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One Person, One Voice: The Critical Role of Advocacy in Workplace Justice

One Person, One Voice: The Critical Role of Advocacy in Workplace Justice

Taking a stand against workplace abuse.

Just one.

I’ve found myself pondering the possibility that Dr. Antoinette “Bonnie” Candia-Bailey could still be alive if just one person in authority at Lincoln-University of Missouri would have supported and assisted her in holding accountable the people who she alleged in her suicide note of workplace abuse.

This systemic issue has been relatively dormant until now as evidenced by the millions of people the world over who took to social media to collectively mourn the loss of our sister. In addition, there was a rallying protest seeking justice for Candia-Bailey by demanding the university’s president, Dr. John B. Moseley, be removed from leadership.  #FireMoseley trended for several days as Candia-Bailey claimed he led the mob bullying and recruited others.

My Story

Andrea in her home office in Florida where she hosts her YouTube Show “My Silence Is Not For Sale”, where she talks about workplace abuse and workplace justice.
Andrea in her home office in Florida where she hosts her YouTube Show “My Silence Is Not For Sale”

I joined the conversation with a different angle of support. After spending hours of indescribable heartbreak and pain in the loss of Candia-Bailey, I took to X (formerly Twitter) and asked people to not judge her answer to end her suffering. I was just one of many who affirmed her experience because we, too, have been the objects of alienation, gaslighting, micro-aggressions, hostility, and discrimination in the workplace. Abuse on the job is not imagined but very real.

As a former television news anchor at the TEGNA-owned NBC affiliate in Indianapolis for 22 years, the orchestrated and intentional abuse at the hands of co-workers and management forced me to literally drop the mic and walk off the job without warning. The dirty laundry list of egregious behaviors is extensive with the majority outlined here that began in 2017:

  • Reprimanded for wearing my natural hair (six months before the Crown Act was passed)*
  • Completed stories taken away and given to other reporters without explanation
  • Completed stories not airing in favor of other anchors’ stories without explanation
  • Promoted to anchor the 6pm show with no internal or public announcement and no pay raise with leadership calling the move “duties as assigned”
  • Newscast scripts repeatedly changed by a male co-anchor
  • A disparaging statement between the assistant news director and four other managers about me in an email that was mistakenly sent to me
  • News Director lying about my work ethic
  • News Director physically abusive on two separate occasions by poking me on the shoulder from behind to go talk with him in his office
  • Verbally threatened by the News Director
  • Harassed by the Assistant News Director by telling me that I couldn’t take a March Spring break vacation until June because I owed the station two days for my cancer treatments
  • Five co-workers betting on if I would call out sick on my immunotherapy treatment days as I battled triple negative breast cancer

You might be saying to yourself that I buried the lead. I was fighting one of the deadliest forms of breast cancers for black women with a 50-percent recurrence rate while fighting for my humanity at work. I was Candia-Bailey. Like her, I communicated my concerns with the two top leaders of the station and with the Human Resources Department, but to no avail. No one was ever held accountable, except for the 50-something year-old assistant news director who I was told was “coached in kindness.”

We often hear the phrase “unconscious bias” to explain and perhaps excuse unconscionable behaviors, but I believe they are consciously aware of their actions and are intentional about preventing some people from thriving. Yet, we must be cognizant that workplace abuse is not just a racial issue, it’s an issue of humanity.  No one is immune from being a bully or a victim. The fact that Candia-Bailey penned that she was also being ostracized by “skin-folk” is not surprising.

In my case, black co-workers who witnessed the egregious behaviors either refused to speak with Human Resources or failed to confirm my truth. My attorneys requested statements from the witnesses, and again, they refused to participate. Like Candia-Bailey not one person had the courage to stand up for me nor themselves.

We have allowed the fear of retribution and retaliation to dictate our inaction to stand up for what is right. We’ve allowed the narcissistic bullies to win, and in so doing, they’re able to recruit a legion of supporters commonly referred to as “Flying Monkeys.”  The leaders malign the character of the victim, repeatedly lie on and about them to their supporters, who in turn repeatedly abuse the victim. It’s part of the playbook to stay in power and control. There’s no greater example than the current political environment in the United States where decency and respect are non-existent, and the bullying culture becomes the norm.

How One Person Can Make A Change

Silence is consent when it comes to workplace abuse. Now is the time to seek workplace justice.

But imagine, if just one person stands for right, who recruits another person, who then recruits another person and so on, perhaps we can eradicate workplace abuse. Eventually the bandwagon overflows with a collective group that drowns out the negative noise and stands up against the bullies. Admittedly, this can be challenging considering the leaders set the tone for the work culture and instead protect themselves and their minions, rather than police themselves to reduce if not eliminate workplace abuse.

