Two weeks ago the State Auditor's Office released a damning report detailing questionable spending of nearly $2 million belonging to the Seattle School District by a former employee. The scandal has implicated well-respected organizations and individuals in Seattle's black community, who the state auditor says received money for work that either didn't benefit the district or was never completed.
The Urban League of Seattle was paid nearly $600,000 funneled through their Contractor Development and Competitiveness Center, which assists small, minority and women owned businesses to increase their competitiveness in the world of construction contract bidding with the district.
The state auditor found this money was used to benefit the social justice organization, but didn't benefit the school district in any way.
The Urban League has tried to fight back. They've adamantly denied any wrongdoing. Acting CEO Tony Benjamin says the focus on this scandal is bad for the community, bad for "our culture" and bad for progress. He urged the media and all concerned to just move on. He said repeatedly that the reports in the news were based on nothing more than innuendo.
They are not alone in their assertions. Seattle resident Eddie Rye is credited for leading the successful effort to have Empire Way renamed after Dr. King. He also received questionable contracts from Seattle schools but said he was a victim of the district employee who awarded the contracts.
Charles Rolland was once our state's democratic chair. Tony Orange is the former Executive Director of the Washington State Commission on African American Affairs. Both are named in the auditor's report. Both refused to answer a single question from the state auditor's office.
There are more -- a virtual who's-who of the black community, considered well respected by city and state politicians as powerful movers and shakers in their own rights. They're often regarded as "leaders" of the black community.
In this case, perception isn't necessarily reality. There is a long-standing divide in the community over the conduct and integrity of some who are thought of as "black leaders." The public is just now learning what has been known but hidden for decades: corruption by well-known black organizations and individuals in power , though not the norm, is a reality.
The Urban League is walking a fine line when it asserts they did nothing wrong. They want us to believe there is no scandal because they had contracts that were approved by the school district and they performed their contractual obligations.
But what about the integrity of those very contracts? Isn't that what is at least in part, at question here? Of course it is. Any reasonable person can see that. It's spelled out clearly in the audit.
So why are those involved -- and their supporters -- so adamantly denying problems? The black community has a terrible habit of denying and hiding wrongdoing in the name of protecting the greater community. They say the backlash, stereotypes and stigmas that come as a result of any scandal is simply too harmful, so the response is, "deny, deny, deny." Anyone who dared speak out suffered swift retaliation. Evidence of this could be found at the Urban League press conference last week as the organization's supporters shouted down and ridiculed community members who spoke critically of the organization.
It's an approach that realistically does more harm than good. If it's well known that we won't take those amongst us to task for their wrongdoing because we don't want it to get out that there are people "doing dirt" in the name of the black community (and worse, black children), we give room for people with less than honorable intentions to take advantage because they know they will not be confronted. They wind up protected "for the greater good."
Now, folks within the black community are saying, "Finally! It's all out in the open." We can talk about and hold accountable those "leaders" who so many don't consider or respect or want as leaders. The mask has cracked. Finally.