BLM’s Patrisse Cullors denies wrongdoing in purchase of $6M L.A. compound

Patrisse Cllors, ex-leader of Black Lives Matter Global Network Foundation insists that it is not true. Despite accusations of financial improprieties she and others in leadership have not misused millions of dollars of donations.

But in an interview with The Associated Press, Cullors acknowledged that BLM was ill-prepared to handle a tidal wave of contributions in the aftermath of protests over George Floyd’s death at the hands of Minneapolis police in 2020. She claimed that it was difficult to lay the foundation needed.

She and others shared their insights on the growing pains of an organisation that almost overnight went from an idea into a global brand.

“On paper, it looks crazy,”She said. “We use this term in our movement a lot, which is we’re building the plane while flying it. I don’t believe in that anymore. The only regret I have with BLM is wishing that we could have paused for one to two years, to just not do any work and just focus on the infrastructure.”

The recent revelations that the foundation paid $6 million to purchase a Los Angeles property in 2020 triggered a storm of social media criticism. The property in Studio City — including a home with six bedrooms and bathrooms, a swimming pool, a soundstage and office space — is meant to be both a meeting venue and a campus for Black artists.

BLM supporters such as Justin Hansford, director at Howard University’s Thurgood Marshall Civil Right Center, were criticised. He suggested that movement opponents could use the property purchase to their advantage, leading potential donors not to support Black-led social justice organizations. “That’s the thing that you don’t want to get out of hand.”

Cullors supported the purchase. “We really wanted to make sure that the global network foundation had an asset that wasn’t just financial resources,”She stated, “and we understood that not many Black-led organizations have property. They don’t own their property.”

Cullors said she had made mistakes and even some regrettable choices that haven’t fostered trust. She admitted she had twice used BLM property to personal ends.

However, the 38-year-old author and artist was furious and insistently denied any accusations she may have personally profited from her six years of leadership at the BLM Foundation. There were also media reports that she purchased homes for herself as well as 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. “That’s a false narrative. It’s impacted me personally and professionally, that people would accuse me of stealing from Black people.”

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BLM was first introduced to Twitter in 2013 following the acquittal by George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer who shot Trayvon Martin, 17, in Florida. The next year, the death of Michael Brown at the hands of police in Ferguson, Missouri, saw the movement’s emergence in the Political realm.

Along with BLM co-founders Alicia Garza and Ayọ Tometi, Cullors pledged to build a decentralized movement governed by consensus. A number of local BLM chapters became nonprofit organizations as a result of increased donations and support.

BLM protests in the summer after Floyd’s death in May 2020 became the largest mobilization of a movement in U.S. history. Cullors said she became the foundation’s full-time executive director that year, charged with ensuring it had the organizational infrastructure to handle the massive influx of donations and would use the resources to further its mission.

A little more than a year ago, the foundation declared a $90 million fundraising haul. The announcement was met with harsh criticisms regarding access to donor money, as well broader calls to openness by activists in several local BLM Chapters and the families of victims of police violence who had rallied for the movement.

Cullors acknowledged that a lack of transparency about the foundation’s board and staffing drove perceptions that things were amiss. And when the organization was transparent — It was revealed that the company had raised millions — the reaction wasn’t what she expected.

“I thought practicing radical transparency with Black people would have been received well,”She said. “What was unhelpful about releasing it was not getting enough people allying with us about it. We weren’t the only organization to receive millions of dollars.”

Cullors Resign as foundation director to work on personal projects — a departure that had long been planned, and was unconnected with any alleged improprieties, she said.

She also promotes her latest book. “An Abolitionist’s Handbook: 12 Steps to Changing Yourself and the World,”Cullors is focusing on Crenshaw Dairy Mart. It’s a former convenience store in Los Angeles that was converted into an artist collective and gallery, which overlaps with her activism on criminal justice issues. Cullors has also signed a multiyear programming agreement with Warner Bros.

In the year since her resignation, the BLM foundation hasn’t hired new leadership or publicly discussed plans for money still sitting in its coffers.

Two civil rights activists who served as interim senior executives at the foundation last May claimed they had never been appointed to that role, citing incompetent sources. A statement a failure to reach an agreement with BLM’s leadership council about the scope of their work and decision-making authority.

It was just this month that the foundation became public. Announced a new board of directors, which leaders said will grow in the coming months.

The foundation has not been in compliance with financial filings since the very last time it did so: California, where it was found to be late in filing the required disclosures for charity from 2020, now the state Registry of Charitable Trusts indicates that it is current.

According to records, there were only a few people who had responsibility for the foundation. A 990 filing submitted to the IRS for January through June 2020, lists Cullors as an uncompensated executive director and the foundation’s only employee. Cullors was still working under the fiscal sponsorship for a well established charity. The BLM Foundation reported no revenue, assets or expenses.

Two board members are listed in the filing, Shalomyah Bowers is president of Bowers Consulting and has been providing operational support for the BLM foundation for the past two years.

In a phone interview, Bowers said the organization had been working since Cullors’ departure to sort out its infrastructure. Bowers stated that the organization had undergone an independent financial audit, which was in addition to the May release of its most recent 990 filing. “nothing impermissible or nefarious has happened” with BLM’s finances.

“We are now a foundation that is deeply devoted to investing in organizations that are committed to doing the work of abolition (and) committed to building Black power,”He said.

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Cullors is not the only Black activist who has been able to resist questions about her finances, her motivations, and her leadership. Civil rights activists often talk about attacks by those outside of the movement to stop or discredit social progress.

On Saturday, Candace Owens, the Black conservative political pundit and opponent of the BLM movement, arrived uninvited with a camera crew at Cullors’ Los Angeles-area home. In an Instagram video shared with millions of followers, Owens said she was there to film a documentary about BLM’s finances and ask questions about the foundation’s property (which is not at the same address as Cullors’ home).

“The constant harassment, online and offline, that I’ve experienced is unacceptable and dangerous,” Cullors said.

Garza, who was not involved with the BLM after 2015, stated that there are legitimate questions about accountability.

“I think it is important to be transparent about what is actually happening,” Garza said. “And my assessment is that because there was a lack of response (to public questions), specifically from the global network foundation, it allowed for people to fill in the blanks.”

She also added: “If there is impropriety (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 is aware that her statement denouncing suggestions that she lived on the Studio City property for personal gain gave way to critics. Later, Cullors admitted to the AP that she had used the property for other purposes than strictly business during a four day stay.

She stated that she was fleeing from threats to her life in January 2021 when she set up a small party for the inauguration of Joe Biden, Kamala, and Kamala. According to her, the gathering included approximately 15 people including BLM Los Angeles chapter members as well as other prominent supporters of this movement.

Cullors also held a private birthday celebration for her son on the property in March 2021. Cullors indicated that she planned to pay a rent fee to the foundation. The foundation confirmed that it had charged her and said it was reviewing its policies in order to prevent similar uses in the future.

Cullors stated that she shouldn’t have used the property in this way in hindsight.

“I look back at that and think, that probably wasn’t the best idea,”She said.

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