it even tougher. We hope that this update has helped clarify a complicated situation. We will continue to share regular reflections on our work to support the PNA’s leadership, staff, and community members, as well as our plan going forward.
The PNA board thanks you all for caring so much about our community, and for supporting PNA in so many ways through these strange times. We ask for grace, understanding, and healing. We ask for us all to support each other because we will get through this together. Community is more important now than ever.
PNA Board of Directors
P.S. To share your thoughts, concerns, ideas, thanks, or anything else with the PNA Board directly, send an email to [email protected]. We look forward to hearing from you.