[Fox News] DEI firm allegedly called White principal who died by suicide a ‘weed’ that should be cut down

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The CEO of an influential equity firm – KOJO Institute – which lists the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as a former client – allegedly referred to a White principal who recently killed himself as a “weed” during a 2021 equity training after he disagreed with her claims about critical race theory. The allegations were cited in an April lawsuit, reviewed by Fox News Digital, against a Canadian district. 

The Toronto principal – Richard Bilkszto – cited the KOJO trainings from 2021, as well as the professional fallout that resulted from the incident – as factors which caused a depressive episode, according to a suit. Bilkszto committed suicide on July 14, after the suit was filed. 

“If you listen to the way in which he was spoken to, he was being told that his opinions and beliefs were less valuable because of the color of his skin, that’s racist,” Maud Maron, executive director of Foundation Against Intolerance and Racism, the organization which filed the lawsuit against the Toronto School Board District, said in an interview. 

After his death, Bilkszto’s family said the allegations listed in the lawsuit factored into his suicide. KOJO and its CEO Kike Ojo-Thompson were not party to the litigation and deny all allegations before and after Bilkszto’s death, which have not been proven in court. The lawsuit alleged emotional distress from antiracist trainings and the fallout that followed.

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“This incident is being weaponized to discredit and suppress the work of everyone committed to diversity, equity, and inclusion,” KOJO said in a statement. 

A friend of the deceased principal – Anthony Furey – criticized KOJO’s statement. “It’s absolutely shocking that there’s now a PR campaign to politicize the story and make Ojo-Thompson and her institute the victims. Anyone who genuinely cares about anti-racism efforts should distance themselves from her,” he told Fox News. 

Ojo-Thompson’s ideology is steeped in critical race theory concepts, according to Fox News Digital’s review of her trainings. 

CRT is a lens which generally holds that society is rigged against certain groups on the basis of skin color. It decries the idea of succeeding by merit as a “myth,” and ranks races into privilege categories, with White people considered the most privileged. 

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Using this lens, its original theorists believed that only present-day discrimination can combat the deeply embedded systemic oppression they believe was intentionally built into every societal structure.

“Meritocracy does not take into account how a person’s privilege or social status impacts their opportunities,” a KOJO training said. 

Accordingly, KOJO Institute offers a solution to the problem – its anti-racism trainings – which can cost tens of thousands of dollars for a few sessions. The agency lists its clients as mostly corporations such as H&M, government agencies such as the CDC, colleges and school districts. (The CDC and KOJO did not immediately respond to a request for comment.) 

“We can confirm that H&M Canada does not currently work with the KOJO Institute in any capacity,” the company said in a statement to Fox News. 

During a training for administrators at a Toronto school district, KOJO CEO Ojo-Thompson, claimed Canada was a racist country with deeply embedded oppressive systems, even more so than the U.S., according to the lawsuit. 

“We are stepping on necks, we are kneeling on necks, we are Derek Chauvin-ing a whole group of people… Patriarchy is killing you, capitalism is killing you, and White supremacy is taking your soul, but what do I know?” Thompson said, according to a complaint obtained by Fox News Digital. Chauvin is the Minnesota police officer who was convicted of murdering George Floyd by kneeling on his neck in 2020.

Ojo-Thompson proceeded to call Canada “the bastion of White supremacy and colonialism,” according to the suit.

“I am telling you what the facts are and the truth is,” Ojo-Thompson said, while claiming Canada was worse than the U.S. in regard to embedded “White supremacy,” according to the suit. 

After Bilkszto interjected, disagreeing with Ojo-Thompson in her assessment that Canada was more racist than the U.S., he was promptly reprimanded for his “Whiteness,” according to the suit. 

“This is why we are in the place we are in. We are here to talk about anti-Black racism, but you in your Whiteness think that you can tell me what’s really going on for Black people? Is that what you are doing? I think that’s what you’re doing,” Ojo-Thompson said, according to the suit.

Another trainer at KOJO, interjected, claiming Bilkszto was an “apologist” for racism, in front of all his administrative peers, according to the suit. Bilkszto’s superiors and colleagues did not intervene when the alleged racial comments against his “Whiteness” were made. 

Ojo-Thompson proceeded “to publicly humiliate Bilkszto and make an example of him,” going so far as to liken him to a “‘weed’ that needed to be cut down,” the lawsuit said. 

“Bilkszto left the training session feeling humiliated, attacked, unsupported, harassed and alone. He suffered mental distress as a result,” the lawsuit said. It added that the statements from KOJO’s training amounted to racial harassment per the district’s anti-discrimination policies. 

