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Saturday, May 28, 2022

Associated Press interview: BLM’s Patrice Coolers denies wrongdoing

by Aaron Morrison

LOS ANGELES ( Associated Press) — No, says Patrice Cullers, former leader of the Black Lives Matter Global Network Foundation: Despite allegations of financial irregularities, neither she nor anyone else in the leadership misappropriated millions of dollars in donations.

But in an interview with the Associated Press, Coolers acknowledged that the BLM was unprepared to handle a tidal wave of contributions following protests over the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police in 2020. She said that the foundation was slow to build. Necessary basic work.

She and others offered insight into the growing pains of an organization that went from an idea to a global brand in almost an instant.

“On paper, it looks crazy,” she said. “We use the term a lot in our movement, which is how the plane is building when we fly it. I don’t believe in that anymore. The only regret I have with BLM is that we’ve been there for one to two years. Could have stayed, just didn’t do any work and just focused on infrastructure.”

Recent revelations that the foundation paid $6 million for its Los Angeles campus in 2020 sparked criticism and a torrent of social media chatter. The property in Studio City – which includes a six-bedroom and bathroom home, a swimming pool, a soundstage and office space – is meant to be a meeting place and a campus for Black artists.

There was some criticism from BLM supporters such as Justin Hansford, director of the Thurgood Marshall Civil Rights Center at Howard University. He said property purchases could be weaponized by movement opponents, prompting potential donors to shy away from black-led social justice organizations: “That’s something you don’t want to get out of hand.”

The Colors defended the purchase. “We really wanted to make sure that the Global Network Foundation had an asset that was not just a financial resource,” she said, “and we understood that many Black-led organizations don’t have assets. They have their own assets.” Not property.”

Cullors said it made mistakes and even made some regrettable choices that didn’t foster trust. He admitted that he had used the BLM property twice for personal purposes.

But the 38-year-old bestselling author and artist angrily and vehemently denied allegations that he had personally benefited from the six years he guided the BLM Foundation, including media reports that he and his family members Bought the house for

“The idea that (the Foundation) received millions of dollars and then I hid those dollars in my bank account is absolutely wrong,” she said. “It’s a false narrative. It has affected me, personally and professionally, that people will accuse me of stealing from black people.”

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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. The following year, the death of Michael Brown at the hands of police in Ferguson, Missouri, saw the rise of the movement in the political arena.

Together with BLM co-founders Alicia Garza and Ayu Tometi, Kallers resolved to create a decentralized movement governed by consensus. As donations and support grew, a series of local BLM chapters turned into a non-profit organization.

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

More than a year ago, the foundation announced a $90 million fundraiser. That announcement drew widespread criticism for access to donor funds, as well as openness from activists in several local BLM chapters, and from families of police brutality victims rallying for the movement.

Cullors acknowledged that the lack of transparency about the foundation’s board and staffing led to the impression that things were wrong. And while the organization was transparent – revealing that it had raised millions – the response was not what it expected.

“I thought it would be cool to practice radical transparency with black people,” she said. “What was unhelpful about releasing this was not getting enough people with us about it. We weren’t the only organization receiving millions of dollars.”

The Kallers then resigned as foundation director to work on individual projects — a departure that had been long-planned, and unrelated to any alleged irregularities, she said.

In addition to promoting their latest book, “An Abolitionist’s Handbook: 12 Steps to Changing Yourself and the World,” Colour’s is focused on the Crenshaw Dairy Mart. This is 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. Coolers is also well into a multi-year programming development deal with Warner Bros.

In the year since his resignation, the BLM Foundation has not hired new leadership or publicly discussed plans still sitting in its coffers.

Two veteran civil rights organizers who were announced last May as interim senior officers for the foundation said they never began serving in that capacity. a statement Failure to reach an agreement with the BLM’s leadership council regarding the scope of their work and decision-making authority.

Earlier this month the foundation announced a new board of directors, which leaders said would increase in the coming months.

And it was only recently that the foundation caught up with its financial filing: In California, where it was deemed delinquent in submitting required charity disclosures from 2020, the state registry of charitable trusts now shows that the foundation is operational.

Records show a small number of people with responsibility at the foundation. The 990 filing, submitted to the IRS for January through June 2020, lists Kullers as an unaffiliated executive director and sole employee of the foundation. At the time, still under the financial sponsorship of a well-established charity, the BLM Foundation reported no revenue, assets, contributions or expenses.

The filing lists only two board members, including Shalomia Bowers, who is the president of Bowers Consulting, a firm that has provided operational support to the BLM Foundation for two years.

In a phone interview, Bowers said the organization had been working since Coolers left to sort out its infrastructure. He said the organization has conducted an independent financial audit, which, along with the expected May release of its latest 990 filing, will show that “nothing unacceptable or nefarious has happened” with BLM’s finances.

“We are now a foundation that is dedicated to investing in organizations that are committed to doing the work of eradicating (and) building Black Power,” he said.

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Coolers is far from the only black activist to face questions about his money, his motivations, and his leadership. Veterans in the civil rights struggle often speak of attacks from within and outside the movement, aimed at discrediting or preventing social change.

On Saturday, black conservative political pundit and opponent of the BLM movement, Candace Owens, arrived uninvited with a camera crew at the Cuellars’ 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 to ask questions about the foundation’s assets (which are at the same address as the Coolers home). Not there).

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

Still, legitimate questions of accountability should not be dismissed, said BLM co-founder Garza, who was not involved in the BLM organization after 2015.

“I think it’s important to be transparent about what’s really happening,” Garza said. “And my assessment is that because there was a lack of response (to public questions), especially from the Global Network Foundation, it allowed people to fill in the blanks.”

She continued: “If (at foundation) there is inappropriate, we should talk about it. I don’t think we should sweep that rug down, but we haven’t installed it.”

Cullors knows she gave critics an opening when she released a statement suggesting that she lived in the Studio City property or took advantage of it for personal gain. He later admitted to the Associated Press that during his four-day stay at the property, he had used the premises for purposes that were not strictly business.

She said that in January 2021, while taking refuge at the property amid threats to her life, she hosted a small party to celebrate the inauguration of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. He said the gathering was attended by about 15 people, including members of the BLM Los Angeles chapter and other prominent movement supporters.

And in March 2021, she held a private birthday party for her son at the property, for which the Colours said she intended to pay rental fees to the foundation. The foundation confirmed that it had billed him, and said it was reviewing its policies to prevent such use in the future.

Kallars said, he should not have used the property like this.

“I look back at that and think, Maybe it wasn’t the best idea,” she said.

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Associated Press writer Donald Thompson in Sacramento contributed.

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Morrison is a New York-based member of the Associated Press’s race and ethnicity team. Follow him on Twitter: https://www.twitter.com/aaronlmorrison,

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