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Kim Ford, the head of the high-profile human services nonprofit Martha’s Table, has resigned, claiming that the organization’s board of directors has been “extremely abusive” and prompted her decision to leave.
In a letter to supporters Thursday night, Ford said she found it “devastating” to leave the charity, which works to combat hunger and offers other services for families, after taking its top post nearly three years ago. But she wrote that she felt she had no choice but to depart after board members had “publicly threatened and humiliated me on many occasions, manipulated the team, sabotaged the organization, and spoken very negatively about the community.”
“I was told that the behaviors would be addressed, people would be held accountable, and that things would get better,” Ford wrote. “Instead, the behaviors got worse. I asked for help repeatedly. I was even uncharacteristically vulnerable in telling them several times about how much their treatment had harmed my mental, emotional, and physical wellbeing, and I even gave specific examples of the impact—but that was ignored.”
Ellis Carr, chair of the Martha’s Table board and CEO of the nonprofit community driven financial institution Capital Impact Partners, wrote in a statement that “we are grateful to Kim Ford for her contributions to our community and our organization,” but did not address her claims of mistreatment.
“We will continue to strongly embrace the core values that Martha’s Table has always championed, including putting the needs of our communities first,” he wrote.
Outwardly, the organization was thriving as city leaders and residents looked to the nonprofit to help respond to the pandemic—Martha’s Table grew its net assets by roughly $6.2 million in 2020 per its most recent tax forms, all while taking on a variety of new programs. Perhaps most notably, the nonprofit worked with a variety of other charities to distribute direct cash assistance to low-income households, and Mayor Muriel Bowser recently tapped the group to build on that work by distributing money directly to poor mothers.
Yet Ford, a former Obama administration staffer who ran against Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton in 2018, said she went to great lengths to hide these feelings of stress over the past few months.
“A lot of people in pain know how to mask it,” Ford wrote. “And we’ve all become so accustomed to ‘stuntin’ for the Gram’ that most of the time you don’t really know what’s going on in someone’s life. I always post the highs, never the 100th night of not sleeping and crying at 3 a.m. because the board made me feel worthless that day.”
Ford did not detail specific instances of abuse or name specific board members in her email, except to say that she “repeatedly had my competence, integrity, and abilities called into question and when I defended myself, I was called threatening, aggressive, intimidating, and angry.” Beyond Carr, the group’s board includes a variety of prominent names, including former Meet the Press host David Gregory, Attorney General Karl Racine, Horning Brothers CEO David Roodberg, and Cheryl Holcomb-McCoy, dean of American University’s School of Education.
Ford said she brought her concerns to board members repeatedly, but was ignored. However, she said the board did meet recently to address the issue, but waited until she was on vacation so she couldn’t defend herself and then “used the session to bash me and my character.”
She viewed this decision as “the last straw” and submitted her resignation letter. Ford added that she offered to stay on for some period of time “to support a smooth transition to the next leader, but that offer was rebuffed.”
It’s unclear who will now lead the nonprofit, which has seen only five CEOs in its 42-year history. Ford’s predecessor, Patty Stonesifer, spent six years in the role before retiring in 2019.
As she departs the organization, Ford warned that “the board in its current composition must change if we ever truly want to stand alongside the community such that Washingtonians have the opportunity to stay and thrive.”
“I always knew this work would be tough,” Ford wrote. “The redistribution of power from those who hold it to those who deserve it is not something that people willfully engage in. This work will continue to be tough and I know that if you stick together, you will make sure each other and the community are taken care of.”
This story has been updated with comment from the Martha’s Table board.