KANSAS CITY, Mo. — New racial allegations about the Kansas City VA Hospital are coming to light. On Thursday, one of the alleged victims spoke out. Also, concerns over a Juneteenth event that is shocking many.
Retired nurse, Charmayne Brown says she experienced systemic racism during her time at the hospital.
“My friends call me Charlie, but my chief of service called me Aunt Jemima,” Brown said.
Brown began working at the VA in the late 1980s. in 2008, she said she left the hospital to join the Navy, and came back after a time in the service.
“When I came back I had a white nurse thirty years younger than myself kick me in the rear end and call me a tar baby. I didn’t say anything,” Brown said. “I was horrified. I didn’t say anything at that time, but as the years went on it got more and more blatant.”
Brown is represented by attorney Rebecca Randles. Randles says she’s been working on racial discrimination cases against the hospital for around ten years.
“They don’t understand the black experience and aren’t interested in learning about the black experience,” Randles said.
She says one of her clients told her abut a Juneteenth event the VA planned to host. She said employees were asked to participate in a “living museum” and to dress as slaves.
“I couldn’t think of anything that would be more inappropriate than asking these professional individuals that are trying to work their way up are being held down by the powers that be to dress up and to celebrate the denigration of their race,” Randles said.
Randles said recently reports of racism at the VA is on an upswing. Brown says she wants others to know they have a voice.
“People do care, we just have to find those people,” Brown said. “As we unite we become stronger when we do. When we begin to speak our voices will be heard.”
We asked the Kansas City VA to share it’s side of the story. A representative for the hospital sent FOX4 this statement:
“Q: The employee says it includes a “Living Museum” and that some black employees were asked to dress up as slaves for the event.
A: There is no truth to that. Kansas City VAMC is holding an event celebrating Juneteenth in which employees may bring items celebrating African American history and culture. This could include food, poems or personal stories. Participation in this event is voluntary and no employees were asked to dress up.”
They also said the Kansas City VA Medical Center is proud of its diverse and inclusive culture, and the facility does not tolerate discrimination or harassment of any kind.
Representative Emmanuel Cleaver II and Sharice Davids issued a joint statement on the allegations about the Juneteeth event. Both calling for changes to be made.
“Today, we write on behalf of several employees at the Kansas City Veterans Administration (KCVA) Medical Center. Over the past several months, employees have raised concerns that have formed a pattern we simply cannot ignore. Our offices have brought some to your attention over the last few months through formal inquiries, but many more employees have been affected and it’s on behalf of all of them and the veterans they serve that we write you today. Most pressing is a Juneteenth event scheduled to take place on the campus. According to reports to our offices, African American employees were asked by management to take part in a living museum in which they portray historic figures, including former slaves. In addition, various people were solicited to perform, particularly “rappers.” It was also noted that an Associate Director on a staff conference call discussed ordering fried chicken and watermelon as catering for the event.
If a safe working environment existed, this could have been a moment of learning and growing, but staff confronted with these racist facets of the event fear retribution and even job loss by coming forward to share their concerns. Staff have conveyed that they face retaliation when they report wrongdoing within the facility, rather than the wrongdoer being held accountable. Many equal employment opportunity (EEO) complaints have been filed in regard to countless discriminatory acts at all levels of the KCVA. It is our understanding that in response to EEO complaints, positions were created and posted on USAJOBS solely for settlement purposes. Furthermore, of those who accepted the new settlement positions, some have since been fired and some who refused the settlement offers have been targeted for further harassment and discrimination.”