To cut to the chase, yes, there’s a growing mountain of evidence that Truth Pharm has a “Black woman problem.” Or more accurately, that Truth Pharm — the Binghamton non-profit centered around substance use advocacy — has a problem with Black women.
Truth Pharm, which refers to itself as an “anti-harm organization,” has recently been accused by four Black women — mostly former staffers— of inflicting significant harm. This is noteworthy since, at the time of this writing, Truth Pharm has zero Black employees or board members — although their website still touts the hiring of a Black nurse who has long since left the organization.
The harm in question is varied, but includes refusing to pay Black women on time (or in some instances, at all), upholding a hostile (racist, sexist, transphobic) work environment, and, most recently, applying for a grant and fraudulently listing a Black woman’s organization as a collaborator without getting approval from said org— essentially using a Black woman to better their odds of getting access to funding.
Naturally, Truth Pharm denies all of these allegations despite irrefutable evidence of their pattern of financial abuse. For example, the aforementioned grant was immediately cancelled when the grantor was alerted it was filed fraudulently. There’s also a check for backpay begrudgingly issued to a Black woman abruptly fired by Truth Pharm, after another local org advocated on her behalf. Truth Pharm’s Executive Director passive aggressively wrote “unearned” in the memo field of the check, even after being provided with documentation that the compensation was owed.
The notion that Black people — particularly Black women — don’t “earn” their income is a constant refrain echoed by those of privilege. This is doubly ironic considering white institutions like Truth Pharm still owe trillions of dollars to Black Americans as reparations for slavery. Even if these women had merely joined the payroll and performed the bare minimum, their compensation was earned.
But these women are all seasoned organizers who went above and beyond for Truth Pharm, and added much-needed legitimacy to the organization that has repeatedly failed to foster relationships with the Black community. And Truth Pharm has exploited the labor and representation of these women to increase their grant funding, year-over-year.
In fact, Truth Pharm claimed over a quarter million dollars in assets for the last year on record, all while withholding income from their few Black women employees.
One of the most serious allegations against Truth Pharm is that they would frequently and intentionally delay paychecks to a Black transgender woman, despite knowing her very life relied on being compensated timely. The work environment and culture of abuse eventually forced this woman to leave the organization.
If Truth Pharm believes this pattern of behavior is what constitutes an “anti-harm organization,” they may want to refamiliarize themselves with the term.
Even if these women had merely joined the payroll and performed the bare minimum, their compensation was earned.
Ultimately, what Truth Pharm is accused of is systemic. These are not isolated misunderstandings that can be dismissed or explained away. Truth Pharm put Black women’s lives in danger. Truth Pharm repeatedly withheld compensation owed to Black women staffers. And Truth Pharm exploited Black women in an effort to legitimize their organization and gain access to additional funding only made available through those relationships.
Despite this, the organization’s Founder frequently laments an “unreciprocated” level of support from the local Black community. However, any reluctance from Black individuals and organizations to support Truth Pharm is likely the result of Truth Pharm’s pattern of racialized violence.
Truth Pharm is an organization that has done good in the Binghamton community, and this is an opportunity for them to do better. A public admission and apology would be a good place to start. But in the meantime, Black people of marginalized genders should be aware of the longstanding culture currently in place within the organization.
UPDATE 11/26: Former Truth Pharm board member, Stephen Murray, has issued a statement acknowledging the racism within the org and calling for a formal apology. His full statement can be found below:
When I became a Truth Pharm board member in October 2020, I did so expecting to be a part of something that impacted all people in the most positive ways. When two black women abruptly left the organization, I now know that those were two missed opportunities for me to dig deep and offer support to these women’s whose voices should have been heard. I regret and wholeheartedly apologize for not giving that immediate pause and attention before resigning from Truth Pharm in August 2021.
