Former Black Lives Matter chief Cullors denies any wrongdoing
No, insists Patrisse Cullors, former leader of the Black Lives Matter Global Network Foundation: Despite allegations of financial irregularities, neither she nor anyone else in the leadership misused millions of dollars in donations.
But in an interview with The Associated Press, Cullors acknowledged BLM was ill-prepared to handle a tidal wave of contributions following protests over the 2020 death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police.
She and others offered insight into the pains of growing an organization that went from an idea to a global brand, almost in an instant.
“On paper, it sounds crazy,” she said. “We use that term a lot in our movement, meaning we build the plane while flying it. I do not believe it anymore. The only regret I have with BLM is wishing we could have taken a 1-2 year break, to do no work and just focus on infrastructure.
Recent revelations that the foundation paid $6 million for a Los Angeles resort in 2020 sparked a torrent of criticism and chatter on social media. The Studio City property — featuring a house with six bedrooms and bathrooms, a swimming pool, a sound stage and offices — is meant to be both a meeting place and a campus for black artists.
Some criticism has come from BLM supporters like Justin Hansford, director of Howard University’s Thurgood Marshall Civil Rights Center.
He said buying the property could be weaponized by opponents of the movement, causing potential donors to turn away from black-led social justice organizations: “That’s the thing you don’t want not lose sight of.”
Cullors defended the purchase. “We really wanted to make sure that the global network foundation had an asset that wasn’t just financial resources,” she said, “and we understood that few black-led organizations had goods.”
Cullors said she made mistakes and even regrettable choices that didn’t foster trust. She admitted to using the BLM property twice for personal gain.
But the 38-year-old best-selling author and artist has angrily and categorically denied accusations she personally benefited from during the six years she led the BLM foundation, including media reports that she bought homes for her himself and his family members.
“The idea that (the foundation) received millions of dollars and then I hid those dollars in my bank account is absolutely false,” she said. “It’s a fake story. It touched me personally and professionally, that people accused me of stealing from black people.
BLM first appeared as a Twitter hashtag after the 2013 acquittal of George Zimmerman, the neighborhood watch volunteer who killed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in Florida.
Along with BLM co-founders Alicia Garza and Ayọ Tometi, Cullors is committed to building a decentralized movement governed by consensus. As donations and support grew, an array of local BLM chapters transitioned into a nonprofit organization.
The BLM protests the summer after Floyd’s death in May 2020 became the largest mobilization of a movement in US history.
Cullors said she became the foundation’s full-time executive director that year, responsible for ensuring it had the organizational infrastructure to handle the massive influx of donations and that it would use the resources to pursue its mission.
A little over a year ago, the foundation announced a fundraising of 90 million dollars. The announcement prompted sharp criticism over access to donor funds, as well as broader calls for openness from activists from several local BLM chapters and families of victims of police brutality who had rallied At the move.
Cullors acknowledged that a lack of transparency about the foundation’s board and staff led to the perception that things were not right. And when the organization was transparent – revealing that it had raised millions – the reaction was not what it expected.
“I thought practicing radical transparency with black people would have been welcomed,” she said. “What didn’t help getting it published was that there aren’t enough people allying with us on this. We weren’t the only organization that got millions of dollars. .
Then Cullors resigned as director of the foundation to work on personal projects – a departure that was long overdue and unrelated to any alleged impropriety, she said.
In the year since his resignation, the foundation has yet to hire new leaders or publicly discuss plans for the money remaining in its coffers. It was only earlier this month that the foundation announced a new board, which executives say will expand in the coming months.
In a phone interview, Shalomyah Bowers, a BLM foundation board member who has also worked for the foundation since 2020, said the organization recently underwent an independent financial audit. Along with the expected May release of its latest 990 filing, the audit will show that “nothing unacceptable or harmful has happened” with BLM’s finances, Bowers said.
Cullors is far from the only black activist to resist questions about her money, motives and leadership. Civil rights elders often speak of attacks, both inside and outside the movement, intended to discredit or halt social change.
But legitimate questions of liability cannot be dismissed, said Garza, the BLM co-founder who has not been involved with the BLM organization after 2015.
“I think it’s important to be transparent about what’s really going on,” Garza said. “And my assessment is that because there was a lack of response (to questions from the audience), especially from the global network foundation, it allowed people to fill in the blanks.”
She added: “If there is irregularity (in the foundation), we should talk about it. I don’t think we should sweep that under the rug, but we haven’t established that.
Cullors knows she gave an opening to criticism when she released a statement denying suggestions that she had lived on the Studio City property or enjoyed it for personal gain. She then admitted to the AP that, during a four-day stay at the property, she had used the compound for purposes that were not strictly business.
She said that in January 2021, she threw a small party to celebrate the inauguration of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. And in March 2021, she hosted a private birthday party for her son at the property, for which Cullors said she intended to pay a rental fee to the foundation.
“I look back on that and think it probably wasn’t the best idea,” she said.
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