As Kimberly Bryant prepares for life after Black Girls Code (BGC), the founder of the STEM program that champions young Black and brown girls sat down with AfroTech to discuss her side of the story.
“I think it’s important for us to own our own stories as Black people and how we build,” said Bryant in an exclusive interview. “It’s not lost on me the fact that the organization that I founded and the organizational leadership that dismissed me from the organization that I created is utilizing a fully white PR firm, white law firm to take down, if you will, another Black woman as a founder.”
She further explained how this has caused her a different type of pain as Bryant initially launched BGC out of love for her daughter and other Black and brown girls in early 2011.
“This really was a project built from love and my desire to make a better pathway for all Black girls to be innovators and creators because I knew how difficult the path was for me as a Black woman in a STEM field that was male-dominated,” she told AfroTech.
Bryant was officially removed as both the CEO and as a board member of the company eight months after being indefinitely suspended, AfroTech previously reported.
On Aug. 11, she filed a federal lawsuit alleging wrongful suspension and conflict of interest by board member Heather Hiles. Per Bryant, she was completely terminated from her role just one day later.
She alleges that she has paid more than $100,000 in personal legal fees, noting that she is back at square one with exhausting her funds due to her commitment to BGC. On the other hand, she accuses the company of using donated funds to push her out of her position as the founder.
“My board of directors, this battle that they have waged and forged against me, has spent well over $2 million of donated funds to fight and out myself as the founder on these really flimsy, false allegations and specious claims,” Bryant claims.
While AfroTech was not able to speak directly with Hiles pending the ongoing investigation, we did get a hold of a recent media briefing where she addressed the recent claims as well.
“I have no personal animus for Kimberly I’ve only ever been a fan of her vision and wanted to see it realized in the best, largest expression possible,” said Hiles during the briefing. “So, it’s been really disappointing to see this degrade so much. I will point out that over time, several other board members have resigned and our last chair of the board resigned. So, it’s made the pool of people who are willing to stay accountable for the operations and the future of Black Girls Code just a smaller group.”
Addressing The Allegations
In the exclusive interview, Bryant told AfroTech that her federal case was filed well before she was removed from the board and her CEO position. She also took time to address claims that she attempted to use funds from the organization for her own personal gain.
“To be specific, in my federal case, which was filed first, before I was removed from my board of directors, there are certain elements around the fraudulent activity that the board and certain members of the organization took to remove me as a fiduciary on bank accounts that belong to the organization. They did not belong to me and I did not make a claim that they did,” she claims. “But that was fraudulent use of documentation that was incorrect to compel Wells Fargo to make those changes.”
She called the move a “serious affliction” and noted that the allegations are included in her federal suit.
“We will be amending that federal suit to include a claim for wrongful termination because after the organization was served with that suit, the very next day I was retaliated against and removed from the board as well as from my role as CEO,” said Bryant.
Furthermore, she revealed that her claims against Hiles were brought forth well before she was suspended in 2021.
“Those issues, which are outlined in both the state’s case as well as the federal case, are important here because there are legal whistleblower protections that I intend to uphold, for bringing this these issues to the board and them not addressing them or even investigating them,” Bryant explained.
On the other hand, at the time of the briefing, Hiles stood by the actions taken against Bryant.
“I believe that the actions that were taken with respect to Kimberly were appropriate and necessary to responsibly protect Black Girls Code in its mission,” she continued during the briefing. “I also believe Kimberly’s ongoing actions since her termination were, which are knowingly causing harm to the organization that she built, demonstrate a lack of judgment and validate the decisions I made as a member of the board.”
She also spoke directly to Bryant’s claims against her.
“This past year has been incredibly difficult. Some of that difficulty is due to the ongoing, false, and malicious statements Kimberly has made about me and it has always, it has also been difficult to see this situation cause reputational damage to our organization that I deeply care about,” Hiles said, according to an audio recording shared with AfroTech. “I tried my best to limit the impact of the situation, but I cannot control what others say and do. I’m deeply disappointed that Kimberly has felt the need to attack me by making false and outrageous claims.”
Bryant also addressed claims such as purposely using the wrong pronouns while addressing an employee and attempting to hijack the company’s website.
“In some of the statements that have been made by the special committee, [they] allege that I impede an investigation that was based on these acts of serious misconduct and that’s the reason I was suspended in December. However, I want to be very specific and very clear here that when I was suspended in December, an investigator had not even been hired. So, there’s no way that I can impede an investigation that had not ever been done.”
While Bryant claims she did admit to the one instant that the pronoun mix-up happened, it was allegedly found that her intent was not malicious.
“Out of all the 26 people that they interviewed, they could not substantiate a single claim against me, that is a fact,” Bryant told AfroTech. “I think it’s important, especially for me as a mom, who has a daughter that is, you know, an out and proud Black queer woman, I’m on this path for learning and truth.”
As for hijacking the website, Bryant alleges that she has never transferred or given up her rights to the intellectual property of the page built when BGC was first formed.
“Long before I even envisioned any set structure for Black Girls Code, and I just had an idea, that was one of the first things I did, was to go and grab those URLs and they have always remained,” said Bryant. “I’ve never transferred those and never gave up rights to them as my intellectual property. The only thing I did was a simple redirect when I left this organization to take back control of the IP that I came into — that’s it.”
The Future Of Black Girls Code
While this is only the beginning of the legal battle that lies ahead, Bryant told AfroTech that the biggest fight for her is upholding the legacy of BGC.
“This fight, if you want to call it that, between myself and some members of the board, is not about saving my legacy, because I believe my legacy is set. It’s about creating an ethical and truthful and beautiful legacy that will continue on into the future,” said Bryant.
During the media briefing, Hiles revealed that BGC continues to garner support from longtime advocates of the brand.
“Our donors and backers have been steadfast in supporting us because they feel so strongly about the mission and the work that we’re doing. And they expect for this organization to go on if not in perpetuity for, for decades and decades,” said Hiles, according to the recording. “That’s exactly how we are building the next wave and the next vision and strategy for the organization for the future. There will be new directors, new staff, people, new leadership that will take this organization into the future and make it bigger and better than it’s ever been.”
The legal cases brought forth both by Bryant and BGC are currently in litigation.