Commitment to anti-racism means being able to have tough conversations about race, explore and challenge your own bias and racism, and address harms directly when they occur. We do not need to “work through a process” for apologizing when we hurt others. Moving forward, I will pay attention to sudden shifts (such as two black women leaving an org suddenly) and listen for micro-aggressions. I will ask hard questions centered around racism and oppression. I will strive to prove myself as someone who will advocate for anyone who feels they are being silenced. I sincerely regret not reaching out directly to those two women after they left the organization. This has been an awakening experience and now that I know better, I will do better.
UPDATE 12/3: More women have come forward. Several have released a joint statement which can be found below. Additionally, they will be having a live virtual discussion panel on December 7th. RSVP here.
To those who believe Black women,
Two weeks ago, an article was released detailing some of the many ways Black women have been exploited and mistreated by the organization known as Truth Pharm. In the days following, many from our community expressed anger and frustration with not only the instances of harm and financial abuse, but the lack of acknowledgment of these ongoing and well-documented issues by the organization and their Executive Director, Alexis Pleus.
With mounting pressure, and more women coming forward, Truth Pharm reluctantly responded to the accusations in the form of a cold legal statement on their Facebook page. The release of their statement was timed to coincide with a national holiday in an effort to minimize additional fallout and reduce the growing traction of our stories. To the disappointment of many, Truth Pharm’s response was neither remorseful nor centered around those of us who’ve been exploited by the organization.
In the weeks since that article was released, none of us have been contacted nor apologized to by Truth Pharm, and the organization has attempted to strip us of any agency in handling how our harm be addressed. By failing to even acknowledge this harm, Truth Pharm is effectively denying and dismissing the serious claims made against them. In fact, the organization has worked to regain control of the narrative and “navigate” the situation, rather than address it honestly and thoughtfully.
Furthermore, we have no decision-making power regarding the entities allegedly being commissioned for the “unbiased” accountability process Truth Pharm has proposed in lieu of restorative justice for the harm they’ve caused, and continue to cause.
We have learned that current and former Truth Pharm board members were not made aware of the racist and exploitative practices exhibited by their Executive Director, and were intentionally misled regarding illicit grant proposals submitted on their behalf. Former board members have reached out to us to apologize for failing to act, even as Black women fled the organization.
To mitigate the damage done to Truth Pharm’s reputation, Alexis has taken to a private messaging campaign where she reframes all of this as a broad conspiracy maliciously crafted by “bad actors.” Her goal is to actively undermine our experiences until they fade from public consciousness, as stories from women who are harmed so often do.
Many of us have been vocal about the harm inflicted upon us by Alexis and Truth Pharm for months, and in some instances, years. Until recently, the response from the perpetrators has been nonexistent. It took public outcry and support to elicit any response from the organization, hollow as it may have been. So it has been made clear to us that Alexis and Truth Pharm are not sorry for the harm caused, and will proceed in a manner that is ‘business as usual.’
Despite this, the support our community has shown us has been overwhelming and we are touched by the love that has been given. We will not allow our experiences, or the experiences of other women in our community, to go overlooked or be disregarded. Those of us who sit at multiple intersections of oppression cannot afford to allow these predominantly white and white-led organizations who cause us harm to exist outside the realm of accountability.
We, the undersigned, release this statement in the hopes that more community members will be aware of the harm that has been caused, as well as the need for Truth Pharm to treat our trauma seriously. We have all experienced — to varying degrees — the toxic work environment and patterns of discrimination, exploitation, and/or financial abuse currently upheld by Truth Pharm.
Additionally, we will be holding a virtual discussion panel to further outline the array of harm we’ve experienced, as well as our goals and expectations for moving forward individually and as a community. We hope that the community will join us in this discussion and continue to support not only us, but all who bear the brunt of exploitative behavior from non-profit organizations and the individuals who oversee them.
We keep us safe.
• Khamesi Black
• Sulaiminah Burns
• Ashley Cambro
• Latoya Melendez
• Jessica Blanchard
• Celena McDonnell
• And others who choose to retain their anonymity at this time
Virtual Discussion Panel
Tuesday, Dec 7th @ 6pm EST
Live-stream will be right in this event. RSPV: https://fb.me/e/1Ha5jXiKs”