An influx of money is leading to controversy surrounding the Black Lives Matter Global Network Foundation. In its 2020 Impact Report released earlier this month, The Black Lives Matter Global Network Foundation (BLMGNF) reported raising $90 million in 2020 alone. That growth also caused longstanding tensions to boil over between some of the movement’s grassroots organizers and national leaders — the former went public last fall with grievances about financial transparency, decision-making and accountability.
This marks the first time in the movement’s nearly eight-year history that BLM leaders have revealed a detailed look at their finances. The foundation’s coffers and influence grew immensely following the May 2020 death of George Floyd.
From Grassroots Beginnings
After the 2013 acquittal of George Zimmerman, the neighborhood watch volunteer who killed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in Florida, BLM’s founders pledged to build a decentralized movement governed by consensus of a members’ collective. In 2015, a network of chapters was formed, as support and donations poured in. But critics say the BLM Global Network Foundation has increasingly moved away from being a Black radical organizing hub and become a mainstream philanthropic and political organization run without democratic input from its earliest grassroots supporters.
In 2020, the foundation spun off its network of chapters as a sister collective called BLM Grassroots. The chapters, along with other Black-led local organizations, became eligible in July for financial resources through a $12 million grant fund. Although there are many groups that use “Black Lives Matter” or “BLM” in their names, less than a dozen are currently considered affiliates of the chapter network.
limited Funding for Chapters
According to foundation records shared with the Associated Press, several chapters, including in the cities of Washington, Philadelphia and Chicago, were notified last year of their eligibility to receive $500,000 each in funding under a multiyear agreement. Only one BLM group in Denver has signed the agreement and received its funds in September.
A group of 10 chapters, called the #BLM10, rejected the foundation’s funding offer last year and complained publicly about the lack of donor transparency. Foundation leaders say only a few of the 10 chapters are recognized as network affiliates.
In a letter released Nov. 30, the #BLM10 claimed most chapters have received little to no financial resources from the BLM movement since its launch in 2013. That has had adverse consequences for the scope of their organizing work, local chapter leaders told the AP.
The chapters are simply asking for an equal say in “this thing that our names are attached to, that they are doing in our names,” said April Goggans, organizer of Black Lives Matter DC, which is part of the #BLM10 along with groups in Indianapolis, Oklahoma City, San Diego, Hudson Valley, New York, and elsewhere.
“We are BLM. We built this, each one of us,” she said.
BLM co-founder Patrisse Cullors told the AP that the foundation is focused on a “need to reinvest into Black communities.” Fellow co-founders Alicia Garza, who is the principal at Black Futures Lab, and Opal Tometi, who created a Black news media and advocacy hub called Diaspora Rising, are not involved with the foundation. Garza and Tometi do continue to make appearances as movement co-founders.
Michael Brown’s Father Wants $20 Million
Following the announcement of the organization’s windfall, Mike Brown Sr. (father of Mike Brown Jr., who was killed by a cop in Ferguson, Mo.) and Tory Russell, co-founder of the International Black Freedom, demanded the Black Lives Matter organization provide $20M to continue their work in Ferguson, Missouri.
According to the Twitter thread, Brown Sr. has only received $500 from any BLM affiliated group since his son’s 2014 killing, despite being a community figure who organizes and supports other families in healing and empowerment.
Records show some chapters have received multiple rounds of funding in amounts ranging between $800 and $69,000, going back as far as 2016. The #BLM10 said the amounts given have been far from equitable when compared to how much BLM has raised over the years. But Cullors disagreed.
“Because the BLM movement was larger than life — and it is larger than life — people made very huge assumptions about what our actual finances looked like,” Cullors said. “We were often scraping for money, and this year was the first year where we were resourced in the way we deserved to be.”
More Transparency and
Leaders at the BLM foundation admit that they have not been clear about the movement’s finances and governance over the years. But now the foundation is more open about such matters. It says the fiscal sponsor currently managing its money requires spending be approved by a collective action fund, which is a board made up of representatives from official BLM chapters.
After Floyd’s killing in Minneapolis, the surge of donations saw the foundation go from small, scrappy movement to maturing institution. Last summer, leaders sought nonprofit status with the IRS, which was granted in December, allowing the organization to receive tax-deductible donations directly.
The foundation said it committed $21.7 million in grant funding to official and unofficial BLM chapters, as well as 30 Black-led local organizations. It ended 2020 with a balance of more than $60 million, after spending nearly a quarter of its assets on the grant funds and other charitable giving
Last year, the foundation’s expenses were approximately $8.4 million — that includes staffing, operating and administrative costs, along with activities such as civic engagement, rapid response and crisis intervention.
The Black Lives Matter Global Network Foundation is now building infrastructure to catch up to the speed of its funding and plans to use its endowment to become known for more than protests after Black Americans die at the hands of police or vigilantes.
“We want to uplift Black joy and liberation, not just Black death. We want to see Black communities thriving, not just surviving,” reads an impact report the foundation shared with the AP before releasing it.