Portland nonprofit Brown Hope has been roiled by turmoil this month surrounding its founder and CEO, Cameron Whitten.
WW has learned that the basis for the strife is a 4,600-word memo titled “Brown Hope Whistleblower Document.” The memo lays out a series of allegations against Whitten.
The fast-growing racial justice nonprofit took in more than $3 million from a variety of government agencies and leading foundations in 2020, the last year it filed a tax return. Whitten only last week announced plans to distribute a guaranteed basic monthly income to 25 local Black residents for three years.
The whistleblower document, which WW obtained today, was purportedly written by current “employees of Brown Hope, former employees of Brown Hope, former colleagues of Cameron Whitten, victims of Cameron Whitten’s Behavior, and other concerned community members.”
The document was the basis of an attempt last week by Brown Hope board president Gregory McKelvey to place Whitten on paid leave. Whitten contested that move, taking the issue to a meeting of Brown Hope’s board Dec. 14. That meeting of the board, which until then consisted of McKelvey, Whitten and Dashia Fontleroy, resulted in the addition of two new members and a pledge from the board to investigate the complaints against Whitten, who will retain his post during that investigation.
Many of the allegations in the whistleblower document describe a capricious management style, which the authors characterize as “toxic.” Included are claims that Whitten is a guilty of “emotional abuse” and “misogyny” toward employees. (In its most recent tax filing, for the year 2020, Brown Hope reported 28 employees.)
Other allegations move into more unusual territory.
*”Mr. Whitten constantly brags about his use of ayahuasca,” the document says. “He promotes the use of this drug and employees have realized that his behavior has become increasingly erratic and scary since his drug use began.” Ayahuasca is a psychoactive tea used by Indigenous people in South America to produce mystical visions and altered consciousness. (The document alleges Brown Hope’s HR department, which reports to Whitten, did nothing about his drug use, which the document’s authors say violates Brown Hope’s employee handbook.)
*”Mr. Whitten conducts mandatory spiritual ‘healing sessions,’” the document alleges, adding that one employee who refused to participate was placed on a performance plan. “Mr. Whitten forced an employee to carry a crystal for healing purposes,” the document adds.
*As WW previously reported, Brown Hope’s board did not meet between October 2021 and Dec. 14, 2022. The document details allegations about that issue as well. “Prior to when Mr. Whitten joined the board, it was always his job to schedule board meeting and set up the video chat on his Zoom link,” the document says. “After his appointment, he stopped scheduling board meetings. Mr. Whitten refused to move forward on plans to add new board members.”
* The document alleges Whitten took advantage of a lack of board supervision, saying, “Mr. Whitten received roughly a $20,000 increase to his salary that was never approved by anyone other than himself.”
Whitten says that last allegation is “not accurate.”
“My salary, and any increases in salary since I started working as Brown Hope’s CEO, have been approved by the board,” he says. “I have not asked for a recent salary increase.”
Whitten declined to respond to the other allegations in the whistleblower document.
“Right now, my attention is 100% focused on Brown Hope and the services our communities need. It would be inappropriate for me, while there is an active investigation underway, to comment on any of these matters,” Whitten says. “I will not be distracted by any unfounded allegations or misinformed attempts at my character.”
The Brown Hope board decided Dec. 14 to add two new members and to keep Whitten in place pending an independent investigation. The Oregon Department of Justice, which oversees nonprofits, will also be launching its own investigation.