After being allegedly “humiliated” in front of his senior colleagues, the superintendent – Sheryl Robinson-Petrazzini – publicly thanked KOJO on Twitter, and referenced the “resistance” faced during the training, according to the suit. When Bilkszto asked the superintendent to remove the tweet, believing it to be a de facto endorsement of Ojo-Thompson’s characterizations, the superintendent refused, the suit said. 

“It just breaks my heart that he was treated so poorly,” said FAIR’s executive director. “Not only was he treated poorly by his DEI instructor, but also his supervisors who amplified those accusations and his colleagues who were silent.”

Bilkszto was then called in for professional reprimand in relation to his ideological disagreement with Ojo-Thompson. When Bilkszto attended the next KOJO training, Ojo-Thompson attacked him again unprompted, while laughing at one point, according to the suit. 

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“This is the operation of White supremacy and you saw it with your own eyes,” Ojo-Thompson said, according to the lawsuit. 

“It doesn’t get better than this,” Ojo-Thomson said about Bilkszto’s interruption, per the suit. 

“It is rare that when teaching something that you actually get a real life of the concept unfolding right before everyone’s eyes and ears, and we had that privilege last week, so I want to open by going back to the concept of resistance,” Ojo-Thomson said, according to the suit. 

“One of the ways that White supremacy is upheld… is through resistance and like I said, as I began to speak earlier we had, I am so lucky [*laughs*], who would have thought my luck would have showed up so well last week, that we got perfect evidence of a wonderful example of resistance that all of you got to bear witness to, and we are going to talk about it, because it doesn’t get better than this,” she continued, according to the suit. 

FAIR’s executive director said the incident serves as a warning that when what she believed was “racial bullying” occurs, people need to speak up. 

“The silence can be deafening and more devastating than the original bullying,” Maron said. “And, I think, it’s a really important message – if you see someone being falsely accused of racism you should speak up and say that’s a false accusation.”

As additional examples of KOJO’s critical race theory ideology, the company’s slide deck on instituting an equity agenda lambastes “Eurocentric/Anglocentric curriculum,” “assimilationist culture” and “school disciplinary policies.” The slide deck suggests that institutions – such as education – should be wielded to influence society. 

It asked, “How are institutions leveraging their power and proximity to inform the community’s narrative?” KOJO also calls for the elimination of disparities through “[w]ork that is focused on the systemic and structural context.” 

Ojo-Thompson calls for “Whiteness” in systems to be disrupted, claiming the “dominance of Whiteness is not natural but the result of the legacies. Equally, the subordination of Blackness is also not natural,” according to an interview with ETFO Voice. 

Bilkszto was known in the Toronto area for his work in education for over 20 years. A friend of Bilkszto, Furey said the principal was like a celebrity and people would thank him when he was out in public.

“I was in the downtown core with Richard one morning when multiple young people approached him on the street, gave him a big hug and said how, in his capacity as an adult education principal, he had really helped them get back on track. It was really powerful to see. He really cared and did so much good,” Furey said. 

It was his extensive record that brought him into Burnhamthorpe Collegiate Institute and Adult Learning Centre in the Toronto School District Board. 

“I sincerely hope that organizations give serious thought to bringing DEI that accuses anyone of wrongthink on the basis of their skin,” Maron said. 

“He was deeply respected by his colleagues as someone deeply dedicated to providing education to students. He was a deeply compassionate man,” Maron added. 

The KOJO Institute released a statement to Fox News, which said, “The death of Richard Bilkszto is a tragedy and all of us at KOJO Institute offer our condolences to his loved ones. The Ontario Ministry of Education is now investigating this Toronto District School Board matter and our Institute will cooperate fully with their investigation.”

“The allegations about our Institute contained in Mr. Bilkszto’s lawsuit against the Toronto District School Board are false. KOJO Institute is not a party to Mr. Bilkszto’s lawsuit or any litigation relating to this matter. Further, our Institute had no interactions with Mr. Bilkszto or his representatives outside of the spring 2021 anti-Black racism Zoom workshops.” 

“For over 25 years, KOJO Institute has worked with thousands of people in various industries and sectors across North America to address systemic racism and discrimination in their organizations through education and training. We remain steadfast in our commitment to improving organizational culture, addressing social inequities including anti-Black racism, and improving outcomes for all in our society.”

If you are having thoughts of suicide, call or text 988 to reach the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline or go to SpeakingOfSuicide.com/resources for a list of additional resources.

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