Woman says she was fired from Hobart YMCA for Black Lives Matter messages on personal car

ABC7 I-Team Exclusive
HOBART, Ind. (WLS) -- A woman in Northwest Indiana said she was fired from her job the Hobart YMCA because of Black Lives Matter messages written on her personal car.

Sarah Wilkinson said her boss wanted the messages removed from her personal vehicle, and when she didn't do so she was terminated.

Wilkinson worked for an after school program at the Hobart YMCA. She said she added the Black Lives Matter messages to her car after recent events that she said really opened her eyes to racial injustice in America.

The messages included "Black Lives Matter," "I Can't Breathe" and "White Silence Is Compliance." She said she never thought they would end up costing her job.
"It's important to me to fight against the injustices and to fight for equity and equality for all people, and that includes Black people," she said. "As a white person, that is my responsibility."

Wilkinson said she was terminated from the after school program last week, and didn't see it coming.

"The CEO, Andrew, spoke to me and asked me to remove the messages from my personal vehicle. I was in shock," she said.

Wilkinson said CEO Andrew Zimmer told her the superintendent of the local school district had received several complaints about her vehicle. She said Zimmer told her that "Black Lives Matter" had been politicized in recent months, so she had to take the messages down.

"And so I asked the CEO, do you want me to remove the statement about holding bad cops accountable or do you want me to remove the message about Black Lives Matter? He said, 'All of it,'" Wilkinson recalled. "Supporting Black life on my car was a very, very small thing I could do to show my support and to show that I'm standing against racism. So, I could not remove the messages when he asked me to do that."
The next day, Wilkinson said she was fired for not removing the messages as instructed.

"The YMCA is supposed to be about accepting and welcoming everyone, so more than anything, I'm confused and shocked and hurt that they did it," she said.

In a statement to the ABC7 I-Team, Andrew Zimmer said in part, "We are committed to providing a space where people of all walks of life can feel safe, welcome and can reach their fullest potential with dignity...We know this work is never complete and that we must continue to do all we can to listen, learn and act to build a better, stronger and more inclusive community. We affirm that Black lives matter. We strive to be a catalyst for positive conversation, learning and growth - always...We are unable to further discuss internal staffing matters."

The School City of Hobart's Superintendent Peggy Buffington said in part, "The YMCA provides an essential service to the community by providing after school care in our schools. ... Neither I nor the Hobart school administration recommended nor required that the Y fire its after school employee."

Wilkinson said she won't let this setback silence her, and there's nothing she would do differently.

"Not at all. The only thing I can think of is maybe I should put more messages on my car," she said. "Black lives matter, and they're going to matter forever."

Wilkinson said she is considering taking legal action against the Hobart Family YMCA.

Full statement from the Hobart Family YMCA CEO Andrew Zimmer:

The Hobart Family YMCA has been a dedicated member of the Hobart community for more than 65 years. We are committed to providing a space where people of all walks of life can feel safe, welcome and can reach their fullest potential with dignity. We know that the key to this commitment is a passionate, experienced and diverse array of staff, volunteers and members who value what everyone brings to the table.

While the Hobart Family YMCA is its own 501(c)3 organization, we share YMCA of the USA's commitment of striving to foster diversity, equity and inclusion and create space for the safe exchange of diverse ideas, perspectives, experiences and backgrounds - including efforts to address systemic racism and bias facing any dimension of diversity.

We know this work is never complete and that we must continue to do all we can to listen, learn and act to build a better, stronger and more inclusive community. We affirm that Black lives matter. We strive to be a catalyst for positive conversation, learning and growth - always.

Sarah Beth Wilkinson was a staff member of the Hobart Family YMCA, which manages all staff for the Y's afterschool program within School City of Hobart. Despite public comments to the contrary the School City of Hobart does not have authority over YMCA staff. We are unable to further discuss internal staffing matters.


Full statement from Peggy Buffington, Superintendent - School City of Hobart

The YMCA provides an essential service to the community by providing after school care in our schools. The School City of Hobart is not consulted by the YMCA when Y personnel are hired or fired or when personnel decisions are made. Neither I nor the Hobart school administration recommended nor required that the Y fire its after school employee.

The School City of Hobart proudly provides equity and opportunities for students of all races and ethnicities. We support all persons rights to promote political speech conducted in peaceful nonviolent ways. The district does not support or promote statements of violence made to any group, particularly with audiences of very young elementary students. We honor what Nelson Mandela said, "No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite." We believe this and teach our students to be kind and love one another.

I would defer to Andrew Zimmer at the Y for its response to your inquiry about their employee. You are welcome to follow up with me if you have questions about the Y's response.
Copyright © 2020 WLS-TV. All Rights Reserved.