This circuitous problem negatively affects the mental health of a victim often leading to depression, suicide ideation, and suicide. While the conversation about mental health has increased since the pandemic, imploring people to seek assistance, there’s very little discussion that one’s mentality can be adversely affected by the workplace. Like Dr. Candia-Bailey, my mind was being held hostage by workplace abuse. My attempts to navigate the environment literally had my brain spinning out of control. Like Dr. Candia-Bailey, my family was aware of my workplace pain for years, and they, too, felt my fears, cried my tears, and often felt hopeless because they couldn’t stop the abuse to save me. Yet, I showed up every day and remained professional, despite being clinically depressed.

How Workplace Abuse Affected My Health

The workplace abuse was silently killing me. I was not given the benefit of my humanity and my soul was torched. The depression led to visualizing my body at the bottom of the mountain after taking two steps off the cliff and finally feeling relief.  That image, amid hyperventilating and sobbing to my husband that the pain was so excruciating, and I didn’t know if I was going to make it, forced me to finally seek therapy. It took three attempts to secure the right person. After sharing the egregious workplace experiences during the first meeting, my wellness coach literally cried with me and said, “You should be dead. What you are experiencing is classic abuse.”  I’ll never forget that moment for as long as I live. The weight of my experiences had been lifted because an objective party validated the truth and what my body was telling me – that I was in danger.  This affirmation from an objective party restored my hope. I began increasing my knowledge about workplace bullying and grew stronger in my resolve to thrive.

Therapy, including EMDR with another clinician, allowed me to re-wire my brain to properly place the responsibility of the egregious behaviors back to management and the co-workers. Over the course of two years, I learned that none of the abuse was my fault, although that’s part of the abuser’s psychological playbook for you to believe the opposite. My internal fortitude began to flow again through my veins, and I was resolute in reclaiming my life. It eventually became clear that if the environment was not going to change, I had to change my environment.

My last story for the station was on June 5, 2020. Five days prior, I posted a picture of my son and I on the back porch as he lay in my lap reading a book and I wrote, “Holding my son tighter than ever.” It was a reference to the George Floyd murder. My son was 13 years-old at the time, and my spirit was simply broken as I was emotionally bankrupt and admittedly scared about the future of our world. I thought about how Floyd cried out for his mother while Officer Derek Chauvin literally kneed the breath out of his body. Floyd, too, was not given the benefit of his humanity. The official press release by the police department stated that Floyd died of a medical emergency. But for the bravery of just one young woman, who recorded the incident on her cell phone, the truth would have died with a lie. Ironically, all my evidence via emails and recordings were no match for the narrative easily spun and believed by Human Resources as facts. I was not only hurting for my son, but I had also been dying a slow death in the workplace. I had the proverbial knee on my neck for years and I couldn’t breathe. I was choking and no one assisted me. My loud screams fell on deaf ears.

“Call our attorney. I’m never going back to that station.”

The Means To The End: Seeking Workplace Justice

The last story I filed that ended my television news career was a roundtable conversation with mothers and grandmothers from racially diverse backgrounds about their feelings surrounding George Floyd’s death. Their sentiments echoed the feelings of people around the world as evidenced by protests in the streets against police brutality. The interviewees shared the world’s collective pain about the lack of dignity, respect, and humanity for Floyd. His soul was gone in 9 minutes and 29 seconds. I cried with them. I was not just a news reader.  

After part two aired during the 6pm broadcast, I told my producer that part two could run at 11pm without me anchoring the show. I hung up the cell phone and the time was 6:37 pm. I took a deep sigh, stood up from my chair, and walked downstairs and entered my husband’s office and said, “Call our attorney. I’m never going back to that station.”

Pictured: Andrea Morehead (L. Pic) 29 Years old when Andrea joined WTHR in 1999
(R. Pic) 50 years old in June 2020 when she walked off the job
Pictured: Andrea Morehead (L. Pic) 29 Years old when Andrea joined WTHR in 1999 (R. Pic) 50 years old in June 2020 when she walked off the job

The tears I shed with the women was for Floyd, and for myself. I realized that like Floyd, I had been crying out for someone to see me and to hear me, and for just one person in the workplace to stand with me in protest to demand accountability and change. I knew that if I didn’t leave, I was going to literally die from workplace abuse which was far worse than battling cancer.

The fact that diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts that swept the country immediately after Floyd’s death have now been dismantled is a clear indication that the necessary work to eradicate discrimination of any kind will likely never be achieved. Leaders simply refuse to do their internal work to make substantive changes to improve themselves and create a positive work culture – one that allows everyone to have a seat at the table, hear their voices, and respect their authentic experiences, and perhaps even be led by people who don’t look like them.

Are we going to continue allowing leaders and their flying monkeys to rule the world? Will you jump on board the just one bandwagon in pursuit of solutions and legislative accountability for workplaces and employees? Our inaction guarantees more Dr. Candia-Bailey’s of the world will suffer in silence at the hands of those empowered to control workplace culture.

