To the Job That Fired Me: You’re in a Cult

The following letter is my final public statement summarizing what happened to me in a fully fledged cult of Social Justice, in Minneapolis-St. Paul. I worked for the 2nd largest nonprofit in Minnesota- Lutheran Social Services, in a cooperative network of youth advocacy nonprofits called StreetWorks. I emailed this to 329 contacts in my field who shared some connection to the cult network, including executive directors of core youth agencies and people who knew me from when I lived in transitional youth housing years ago. You might call it “career suicide”, but this has been a long time coming. If I don’t do it, I doubt anyone else will, so here it goes.

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Hello everyone. Many of you know me in the StreetWorks network and among our community partners. As a refresher, my name is [Nemo] and I’ve been a Youth Outreach Worker in the collaborative through Lutheran Social Services (LSS) for a year now. I’m sharing this open, public letter as a warning and an urgent call to action.

I have been fired recently in a series of actions that escalated to slander, active prejudice, manipulation, and gaslighting. As it went too far, I took a stand and said enough. The first domino in this disaster was when I asked a female coworker on a date. I’m well aware this is risky and looked down upon, but at the time everything suggested we had built a close, trustful and authentic relationship. Everything seemed normal, even good, until she sent a series of complaints to me that did not match our real interactions at all. We ended up doing an unofficial conflict mediation where she could not specify what she wanted me to change in my behavior. She did however admit that she was uncomfortable around me because I am a white man. I showed unconditional acceptance of the situation and created distance to simply move on.

Sadly, it didn’t stop where it should have. Unknown to me, she told at least one other person directly in our network. At some point it reached a woman who viciously yelled at me and another coworker. This woman had only interacted with me twice in person, for no more than an hour. A list of absurdly false accusations was thrown at me, and she said I didn’t have the right to speak up, presumably because I’m a white straight man. She said she knew about my “predatory behavior” asking our other coworker on a date. Since that moment I have not talked with the woman yelling at me at all.

Meetings were arranged and we were separated behind closed doors, the situation tightly controlled by managers. The woman dropped the accusation of predatory behavior and I took a clear and hard stance with zero tolerance for false accusations and slander. For a moment, the managers showed support for me- and that was actually shocking. In the first round of meetings, they shifted the focus to work-related topics that were both well-established and mundane. It was a distraction.

After this, I was notified managers had a meeting. The woman (and supposedly one or more others) accused me of implicit bias- aka subconscious racism. Specifically, I and another person were accused of having an anti-black bias and avoiding black people on the street in our jobs. This is particularly absurd because I have covered North Minneapolis for 75% of my work over the last year, a historically 95% black neighborhood. If I had an anti-black bias, I would talk to almost nobody. But because of the accusation alone, I was asked to go through implicit bias training. It appears I am the only person that was required to do this training, and I was likely a bigger target because of my race and gender. I was told by a manager who had real power in this situation that it didn’t matter if the accusations were true or not. Everyone has implicit biases, and white people need to work on it. In other words, they don’t care about truth and have decided I’m guilty. This was justified under the guise that LSS has instituted anti-racism training in their organization since 2008. It was presented as “standard practice”.

I put my requests in writing to do mediation and to set boundaries: I would not be doing any training that is used as a weapon against my autonomy- to slander or intimidate me. I made it clear that anyone involved in these requests for mediation was welcome to make amendments or alternate suggestions. Once some kind of resolution was reached and my boundaries reinstated, I would be more than happy to do training and play a proactive role. In the end, my requests were outright denied, and worse, most of the people involved were not even asked if they were willing to do mediation or make any suggestions. Not only was my voice suppressed, their voices were too. In the end, I was fired.

Despite everything that has happened, this was an amazing job overall. I had a lot of autonomy to form relationships, networks and invent solutions. This helped create a lot of space in a tough environment, and the people closest to me supported my unorthodox methods. But in the end, it wasn’t enough. The disconnect between reality and the accusations against me is remarkable and it shows that people did not value what I’ve contributed. Worse, they actively devalued my honesty and integrity when standing up to this. I believe they did this ultimately because of fear. Fear of being targeted or turned into a scapegoat, and more deeply- fear of being honest with themselves about their beliefs and the impact they have on real people.

This deep, obsessive attachment to Social Justice has created a pervasive sickness in our network and beyond. By abandoning the pursuit of truth entirely, the window of acceptable beliefs is becoming more narrow, extreme, and politicized. Not only does this halt real progress, it means everyone is at risk of being in my position. It’s impossible to know if any person speaking is being honest, or pretending out of fear. In the end, it does not matter what you do or say to show your support for social justice- this will come for you too. Now that I’m gone, that’s one less person to stand up for integrity, autonomy and truth in our network. This will come for everyone until the only people left are so corrupted, that all trust and safety has been destroyed. This is not only toxic to us, but our clients and the pursuit of youth empowerment. What does this say about claims of standing for youth empowerment and autonomy? How can I tell a young person they can actually become self-determined when in the midst of economic devastation, I’ve been wrongfully fired? I started in transitional housing as a teenager myself. This comes full circle.

Now, I never close the door forever. For anyone who has committed damaging actions against me, you are always welcome to make amends and start anew. For anyone in a position of management seeing this, you are more than welcome to try and make it right in some way. And for everyone else, you can contact me for any reason if you wish. I’m still doing this work. Early in this series of events I came to a decision that was important for me. I decided that among my actions and experiences I must hold unconditional acceptance. For myself, for the other, for the situation. I responded as I needed to, but I still kept unconditional acceptance clear and part of the process. I hold myself to the same standards of respect, boundaries, honesty, safety and autonomy that I was requesting for myself. For anyone who contacts me, you will be met with unconditional acceptance and openness to your experience.

In the end, this is a blessing in disguise. Because I have only restated my own value and revived that reality. My call to action is for people to recognize how important trustful relationships are, and how much they have been destroyed in this environment. Any of you can look around and find at least one person you can develop trust and authenticity with- one step at a time, one person at a time. Because if we don’t have trustful relationships, we can’t do anything else. The idea of this community was held over me as a threat, that it would all be taken away if I didn’t obey. But it was not about whether I chose the community, or the wilderness. The choice was to deny reality, or recognize that I was already in the wilderness. The community is a lie. As soon as we try to see what is real, we can plant trees in the desert, and start over again. As we do this, we might relearn and remember what it was like to be a good friend.

I call each of you to be courageous enough to look at a scary and painful reality- to look at this sickness and be able to see it honestly without blindness or denial. To care for and respect yourself enough to allow yourself to see. I’m not saying we have to have the same experience or the same beliefs. Just be willing to look, and hear your own conscience.

~ Nemo Sundry
nemosundry@gmail.com