Black History Month in the U.S. started as just a week to honor Black Americans’ contributions to society and civilization. According to a resource created by the Library of Congress and several museums and organizations that is dedicated to the month, historian Carter G. Woodson and the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (ASNLH), an organization Woodson founded, created Negro History Week in 1925. “The event was first celebrated during a week in February 1926 that encompassed the birthdays of both Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass,” the website states.
“By the time of Woodson’s death in 1950, Negro History Week had become a central part of African American life and substantial progress had been made in bringing more Americans to appreciate the celebration,” the website states. In 1976, the commemoration expanded to a month long, and Woodson’s organization, now the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH), continues to raise awareness about Black history, life, and culture. Visit ASALH’s website for more information about Woodson and the origins of Black History Month.
This February (and all year round!), celebrate Black whistleblowers by perusing stories of brave individuals WNN has featured in the past.
Dr. Kimberly Young-McLear, Ph.D, Coast Guard Whistleblower
Dr. Kimberly Young-McLear, Ph.D blew the whistle in 2014 when she reported “gross and unlawful misconduct” in the Coast Guard. According to a letter that advocacy groups sent to President Biden in January, Dr. McLear “exposed systemic abuses of power at the highest levels of the Coast Guard, revealing loopholes and disregard to how sexual assault, bullying, harassment, discrimination, retaliation cases are handled.” The letter urges Biden to support whistleblowers and feature Dr. McLear in a ceremony honoring whistleblowers.
Currently, Dr. McLear is “serving in active duty in her 19th year in the Coast Guard.” She is a senior advisor “at the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) where her service in contributing to crafting CISA’s first Strategic Plan, agency-wide culture & innovation building, increasing job opportunities for HBCU alumnus and underserved communities, and national cyber workforce development.” Additionally, Dr. McLear was featured on WNN’s Whistleblower Voices video series, in which she spoke about the whistleblowing community and provided words of support to other whistleblowers.
Marcel Reid and Michael McCray, ACORN Whistleblowers
Marcel Reid and Michael McCray, both of whom have previously been featured on WNN’s Whistleblower of the Week column, are known as the ACORN whistleblowers. ACORN stands for the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, and its mission “was to teach impoverished people how to work their way out of poverty,” according to WNN.
Reid began working at ACORN as a volunteer and worked her way up to the President of the Board and head of ACORN D.C. and Northern Virginia. McCray was also on the board of ACORN, but had blown the whistle previously. McCray worked for the U.S. Department of Agriculture and blew the whistle on a $40 million grant that “was used in a web of waste, fraud, and conflicts of interests.”
Reid formed a watchdog group within ACORN, called ACORN 8, after raising concerns about where money was going within the organization and experiencing retaliation. Reid brought McCray on to join ACORN 8, and in an interview, Reid stated that the inside group was “authorized to pursue a forensic accounting, independent audit, and expedited discovery to identify and protect ACORN assets and interests.”
Eventually, “It was revealed that large sums of money had been embezzled by one of the founders of ACORN. Reid’s whistleblowing forced ACORN to stop misusing public funds and return to their core decentralized mission.” Reid’s Whistleblower of the Week profile states: “There are no awards for non-governmental organizations (NGO) whistleblowers, and after blowing the whistle on the embezzlement, Reid was kicked off the Board, and a decision was made to allow the embezzler to allegedly repay the funds.” Read more about Reid and McCray’s stories and reflections on being whistleblowers on their respective profiles.
Scott Davis, VA Whistleblower
Veterans Affairs (VA) whistleblower Scott Davis has been featured on both a podcast episode and a written piece. He joined the VA in 2011 as a Public Affairs Specialist and became a Program Specialist in 2013. Davis blew the whistle on mismanagement and waste at the Health Eligibility Center (HEC) in Atlanta, Georgia. He filed a complaint with the VA Inspector General and alleged that the “VA was not processing health care applications and were diverting funds that were for the promotion of the VA health program to a program promoting ACA because it was tied to people’s performance bonuses in senior executive positions.”
Davis continued to raise concerns about his allegations and “contacted members of Congress and the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee.” He “testified in front of Congress in May 2014 during a hearing of the House Committee on Veteran’s Affairs” and talked about the retaliation he faced for whistleblowing at the VA. “In 2015, an OIG report was issued in response to the complaints of Davis and substantiated many of his allegations,” WNN reported.
Dr. Toni Savage, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Whistleblower
Dr. Tommie “Toni” Savage reported millions of dollars of contract fraud openly occurring at the Army Corps of Engineers Huntsville Command. “She began her career with the Army Corps of Engineers Huntsville, Alabama Support Center in 1993 as a paid intern,” a previous WNN article states. Dr. Savage had an illustrious career there and in 2006 “became the Corp’s first Black woman to head the Huntsville contracting office. That position allowed her to observe what was occurring within the Corp’s ‘Ranges Program’ – the program responsible for designing and constructing military training facilities worldwide.”
There, Dr. Savage observed “open contracting fraud” that “she could not allow to continue on her watch.” Dr. Savage “told what was going on to the Corp’s Huntsville chief counsel and her chain of command, including the commander,” but “[a]ll refused to take corrective action.” Dr. Savage continued to voice her concerns, later to the auditing department, which “concluded that everything Dr. Savage had identified was true.” However, she was removed from her position. She then “submitted the report in support of her retaliation claims that were already pending before the agency’s Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) office.” Dr. Savage alleged that she was also subjected to racist remarks, given downgraded performance reviews and labeled disgruntled after her whistleblowing. Later, Dr. Savage was “entitled to file a whistleblower individual right of action (IRA) appeal with the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB),” which is an independent, quasi-judicial body “that serves as the guardian of Federal merit systems.” The MSPB requires a quorum to function and rule on federal employment cases.
Dr. Savage’s case was brought before an MSPB administrative judge and in 2015, the MSPB “issued a landmark decision in Dr. Savage’s case ruling that the Whistleblower Protection Act covers employees who face a hostile work environment in retaliation for blowing the whistle,” another WNN article states.
This should have been the end of a successful story for Dr. Savage, but instead, she was left in legal limbo for over five years as the MSPB was left without quorum. The MSPB regained a quorum in March 2022, and in November of the same year, it ordered the Department of the Army to initiate a corrective action in Dr. Savage’s landmark whistleblower case. “The MSPB reversed an earlier ruling by an administrative judge and found that the Army had constructively suspended Dr. Savage after she blew the whistle on systemic contracting fraud,” WNN reported.
Celebrate Black Whistleblowers Every Month!
Black whistleblowers and their contributions to society should be recognized and celebrated each month, but it’s important to issue special acknowledgment during Black History Month. For information and stories on more Black whistleblowers, check out the National Whistleblower Center’s (NWC) article highlighting more important stories.