As GMAD’s ED steps down, community breathes sigh of relief: Understudy ready

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Move a long time coming; the final straw?

(New York, NY) – Overnight, one of New York City’s gay newspapers reported that Tokes Osubu, the executive director of Gay Men of African Descent (GMAD) resigned. While a recent Gay City News article devoted most of its space to reporting on material it claimed were documents provided by an employee, but could clearly be gleaned from the organization’s IRS 990 filings, it left unaddressed what was the final straw that caused Osubu to resign.

Did he do it of his own accord or had it become too much for his friend Zachary Jones, the organization’s board chair, who may have asked him in the best interests of the organization to step down?

According to an anonymous source, Vaughn Taylor-Akutawaga, the deputy executive director, is scheduled to formally take over leadership of the agency at 1pm on Monday, Sept 17.

Despite efforts by many at GMAD to keep the news quiet, it has leaked out; the vultures are swirling, and the tongues of the critics and skeptics have begun to wag. It is possible that the final straw was actually a bundle of straws which had become too heavy for GMAD to continue to carry.

Gay City News reported that the agency was in danger of closing. It was heavily dependent on often restricted government-based funds which were being severely reduced or cut. The focus on HIV/AIDS in the Black gay community (one of the hardest hit with staggering statistics of HIV infection specifically among young Black men who have sex with men between 13 and 29 years of age) is shifting, changing or no longer seen as relevant. The agency may be without viable avenues for private, unrestricted fundraising they say and the agency was severely in debt. Its top executives often faced months without pay according to sources.b GMAD was unable to afford Metrocard transportation incentives, and it was behind in its rent for the Brooklyn Court Street location.

It is a wonder, then, if the issues and allegations raised in the blog Devin Miller wrote, and circulating on the Internet, was that the final straw in the bundle. Osubu had advanced to anyone with a sympathetic ear that after being with the agency for nine years, he was leaving of his own accord. Yet, Miller’s allegations of Osubu’s misappropriation of funds, including cash for a lottery earlier this year and reports about cash in envelopes collected from the agency’s participation in the NYC Black Pride celebrations at the Schomburgh left many wondering. If true, was this a repeat of the actions by Michael Roberson, the disgraced former executive director of People of Color in Crisis, which folded after allegations of his embezzlement and theft of public funds and abuses? It is said that Roberson has now turned to God and is pursuing studies at the Union Theological Seminary to become a preacher.

Many, inside and outside the agency, and current and former employees, state that Osubu ran the organization like a dictator. They say he conducted intense investigations and questionings to determine the leak or source of information from within the agency if any unfavorable aspect of GMAD was published. In the process, he alienated many of the staff.

Many in the Black gay community are likely to opine. There are many in the wider community, Black and Black gay, who are pleased that Osubu has resigned. It had also become an open secret that many people were willing to invest and donate large sums to GMAD, but withheld their support until Osubu was no longer at the helm. It was also said that GMAD, which in some circles still maintains a reputation as the leading and oldest Black gay organization in the country persevering for 25 years, had acquired an odor of irrelevancy in a rapidly changing Black gay community landscape. 

Some have expressed that as an agency, it was no longer representing and addressing the needs of emerging young Black gay men or to those who are older and still in need of a viable resource. Osubu languished in the security of a what some say was a dysfunctional board, whose members were at times barely the minimum required by non-profit law. Many who have served on the board walked away because they refused to have their integrity impugned. Yet, the new board, whether or not through Osubu’s close relationship with the chair, also seemed incapable of making moves to remove him and revitalize the organization.

Many have questioned the qualifications and experience of many of the heads of Black gay agencies. As with other organizations there are those who occupy seats on the boards but seem to do it for the sake of the prestige associated with being a board member and are not able to assist in moving the organizations forward.

The new executive director, Taylor-Akutagawa, laboring for years in Osubu’s shadow, sweltered in the heat of opprobrium heaped on his boss and, as a loyal employee, defended him even in the face of stark allegations of abuses. Some in the community feel that Taylor-Akutagawa is better suited to effecting a resurgence of an agency that is relevant and representative of the needs of the Black gay community in New York City. They feel he will set the leadership standard for Black gay advocacy to others across the country. But, when he formally assumes the office of executive director, he will be taking on the name of the position he actually exercised for several years as the deputy. He would have a large task ahead to reinvent and make relevant an agency that weathered many storms, this latest one as well. He will have to boost many of the fledgling or unbirthed programs – moving away from the parasitic dependence on government-based funds to more private funding. New fundraising may help in expanding crucial Black gay youth mental health, HIV-related, and senior programs, to name just a few. Plans are underway for a series of fundraising ventures in the next few months.

When he arrived at GMAD, Taylor-Akutagawa was seen by many as a breath of fresh air. He was an experienced and qualified non-profit administrator who could take the agency forward and inject some new life into it. But as an understudy, he struggled against an entrenched intransigence and the “crab in the barrel” syndrome endemic in the Black community, and by extension, just as vicious in the Black gay community.

To succeed as the executive director, Taylor-Akutagaw will need real support and encouragement. Black gay men with means may have to reach into their pockets and financially support GMAD’s development and progression. He will need the actual help, not the empty words of some of the skeptics and critics. Many of these critics have for years “bumped their gums” and wagged their tongues, instead of literally getting involved and making the changes they talked about real. And, maybe, just maybe, GMAD will be around for another 25 years and beyond.

 

Move a long time coming; the final straw?

(New York, NY) – Overnight, one of New York City’s gay newspapers reported that Tokes Osubu, the executive director of Gay Men of African Descent (GMAD) resigned. While a recent Gay City News article devoted most of its space to reporting on material it claimed were documents provided by an employee, but could clearly be gleaned from the organization’s IRS 990 filings, it left unaddressed what was the final straw that caused Osubu to resign.