This Is My Story ...
The Early Years
I can still hear the grease crackling from fried corn and breaded okra. High crime, high poverty, chronic heart disease and higher obesity rates; we deep-fry everything… chicken, fish—even our vegetables. The soil was rich but the people were poor. I grew up in the Arkansas River Delta, one of the most impoverished areas in the country. And Pine Bluff had the dubious distinction of being ranked the worst place to live in America—two years in a row. In this environment, perhaps the two most impactful people on my life were my Mother, Dr. Jacquelyn McCray my and my godfather, Neil Blakely. Mom gave me a sense of order and integrity; Blake taught my about power and society.
Pretty and petite, my mother was a meticulous woman; she earned her PhD in Housing Development and worked on a Southern Bank Board with Hillary Clinton. She was the Dean of the School of Agriculture at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff, a USDA Land Grant University. And she developed the Regulatory Science Program, which became nationally recognized as a USDA Center of Excellence.
Inside his gruff exterior, Blake possessed an affable heart. He was a boisterous man, both irreverent and profane—he believed in direct action and community action organizations. Blake attended Clark University in Atlanta and earned a Masters Degree in Sociology. He was a neighborhood activist and community organizer who studied under Saul Alinsky and Malcolm X.
My hometown was dirt poor but I grew up middle class, both my parents were educators and they valued order and integrity. I went on to law school (Georgetown), got an MBA in Finance (Howard) and earned my CPA. As a result I became a very rules-based, oriented person—who wanted to use my education in the realm of Corporate Finance.
But a funny thing happened on my way to Wall Street, I became involved in national politics when my Governor ran for President—and won. As a result, I got an opportunity to use my education working not on Wall Street but instead on a White House Economic Development Initiative for the Clinton Administration called the Federal Empowerment Zones Program, which was designed to revitalize poor, under-served and impoverished communities across America.
I had landed my dream job. I had the opportunity to travel across the country rebuilding impoverished communities—just like my hometown. I was raised in the worst place to live in America and I had just been given the keys to the White House. However, it never dawned on me that this opportunity would be so fleeting.
Fast Foreword: $40 Million Fraud
I will never forget the angst I felt when Sandi Brewster Walker ordered me to remove all of the scores from the EZ/EC grant applications before we sent them up to the Secretary’s Office for a “final review” by USDA Secretary Mike Espy. This stuck in my mind because I was responsible for securing and processing the multi-million dollar grant applications. And I designed the review process to ensure integrity and fairness—just like I learned from my mother. I alerted my former Supervisor, Rick Wetherill—that I was concerned that a subjective review could inject improper “political considerations” into this merit-based application process. But a cold chill ran up my spine, when I heard his retort—“I was not to reason why. I was just to do or die.”
I hesitated because I wasn’t sure whether this was a bad joke or an ominous threat. At that time, the Clinton Administration was shrouded with mysterious disappearances and deaths. Vince Foster’s surprising suicide, James McDougall’s sudden death, and two kids found dead on train tracks near the Mena Airport (CIA drug running scheme). I walked out of Rick’s office shocked, surprised—and more than slightly frightened.
My biggest fears were realized when I learned that the Mid-Delta Empowerment Zone Alliance (MDEZA) had received a $40 Million grant. MDEZA was one of the, if not the, worst grant applications USDA had received. I knew they hadn’t submitted a grant-worthy application—this was all about politics. MDEZA was located in Mike Espy’s former Congressional District; the same seat his brother Henry was running to secede—and he needed money.
Eventually, the new Executive Director, Harold Lathon, came to me for help when he discovered forgery, stolen checks and poor financial controls at MDEZA. I was a Desk Officer assigned to AR, TN, and MS; Harold even requested an audit. We reported the malfeasance to the Office of Inspector General and also to the President’s Initiative on Race. In that instant I became persona non-gratia at the USDA. I was stripped of my duties and assignments, and I was barred from attending any further White House Empowerment Conferences. And, I was subjected to unbearable workplace bulling and intimidation.
The severe retaliation and harassment resulted in my complete financial devastation: I lost my job and was blacklisted from subsequent employment. I lost my home to foreclosure and I even lost investment property and other small business interests. But the most devastating loss was when I ultimately lost my fiancé—and was forced to return back to Arkansas. I was crushed. The stigma and shame was almost unbearable. Everyone knew me, and had high-hopes for my success. I was so depressed I didn’t want to go outside; I didn’t want to go to church or to my high-school reunions. I felt like a complete failure. In that condition, looking for reasons to live was far too ambitious. In my state of mind, I was simply trying to find a single reason not to die—today.
I’ll never forget the day I was sitting on my therapist’s couch; he made a series of suggestions that failed to truly comprehend the true depth of my predicament. I was in a financial hole that was impossible to get out of because of government corruption and a cover ups. He couldn’t do anything for me except proscribe a bunch of prescription pills—I am not a druggie. The longer we talked the more he realized how precarious my situation really was. By the time I finished talking—he was more depressed then me!
My Moment of Discovery
Two things ultimately saved my life and my sanity. First, I received a copy of Rick Warren’s book—“The Purpose Driven Life” from my Dad for Christmas. I can’t express how important this book was to me. It taught me that all my pain, all my suffering and all of my heartbreak were for a greater and higher purpose. I discovered that people can endure nearly endless pain, endless suffering—if we only have a reason.
Second, I attended a gathering of whistleblowers in Washington, DC in 2007, which was featured in the New York Times. This was the first time I felt connected to a group of people who actually understood what I was going through. I was no longer isolated by myself, and I found a new place in society—no matter how small.
The Process of Recovery
Whistleblowers take care of people and society… but who takes care of them? This is where my godfather Blake’s influence kicked in. I learned about community organizing from him, and I had used this skill in political campaigns, at the National Labor Relations Board and even at ACORN. So I decide to use my passion for community organizing to mobilize the most unlikely community—whistleblowers (and social misfits). I founded the International Association of Whistleblowers and I organize the Whistleblower Summit for Civil and Human Rights, which is the largest and most prestigious whistleblower conference on Capitol Hill.
It is an impressive list of accomplishments when you consider all of the stigmatism and stress that individual whistleblowers face at the hands of the federal government and powerful corporations. I found my purpose in life; and it gave me a reason to live. Together we created a community of whistleblowers and advocates that provides mutual support and a place to belong. And now my mission is to advocate for civil and human rights for whistleblowers, journalists and increased whistleblower protections.
Over the past twelve years members of the MISC coaliation (whistleblowers and advocates) have passed thirteen laws, including: No FEAR and the WPEA, conducted congressional lobby days, provided CLE training, written Op-Eds, published magazines and books, hosted radio shows, provided mentoring and lawyer referrals, penned sign-on letters, submitted amicus briefs, written columns and law review articles, made television appearances, held protest rallies at the White House and on the National Mall; we’ve even “occupied” government agencies and hosted both national and regional conferences in: Washington DC, New York NY, Los Angeles CA, Chicago IL, Baltimore MD, Atlanta GA, Houston TX and Little Rock AR. It is an impressive list of accomplishments when you consider all of the stigmatism and stress that individual whistleblowers face at the hands of the government and evil corporations. Together, the MISC community has achieved impressive results. The purpose of the Whistleblower Summit is to celebrate the collective achievements of whistleblowers and our advocates.