Black Lives Matter has $42 million in assets: report

NEW YORK (AP) — The foundation launched by organizers of the Black Lives Matter movement is still worth tens of millions of dollars, having spent more than $37 million on grants, real estate, consultants and other expenses, according to tax filings near theirs.

In a new 63-page Form 990 shared exclusively with The Associated Press, the Black Lives Matter Global Network Foundation Inc. reports that it has invested $32 million in stock out of the $90 million it received in form. donations to racial justice protests in 2020. This investment should become an endowment to ensure the foundation’s continued work in the future, according to organizers.

It ended its last financial year – July 1, 2020 to June 30, 2021 – with nearly $42 million in net assets. The foundation had an operating budget of about $4 million, according to a board member.

The tax return shows nearly $6 million was spent on a Los Angeles-area resort. The Studio City property, which includes a house with six bedrooms and bathrooms, a swimming pool, a sound stage and offices, was intended to serve as a campus for a Black Artist Fellowship and is currently being used for that purpose, said the council member.

This is the first public account of its finances by the BLM Foundation since its incorporation in 2017. As a fledgling nonprofit, it was under the fiscal sponsorship of a well-established charity and does not was not required to publicly disclose its finances until it became independent. , 501(c)(3) nonprofit in December 2020.

The earnings statement suggests the organization is still finding its footing: it currently has no executive director or in-house staff. Nonprofit experts tell the AP that the BLM Foundation appears to operate as a disjointed organization with far fewer resources, though some say black-run charities face unfair scrutiny in a predominantly white and wealthy philanthropic landscape.

Yet its governance structure makes it difficult to refute allegations of impropriety, financial mismanagement and mission deviation that have plagued the BLM foundation for years, an expert has said.

“It comes across as a nonprofit start-up with no substantial governance structure in place that has generated a huge windfall,” said Brian Mittendorf, an accounting professor at Ohio State University, who focuses on organizations. nonprofits and their financial statements.

“People are quick to assume that mismatch reflects intent,” he added. “Whether there is something inappropriate here is another question. But if they prepared to be criticized, I think that’s certainly the case because they didn’t fill in a bunch of those gaps.

The BLM movement first emerged in 2013, after the acquittal of George Zimmerman, the neighborhood watch volunteer who killed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in Florida. But it was the 2014 death of Michael Brown at the hands of police in Ferguson, Missouri, that made the slogan “Black Lives Matter” a rallying cry for progressives and a favorite target of derision for conservatives.

BLM co-founders Patrisse Cullors, Alicia Garza and Ayọ Tometi had pledged to build a decentralized organization governed by the consensus of BLM chapters. But after only three years of existence, Cullors was the only founder of the movement involved in the organization.

And in 2020, a tidal wave of contributions following protests over the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police meant the BLM organization needed a lot more infrastructure.

When Cullors revealed the windfall of donations last year, local union organizers and the families of victims of police brutality reacted angrily. Until then, the foundation had not been transparent with the BLM’s most dedicated organizers, many of whom accused Cullors of excluding them from decisions about how financial resources would be allocated.

YahNé Ndgo, an activist and former BLM Philadelphia chapter organizer, said Cullors reneged on his promise to hand over control of the foundation’s resources to grassroots organizers.

“When the resources came in, when the opportunities came up, (the foundation) alone would decide who was going to take advantage of them, without having to consider the other organizers whose work gave them access to those resources and opportunities in the first place,” Ndgo said. , who organized a group of chapters that confronted the foundation on issues of transparency and accountability.

In 2020, the foundation separated its network of chapters into a sister collective called BLM Grassroots. It has a fiscal sponsor who manages the funds granted by the foundation. Melina Abdullah, co-founder of BLM’s first chapter in Los Angeles, also leads the grassroots collective and said its organizers continue to have a direct impact on communities across the country.

“We will never stop doing this,” Abdullah said. “This is the work from which we were born.”

A protester waves a Black Lives Matter flag in front of the Hennepin County Government Center, Wednesday, April 7, 2021, in Minneapolis, where testimony continues in the trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin. Chauvin is charged with murder in the death of George Floyd during an arrest last May in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)

In a recent interview with the AP, Cullors acknowledged that the foundation was ill-prepared to handle the moment. The tax return lists Cullors as an unpaid founder and executive director. She quit last year. The foundation also paid nearly $140,000 in severance pay to a former chief executive who had been at odds with local BLM chapter organizers, prior to Cullors’ tenure as director.

The filing shows Cullors reimbursed the organization $73,523 for a charter flight for foundation-related trips, which the organization says it took in 2021 over concerns about COVID-19 and security threats. She also paid the foundation $390 for its uses of Studio City property for two private events.

In the past fiscal year, Cullors was the only voting trustee on the foundation board and held no board meetings, according to the filing. Although this is permitted by law in Delaware, where the foundation is incorporated, this governance structure makes it seem like Cullors has decided alone who to hire and how to spend the donations. That was never the truth, current board members said.

Despite all the questions raised about its oversight, the BLM foundation’s tax return shows its stewards didn’t waste donations. Instead, it has awarded tens of millions of dollars to BLM chapters, grassroots Black-led organizations and the families of victims of police brutality, whose names have rallied the wider movement.

“This 990 reveals that (the BLM Foundation) is the largest black abolitionist nonprofit that has ever existed in the nation’s history. What we’re doing has never been done before,” said Shalomyah Bowers, who serves as the foundation’s board secretary.

“We had to pour dollars into grassroots organizations that were doing the work of abolition, that would be doing the work that would tip the moral tide of this world to a world that doesn’t have or believe in police, prisons, to jails or violence,” he said.

Earlier this month, the foundation announced Bowers as one of three members of its board of trustees. He works with Chairman of the Board Cicley Gay, a communications professional with more than 20 years of experience in nonprofit and philanthropic organizations, and D’Zhane Parker, a member of the Los Angeles chapter of BLM. whose work focuses on the impact of mass incarceration on families.

“We are decolonizing philanthropy,” Gay said. “As a board, we are tasked with disrupting traditional norms of what philanthropic grantmaking looks like. It means investing in black communities, trusting them with their money.

The foundation will launch a “transparency and accountability center” on its website to make its financial records available to the public, Bowers said.

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