A week prior to Bailey’s death, actress Taraji P. Henson, a Howard University alumna like me, with tears streaming down her face shared another real, not imagined, pain of pay inequity for black women in the film and television industry. It’s not a new issue, rather one that most women of color experience in all areas of the workforce and discuss behind closed doors. But what struck me the most is that she felt compelled to speak up in a public forum. It was an unplanned and cathartic moment that dispelled the public’s myth of what is perceived as a charmed life. The saying “all that glitters isn’t gold” is true. She said she had a duty to speak truth to power to help future generations of actors. Standing up against powerful institutions can have consequences – retaliation, loss of a job, and being blackballed in the industry, all of which I have experienced since walking away from the job – but there’s so much more to gain including peace, joy, and freedom.

See Also

It’s been cathartic, if you will, to hear from dozens of former station co-workers who have recently shared with me their similar workplace abuse stories. They’ve also shared their feelings of guilt because they remained silent and walked away.  They feel guilty because perhaps they realize had they spoken up, maybe those unsavory characters could have been removed and I, and possibly others, could have avoided being victimized. I understand the conflicting feelings of wanting to speak up and protecting your livelihood, and everyone has a myriad of reasons why they choose to remain silent about the abuse. Through therapy, I’ve since come to understand that not everyone has the mental fortitude to battle institutions and we all have a right to make a choice. While extending them grace and even forgiveness, it’s vitally important for the whisperers of workplace abuse who are willing to sound the alarm, do so collectively because there is strength in numbers, and everyone benefits.

People always ask me what’s the biggest story or person I’ve ever interviewed. Was it the Olympics in Australia, the documentary in Kenya, Africa, or interviewing President Obama and First Lady Michele Obama? I’ve never been able to give an answer because I believe everyone’s story is valuable. But I can sincerely say that my story is the biggest story of my career. I’m

just one person on a mission to assist people in speaking the truth about workplace abuse and find the courage to choose the right work environment.  I know the collective of “just one’s” can overcome what seems to be insurmountable odds to devise substantive legislation to hold companies accountable for failing to provide a psychologically safe workplace. But never forget that our ancestors provided the playbook for us to use, and again, the first rule is that there’s power in numbers. The history of the Civil Rights Movement has proven that if we choose courage over comfort and speak up and do the necessary work to improve laws, positive change can indeed happen for the benefit of humanity.

Now that I have eliminated the mental burden of workplace abuse, my uncluttered mind and repaired heart have ushered in a spirit of hope and renewal that continues to align with my life’s purpose. I made a bet with God during my cancer battle. I said, “Lord if you save me, I will use my life to serve others until the end of time.” I had no idea that He would use the cancer battle to prepare me to choose courage over comfort and walk away from my dream job to save my life.

I’m just one person who refuses to allow the workplace bullies to thrive. I’m just one person working with thousands of others with the organization End Workplace Abuse to share our stories with legislatures across the country to pass the Psychological Workplace Safety Act to provide support for victims and witnesses and hold accountable workplace abusers and the companies that protect them.

Andrea Morehead with the late congressman John Lewis.

I’m just one person who answered the call from the “Spirit of History.” Late Congressman John Lewis shares this in his memoir Walking with the Wind as the moment when something inexorable calls you and pulls you and you can’t turn away from it. But no one person can do this alone. I know if I have just one more person who stands with me and recruits just one more person, and the movement continues to recruit others, we can fill up, if not overflow, the “Good Trouble” bandwagon of truth tellers, justice seekers, and change makers.  We won’t just be seen and heard, but with substantive change we can experience what God has given all of us – the birthright to thrive.

Are you someone’s just one?

If you’re experiencing workplace abuse, I pray you have the strength and audacity to stand up against what feels insurmountable. I’m holding you up. I’m a living testimony that what you gain by not remaining silent and maybe even walking away will eventually overshadow the trauma. Be prepared for the battle and don’t underestimate the lengths by which co-workers and companies will go to mitigate your discrimination and abuse claims. Just lean on our ancestors and the perseverance of our social justice trailblazers; the spirit of Candia-Bailey; and put on the full armor of God.

My faith reminds me that Goliath was defeated by just one small pebble.

My pebble? The truth, and I won back my inalienable right to thrive.

Editor’s Note:  Andrea Morehead was given the right to sue TEGNA for racial discrimination. She rejected the settlement offer and refused to sign a non-disclosure agreement to maintain her constitutional right of freedom of speech to share her abuse experience to support other victims and advocate for improved state and federal workplace legislation. To learn more about her case and interviews with workplace change makers, subscribe and watch the YouTube show “My Silence Is Not for Sale.”

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