Staff members protest layoffs at College Bound Dorchester

The scene at a rally outside College Bound Dorchester's Little House facility on East Cottage Street on Tuesday morning. Daniel Sheehan photo

Members of the College Bound Dorchester staff were joined by supporters from local unions on Tuesday morning outside the Little House on East Cottage Street as they hosted a rally decrying what they say is a pattern of “racism” and “disrespect” they have experienced from leadership of the non-profit.

The rally was organized after College Bound Dorchester laid off several staff members last Friday, a move that protesters framed as retaliation for their unsuccessful attempt to unionize earlier this month.

Joe Tache, one of the laid-off staff members, said they received no prior notice nor had a conversation with leadership before they were fired.
“Clearly this is retaliation for our organizing efforts, and we’re not going to stand for it...It’s not acceptable,” said Tache.

College Bound Dorchester is best known for its “Uncornered” program, which pays former and current gang members a weekly stipend to get into and remain in college and become positive, rather than disruptive, influences in the city.

In a letter published Monday, CBD’s president Mark Culliton pushed back against the characterization of the layoffs as racist, calling the move “a difficult but necessary decision” brought about by the financial toll of the pandemic. The organization says the latest round included two layoffs, while union organizers say the number is eight.

“This is the second round of layoffs which we have had to undertake this year,” Culliton said. “This round has been in process for some time, well prior to CBD receiving notice that employees were seeking to organize.”

He added: “CBD emphatically denies any allegations that its actions were motivated in any way by racism or in retaliation for requesting unionization. We continue to reiterate that we would abide by the results of any fairly conducted election run by the [National Labor Relations Board] in the appropriate unit.”

Protesters on Tuesday also objected to how the nonprofit has approached and packaged its work.

Kenny Schoonmaker, a college readiness advisor (CRA) at College Bound for four years, accused leadership of being “scared of the students we work with.” He called the non-profit’s practices “marketing schemes that capitalize off our stories. We’re raising the money speaking about our trauma, and they exploited us.”

Members from SEIU Local 888, the Boston Teachers Union, and others were in attendance at the rally as a show of “labor solidarity.”
Darlene Lambos, executive secretary-treasurer at the Greater Boston Labor Council, accused College Bound of practicing “racism with a smile” and called it “a non-profit who pretends to be part of our social justice movement.”

Other speakers took direct aim at Culliton, decrying his salary and characterizing the non-profit’s leadership as white and disconnected.
Ailson Lopes Carvalho, an English and Humanities instructor with College Bound, described a “culture that discouraged us majority black and brown staff from raising their voices.”