The Controversy Surrounding Patrisse Cullors and the Black Lives Matter Movement

Patrisse Cullors, the co-founder of the Black Lives Matter Global Network Foundation, announced her resignation from the organization last week. For several weeks, Cullors has come under a firestorm of controversy concerning media reports of the purported lavish lifestyle she was living, including the purchase of several residential properties with a total value of over 3 million dollars. 

Earlier this year, the Black Lives Matter Global Network Foundation released its 2020 Impact Report , announcing that the organization had raised over 90 million dollars in donations. Cullors, in her resignation, accused right wing conservatives of a smear campaign. and that they were trying to discredit her name alluding that she was engaged in financial improprieties. The facts are there were several Black activists across the nation, with 10 BLM chapter leaders calling for financial transparency. Hawk Newsome, the head of Black Lives Matter Greater New York City, went to social media stating that there needed to be “an independent investigation” to find out how the global network spends its money.

The claims of financial impropriety were a source of constant concern for several parents whose children had been killed by police in controversial shootings. Tamika Palmer, whose daughter Breonna Taylor was killed by Louisville police as she slept in her home, and Samaria Rice, whose 12-year-old son Tamir was killed on a playground by a Cleveland police officer, have come out publicly and denounced the Black Lives Matter foundation and accused the organization of raising money off the blood of their children. Michael Brown Sr., whose son Michael was walking home from a store unarmed and killed by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, called for BLM to donate 20 million dollars to non-profit organizations in Ferguson that are working to empower residents in exchange for the millions of dollars they raised in using his son’s name and image.

Cullors has countered that all the financial purchases that she has made have come from her own income, which includes a multi-year television deal with Warner Brothers, a book deal, speaking engagements and consulting services.

I first met Cullors over a decade ago at a rally she was leading, calling for the Los Angeles County Jails to be reformed. My first impression of her was that she was a smart, fearless leader and a tremendous organizer. Over the years, I’ve watched with pride as she became a co-founder of the Black Lives Matter movement and continued to organize to improve the quality of life for Black people in general.

I was proud of her. I did not always agree with the tactics of BLM or its goals, but no one could deny that after the murder of George Floyd by former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, Cullors and the movement became a household name. Her influence was the reason why the Black Lives Matter Global Network Foundation was able to raise over 90 million dollars in a year.

I don’t believe Cullors did anything illegal with the BLM finances. I believe Cullors has every right to enjoy her life with the money that she has earned by her own means through her various speaking engagements and publishing and movie deals. Being an activist should not mean one takes a vow of poverty. Activists should be able to enjoy the finer things in life if they so please, with their own money of course.

However, I do believe Cullors lost focus. I believe that she did a poor job ensuring that the donations that came into the Black Lives Matter Global Network Foundation were distributed fairly to the families of the victims of police abuse and killings. Cullors had an obligation as a leader to ensure that the BLM chapters were adequately funded and that the community groups received the necessary grants and funding that they needed to help their local residents.

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Cullors has taken some accountability for her decline in leadership and has publicly apologized for not doing a better job in her role. I think it is time we accept her apology and move forward. She and the BLM are not the Black community’s enemy. White supremacy is our enemy. We are still being unjustly killed by the police. 

So, we should thank Cullors for helping co-found the Black Lives Matter Global Network Foundation and for her years of activism. But with her resignation, let us demand greater financial transparency from BLM. We need a Black united front. Black lives do matter.

Najee Ali is a civil rights activist and the Southern California Community Relations Ambassador for Operation HOPE, a nonprofit for-purpose organization working to disrupt poverty and empower inclusion for low and moderate-income youth and adults.

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