Organizers, teachers and students pen open letter to Girl Develop It demanding change - Delaware


Dec. 10, 2018 5:46 pm

Organizers, teachers and students pen open letter to Girl Develop It demanding change

Former Delaware chapter lead Jocelyn Harper is among the signers.

There's turmoil in the land of Girl Develop It.

(Photo by Pexels user Christina Morillo used under a Creative Commons license)

When coding education nonprofit Girl Develop It leadership kept the complaints of Minneapolis leader Lanice Sims quiet, then-Delaware chapter leader Jocelyn Harper started questioning her involvement with the Philly based organization.

In August, Sims had taken to Twitter to call out the organization.

Harper, one of GDI’s few Black chapter leaders, did not get what she considered an adequate response as to why Sims’ issues weren’t taken seriously until a former chapter leader named Amy Gebhardt published the article “Reflecting on my time as a GDI Minneapolis Chapter Leader” on Medium in September. In it, Gebhardt – a White woman – admits she was a party to racist treatment of Sims and others.

“It wasn’t brought to the chapter leaders’ attention until it kind of came to a head,” Harper told back in October, a day after she resigned from GDI. “It wasn’t of HQ’s own volition to actually tell us about it.”

Then on Dec. 5, two months after Harper quit her Delaware leadership position, a woman named Shanise Barona – who had worked for GDI’s national headquarters from Philadelphia – appeared on the #causeascene podcast, speaking about her experience as a Black woman during her time at the national GDI leadership.

It wasn’t pretty. Barona laid her experiences bare, like the times she said she was made to feel bad about her West Philadelphia neighborhood.


“Internally, we’re having conversations: ‘How can we reach underrepresented communities?'” said Barona during the podcast. “Well, that’s West Philadelphia. You’re touting this ‘2018 Goals: reaching underrepresented communities,’ but here you are antagonizing someone that is a part of that community, lives in that community.”

If the interaction sounds like not that big of a deal when you read it, listen to the podcast. Listen to the whole hour of Barona and #causeascene host Kim Crayton talk about the impact those comments had on her.

The organization’s community reacted soon after, through an online open letter to members of the board of Girl Develop It. At press time, the document had been signed by 150 current and former chapter leads, organizers, students and volunteers.

Harper is one of them them.

“While I’m immensely proud of Shanise for speaking up publicly about her mistreatment as a full-time employee at GDI, it is troubling it took the sharing of her trauma in order to illicit GDI chapter leaders to demand change,” Harper said to “I have signed the open letter in support of [Executive Director] Corinne [Warnshuis] stepping down and changing leadership for GDI. I have lost trust in GDI as a safe space for the marginalized and organization and will no longer support them, but I do support them being held accountable for their gross neglect and will continue to be vocal about it.”

In a pair of tweets and an official statement, the organization declined to comment further in what it deemed “internal HR matters” but offered apologies and acknowledged it had “a lot of work o do in building a inclusive, diverse, and equitable culture.”

As for the Philadelphia chapter – not to be confused with the organization’s Philly-based HQ – under chapter leader Suzie Nieman, issued a letter to its local members stating that they support the open letter and have put most of its programming on hold “pending clarity from GDI HQ about how they plan to address these wrongs, including removing the people responsible for the harmful treatment of the women of color who have since stepped down.”

Read the full open letter here.

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