No Longer Invincible

As a child, I always thought my parents were invincible. I would look up to them and they made up my whole world. They were brilliant, hard-working, and passionate. They knew everything there was to know about the world. They loved my sisters and me with an unparalleled fierceness. I think that’s how most of us saw our parents growing up; and as far as we knew, the rest of the world saw them that way as well.

But in every child’s life, there comes a moment where you are forced to reconcile with the fact that your parents aren’t superheroes and that they do not live unscathed by the world and its trials and tribulations. That moment is pivotal; it could be a crude remark by someone at the supermarket, an aggressive cat caller, an inappropriate exchange. That’s the moment when you realize that the world beats down on your parents too, and it shakes you.

For me, that moment came in 2007. At the time, my father, Yonas Biru, was considering applying for a promotion at the World Bank. He discussed the idea with his manager, but he was told not to apply because “Europeans are not used to seeing a Black man in a position of power.” He chose to ignore this suggestion and he applied. However, not only was he rejected; his stellar performance records of the last 15 years were wiped away. In order to justify their claims that he was unqualified for the promotion, the World Bank removed all public references to my father’s managerial and leadership contributions to the team and downgraded my father from a manager to a ‘team contributor’ on all projects.

Two years later, my father was terminated without any legitimate justification. His termination represented a breach of legal, moral, and professional responsibility by the World Bank. The World Bank knows this as well. In a confidential report released in 2015, an independent body tasked with examining the state of racial affairs at the Bank called my father’s case “a blatant and virulent case of racism.” However, the World Bank has no incentive to act because they have complete diplomatic immunity in the United States. This means that they don’t have to answer to American local, state, or federal courts. This has made my father’s nine years of fighting extremely difficult because the only body that will hear his case is the World Bank’s own Administrative Tribunal which has defended the Bank in each of his lawsuits.

It has been extremely difficult to watch these gross injustices for the past nine years. I always thought that if my father fought for something, he could always make it happen. But in this case, the World Bank has rendered my father powerless, and that's terrifying to see as a kid. He’s tried everything; he’s worked with our Senator, the Congressional Black Caucus, the NAACP, the Department of the Treasury and many organizations. They’ve all acknowledged that this racism is blatant and that justice must be served. But no action has been taken.

And unfortunately, this injustice doesn’t just affect my father; it affects our entire family. As a result of the Bank’s deletion of all records of my father’s management and leadership skills, my father hasn’t been able to obtain a new job in the US. He has spent thousands of dollars on legal fees. He has spent every day of the last nine years trying to force the World Bank to answer for their injustices to no avail. It is so tiring and it’s taken a heavy toll on everyone in our family. The World Bank was no longer this place where my dad would come and go for work. It seeped into our household in every way. In difficult conversations between my parents, in my mother’s tears, in my worried whispered talks with my sisters about whether our father would find a new job.

It’s unnerving when you look at what happened to my father and realize that this is the status quo. As a black boy in America, without fail, that moment of realizing your parents’ vulnerability comes and it tears your world to pieces. An arrest, a shooting, an act of workplace discrimination, like my father’s. All of these instances shake the confidence of little black boys and girls in the world and tell them that their future will be marred similarly.

However, fortunately, for my father, there is one legal saving grace that could help. In 2006, Congress passed the 2006 Foreign Operations, Export Financing and Related Programs Appropriations Act, which states that the U.S. executive director to the World Bank is required to promote “access to independent adjudicative bodies, including external arbitration based on consensus selection and shared costs,” for whistleblower cases, like my father’s. Therefore, my father should have a right to external arbitration for his case. However, the World Bank refuses to agree to appear for that. The World Bank refuses to take any further action.

This racism and injustice is tearing up families, communities, lives. But we cannot just give it up. That is why as of eight days ago (Thursday, September 8th), my father is on a hunger strike until the World Bank restores his professional identity and agrees to redress the irreparable damage it caused him and his career. This petition and website have been started to bring attention to this egregious injustice.

For the last decade, I’ve seen my dad commit all of his effort to finally achieving this justice; I’d always see him late at night in his office, hunched over his documents and determined to make a breakthrough. He isn’t just fighting for himself; he is fighting so that his children do not have to grow up in a world where they can be beaten down by a racist system that inherently tries to disadvantage them. That is what keeps him fighting. And I hope you will fight and stand with us for this justice that we all deserve.