Black Lives Matter co-founder Patrisse Cullors, along with the other BLM founders, is under investigation after the organization allegedly bought a $6 million dollar mansion with donation funds, according to a report published in New York Magazine on Monday. After years of unacknowledged complaints about where donations to the organization are going, this explosive report has allies of the movement questioning how the money was used inappropriately and whether its even being used to support the Black community at all.
The first time the public was tipped off to the organization owning a lavish $6 million house in Studio City was during a YouTube special filmed to commemorate the one year anniversary of the police killing of George Floyd. In the video on the organization’s YouTube page, which has curiously been taken down, the founding members are seen toasting champagne with the backdrop being the picturesque mansion’s terrace and patio.
The mansion, for which the board said is being used for “furthering the BLM mission,” was purchased just two weeks after the organization received a payout of $66.5 million in donations from its fiscal sponsor. As a result of Floyd’s murder, BLM received an influx of $90 million of financial support from donors and corporations such a Cisco and Airbnb. Now, BLM supporters and community are outraged and riddled with questions about how the organization chose to utilize its funds and who is benefitting from the amassed wealth.
One of the biggest complaints has been about the organization buying a house when that money should have been used to help the families of those who were killed at the hands of police brutality. Notably, those funds could’ve helped someone like Tamir Rice’s mother, who had to move into a homeless shelter during the lengthy investigation into her son’s murder in 2015. Then there are the ethics and morals of using a $6 million dollar home for “housing and studio space” for the Black Joy Creators Fellowship, which are shaky at best. The NYMag report points out that the fellowship was touted as a a place of providing “recording resources and dedicated space for Black creatives to launch content online” before noting that “relatively little content has been produced there over the course of 17 months.”
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It’s particularly fishy that organizers didn’t announce the location of the home or its intended purpose until they were questioned. And much of the organizers’ responses to the press felt more like an effort to cover up and less like an intentional plan to serve the Black community. With rampant poverty, homelessness, and countless other issues plaguing the Black community, there were many more fiscally responsible opportunities that the organization could’ve taken with their funds–especially in Los Angeles. Off-hand, some lasting and impactful options would’ve been advancing and creating more health care clinics (especially for women), creating more affordable housing, and donating to Black educational facilities.
In the wake of the mansion making headlines, Twitter activists like Shamira Ibrahim have spoken out about their long-standing skepticism of BLM. Ibrahim talks candidly in a lengthy Twitter thread about BLM’s “impact” and pointed out that a lot of the organization’s focus has been on digital “engagement and fundraising, not on the ground work.” She also noted that in doing digging into what BLM offers its supporters, The New School’s Professor Deva Woodly claimed the group provided “materials, guidance and a framework for new activists.”
“I searched for them. The publicly available toolkits were paltry,” wrote Ibrahim.
Others, including those who identify as housing insecure, spoke out about this alleged mishandling of money raised in the name of Black people murdered at the hand of police. One person lambasted those behind BLM as “vultures.”
This isn’t even the first time that Cullors has been accused of making frivolous property purchases on BLM’s dime. Cullors has been long under scrutiny for her loose handling of BLM finances. Critics have questioned her intentions as evidence of suspect activity mounted; some glaring issues included her neglect to file the organization’s 202o taxes and the organization’s vast profits in contrast with the money given to families who lost someone to police brutality. Chapter members ultimately held Cullors’ feet to the fire for her opacity and elusiveness in May 2021, resulting in Cullors stepping down as Executive Director of the organization.
Now, supporters and critics want answers to their unanswered questions. The organization went through great legal lengths to cover up the cash purchase of the Studio City mansion in 2020, even purchasing under the LLC “The Black Lives Matter Global Network Foundation.” The elusiveness raised questions such as, if the plan all along was to utilize this space for community benefit, where was the roll out? Where was the press release outlining the vision? BLM’s board responded to the public about the house only after they were explicitly asked about it and told the public that the house was a “dedicated space for Black creatives to launch content online and in real life.” Who asked for that?
Although Shalomyah Bowers, a BLM board member, claims the organization had always intended to share news of the purchase on their most recent tax statements, this whole situation has created some polarizing opinions about BLM. The lack of transparency has left supporters questioning their loyalty to the organization and critics doubling down on their skepticism and disapproval. What was supposed to be an organization founded to highlight racism and inequality has now become muddied with secrecy, unclear vision, and direction. If we can’t trust our own social justice organizations because they’re guilty of the same white collar corruption we call out, who can we trust?
This piece has been updated for clarity.