The last few days have been a nightmare for myself and many others. Those who know me know that I have been very close to the ATL community. It has been a tremendous learning experience to work with such amazing people. I have seen their struggles, in person, we have shared our perils and encouraged each other along the way.
When you work with communities in tech, as an organiser or as part of an organisation there is more work involved than what many think. It's not automagically wonderful. It requires a lot of personal time planning activities, content, speakers, preparing talks, engaging with others, mentoring, coordinating efforts... etc.
The reward from all these efforts is not monetary. When you volunteer, the gain is not recognition, fame or status. The satisfaction of knowing your actions are positively impacting the ecosystem. The satisfaction that you are bringing people together. The satisfaction of making safer spaces which includes anyone. The satisfaction of letting people learn and thrive. That to me is the biggest gain: to know that those efforts are helping others most positively.
Having said all this. After the NG Atlanta and Node Atlanta debacles, I was one of the people who called out Zack Chapple for his reckless behaviour. This has taken a huge emotional and physical toll on me.
The question here isn't really about the financial mishaps that left hundreds of people without refunds. There are many underlining grave issues on the ethical side that blew up on our faces.
The fact is many community leaders had been calling out these issues in private FOR YEARS! They have gotten little to no response and even less action. This has been extremely frustrating. This is not about a SINGLE man responsible for a massive load of crap. This is about what has been let slide, what has been swept under a huge carpet that as a community we at times may have no idea we have been standing on. This is not about taking down a man and kicking his face when he's on the ground.
This is about accountability. Accountability as individuals who voluntarily engage in community organisation. Accountability for those in charge of the community and who are looked up to by mentees. Accountability by the organisations who back up our names as experts, mentors, speakers and community organisers.
The conversation is painful and uncomfortable but things HAVE to be said. We have to think how far we (because I include myself) have let things go when we bend the rules. How much of this disaster would have been prevented in the first place if we had enforced the rules we stand for?.
I am sad, disappointed and drained but this won't discourage me from doing what I love. I love teaching, learning, speaking to people, seeing them succeed and uplifting others. I know I am far from perfect and like the rest of the world, I have flaws and have made mistakes. None of us is exempt! BUT, one thing I can say for sure... I have given everything to this cause. The cause of empowerment. The cause of learning. The cause of mentoring. The cause of speaking. The cause of helping little by little to make the tech ecosystem a safe space. My work has been for equity, diversity and inclusion.
Now, regarding Zack Chapple. I am sorry for him. I hope he finds the help he needs. But I have to make a stand and tell those who have lashed out to all those who called him out on his actions, that whatever decision he makes is his own choice. Let me repeat that it is his own choice. It has NOTHING to do with us calling for accountability.
It is known that he published a note saying he was going to take his life after being outed in public. Many have reached out saying WE HAVE to talk to him.
We don't have to. I don't have to. I am not responsible for his choices.
I value life. I was worried about the news. I immediately asked if anyone had gotten in touch with his family and called the police. Like many, it was a sad and very uncomfortable situation. I have a lot of mixed feelings when someone says they intend to take their life. I lost someone dear to me to suicide and I won't elaborate but it is something to take very seriously.
However, part of me thinks about a few other things that personally call my attention. To make it clear, I have stated that I worry and don't want anyone to harm themselves but this is what I have seen:
Someone who bragged about inappropriate conduct then gets in trouble. Their actions get them banned. They create a space to redeem himself but actually take advantage of people. There are a series of unfortunate events that he was warned about and never really took heed. He continued with reckless behaviours throughout 3 years. He ignored warnings, advice and pleas from friends and those involved. I have been a personal witness to this and the suffering of those who were taken advantage of.
He has squeezed money from people out of sorrow and commiseration. Yet he continued to make reckless financial decisions that led to a point where there was no way to bail him out.
When it gets to the breaking point, instead of accepting his responsibility he makes excuses and blames everything else except himself. He makes it about his lost dreams and himself. He suddenly disappears from social media.
Anyone who calls him out turns out to be a villain. To the point where he falsely claimed that I and another person made threatening statements. He claimed to fear for his safety. (Shocking, this happened the day before I had surgery!)
He tries to turn those wanting to hold him accountable into villains. He corrals those who support him into shaming them too.
He tries to position himself as the victim in all this. He claims he is being treated poorly. Yet he refuses to take any responsibility.
He learns that more people who are involved with this issue are planning on writing their version of the story. In response he lets friends in common know that he is suicidal. He also texts a series of extremely worrying messages about driving into a tree or crashing into a truck which potentially would harm more people. (Whether it is true or not that he got to that point, it is worrying and measures were taken to guarantee his safety)
A third party gets involved saying that if he takes his life, those who outed him are responsible. (And, sorry but no. Nobody wants him to harm himself. If he decides to take that route which is extremely sad and worrying, it is his own choice. Nobody else but himself is responsible for his actions)
This is upsetting, frustrating, SAD but also extremely toxic. Again, I hope he gets the psychiatric help he needs.
However, I hope that community organisers take action and hold people accountable. We need to enforce standards that ensure safety in all spaces and that rules are followed.
Code of conduct enforcements and effective reporting mechanisms are not to police people. They are to prevent situations like these from perpetuating.
We need communities, core teams, organisations and individuals who take on organiser roles to abide by the simple civility rules. Google takes pride on "be excelent to each other". Condoning all these actions and letting them slide because of how events unfolded would be detrimental to the ecosystem. Regardless of everything that happened, this is not just about a single person. This is about stop enabling these conducts and normalising such situations.
The ultimate goal is to guarantee safe spaces for conference attendees, to make sure financial management even if risky for conference organisers, won't harm attendees and that simple precautions like cancellation insurance protect people from mishaps.
Safety, real inclusion, proper organisation. It is so simple...
Let's work shoulder to shoulder to make sure everybody sits at the same table. Inclusion means all y'all.