For a while I sat silently knowing that Ashley Yates, someone I care deeply about was hurting in ways that required a lot of repair and healing. I maintained this silence because I dont believe in telling someone elses story when they can speak for themselves. It is now time that this silence on my part be broken as my comrade has finally decided to speak out. Know that it takes a lot of courage and tenacity to get to a point where one can expose their abuser. PERIOD.
Yesterday, I got an email along with those in direct leadership of the Black Lives Matter Global Network from Ashley Yates outlining the abuse that she endured at the hands on Shanelle Matthews:
"I’m writing this letter to inform the leadership and network of Black Lives Matter Network that you are currently employing and in community with someone who has engaged and continues to engage in prolonged exploitative, predatory, and abusive behavior targeting Black queer women.
As many of you know, Shanelle Matthews and I were involved in a personal relationship for approximately a year and a half. What most of you may not know is that during the year and a half span of our relationship I encountered deep emotional, psychological, verbal, financial and at times physical abuse from Shanelle Matthews, the acting director of communications for the Black Lives Matter National Network.
Through my work as a movement leader, I’ve not only helped catalyze an international movement, I’ve worked tirelessly to build and help sustain it. The visibility I gained as a result allowed me to become a vulnerable target for people seeking to gain power via proximity. Beyond the abuse I experienced within our relationship, Shanelle proved herself to be predatory and opportunistic by exploiting our relationship from very early on in order to gain position, influence, and credibility within the movement. The serious impacts and repercussions of the abuse of anyone in movement spaces, much less a leader, are not only personal, they are political. I can no longer sit silent as such a dangerous person moves through movement spaces proclaiming moral leadership rooted in empathy. It’s unconscionable.
After ten months of intensive healing, therapy and personal work I am finally telling my story publicly as I have a right to do. Too many people have experienced what I have. We've been told our silence is necessary for movement unity while the impacts of rampant abuse, unaccountability and other toxic dynamics have created widespread disarray and disunity. Abuse breeds in silence and I am breaking mine,. In doing so, I’m refusing to continue to shield the identity of my abuser as she’s made no effort to be accountable for her extensive abuse and harm. This is in addition to her admittances of the abuse in private while denying the abuse publicly. My silence has not protected me from her continued abuse, lies and manipulation. In speaking out, I’m not only protecting myself, I’m taking a stand against an issue that plagues movement spaces and shedding the muzzle visibility places on those of us who endure abuse with public platforms.
We each have the right to tell our story. We do not have the right to lie and manipulate truths to hide our own shameful behavior. Rest assured that despite Shanelle’s successful and insidious actions to hide her actions, proof exists in many forms. As people in community and in association with Shanelle, I’m informing your organization now that should Shanelle continue to lie, claim my work as her own and/or negatively impact my livelihood, I will take every actionable step to enforce my right to be safe from my abuser. The truth is my best protection and tool towar.
I’m writing this because I want to give you all the opportunity to hear this directly from me, as opposed to in the public sphere. It is my hope is that you take this opportunity to act in tandem with the values that the Network espouses. Certainly an organization that claims a large amount of resources, leadership space, and morality rooted in accountability and love of Black people— Black women and femmes in particular— would show extreme concern and vigorous action to account for uplifting a person who sought to gain influence via proximity, extreme emotional and psychological abuse, and who has actively worked to not only escape accountability, but to damage the reputation and social standing of the person whom they victimized.
While that is my hope, I would be dishonest to state that I have high expectations, or any whatsoever, to be clear, that the leadership in your organization will take steps to hold Shanelle Matthews accountable. I don’t think I need to share the reasons here as your organization has often failed at larger scale, movement-wide accountability - situations that have strained many of our personal and movement relationships.
However, minimal my hope, my asks are that you hold your leadership accountable with the understanding that unchecked abuse and predatory behavior leave us ALL vulnerable. Encourage her to be honest and responsible about her past and present behaviors, as my truths will stand and no longer be hidden. It would be moral for her to remove herself from visible leadership, undergo a process that addresses her abusive behaviors and to stop claiming my work. I believe that she has the right to heal and get help for her issues, but not at the expense of her victim. These asks are not about being punitive to her, but rather breaking the silence around abuse and embodying the moral standard that you have decided on as a network and we should all be embodying in our work done in love, service and community. While I do not require a direct response from the leadership of BLM, I hope you will act with love and accountability, notions I am also open to move forward in community and conversation. It's with that hope and the spirit of community responsibility and love that I've opened the conversation beyond the insular pathways that have existed thus far and led me to take such vulnerable action in hopes of a being able to continue to do movement work with love and support.
with love and respect and hope for a healthier movement,
After Breaking her silence, Ashley went public with a post on Medium called Breaking the Silence and shared the letter (above), here is an except of the post:
"This person has a history of abusive, predatory behavior and had remained unrepentant, unaccountable and abusive to those she’s harmed. While the network has responded with suggestions of processes rooted in transformative justice, I want to be clear that my letter was offered in the spirit of accountability and integrity, not as an opportunity to silence me or ask for private processes that allow BLM and my abuser to control the narrative or isolate me back into silence. What I revealed was not unknown to the leadership before my letter, they just chose not to address it. Transformative justice comes when we’re intentionally about transforming. Keeping silent about abuse isn’t transformative."
The official (INTERNAL) BLM network response:
To the network and those who may deny these allegations, it is time to for a look inward if we are to move forward in creating change that enhances all aspects of Black lives. It is my hope that Shanelle corrects this behavior, but on a larger scale that restructuring and evaluation of current leadership take place ASAP. UPDATES to come.
- Ashton P. Woods, Founder Black Lives Matter Houston