Following the police killing of George Floyd on May 25, the message “Black Lives Matter” appeared on signs at protests across the world. Streets were painted with the words and they were one of the top searches on Google for 2020. Major corporations adopted the slogan to show their support in the fight to end injustice and with all this exposure came mega donations to BLM, a grassroots group that popped up in 2013.
Public support for the Black Lives Matter movement was at an unheard-of 67 percent in June, according to Pew researchers. “BLM-related causes” pulled in more than $10.6 billion in donations, according to The Economist.
Not much is known about how the money is being used.
The organization’s founders, three Black women — Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi — have been accused on social media of not sharing “a single cent with black people….”
Others came to BLM’s support, saying “They are donating to BLM city chapters and trying to start a bank.”
“I hope people don’t believe BLM, the legal entity, received $10B,” The Moguldom Nation founder Jamarlin Martin tweeted. “The corporate confederacy defines BLM causes as they wish (ex:diversity program). U can take issue w/ a group but don’t lie on them. The bougie buffer predictably got the George Floyd $.”
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Initially, some money went to the wrong Black Lives Matter group. The police-focused Black Lives Matter Foundation was easily found on fundraising platforms such as GoFundMe. Individuals and companies including Apple and Google made huge donations meant for Black Lives Matter Global Network Foundation, according to an investigative article by BuzzFeed News.
Robert Ray Barnes, founder of the police-focused Black Lives Matter Foundation, said the group’s focus is on “bringing the community and police closer together.”
BuzzFeed found that millions of dollars were funneled unknowingly to the wrong organization because of the name confusion. In fact, employees of “Apple, Google, and Microsoft have raised millions of dollars for the Black Lives Matter Foundation thinking it’s the international racial justice movement seeking to end police brutality. That couldn’t be further from the truth,” BuzzFeed reported.
Corporations raised $4 million for the sound-alike foundation but the money was frozen before the foundation could collect on the donations. “I don’t have anything to do with the Black Lives Matter Global Network. I never met them, never spoke to them. I don’t know them. I have no relationship with them,” Barnes said.
Barnes’ foundation was registered in Delaware in 2017. Barnes has owned and operated the 501(c)(3) nonprofit registered in California, since 2015.
GoFundMe said it was attempting to return some of the donations.
Despite the confusion, the Black Lives Matter Global Network Foundation raked in billions, and many are wondering well all that money has gone. The organization was formed in 2013 in the wake of George Zimmerman’s acquittal in the shooting death of African-American teen Trayvon Martin. It uses the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter on social media and grew into an organized movement that is protesting the police murder of Floyd and other African Americans at the hands of police. Its official name is the Black Lives Matter Global Network and its charitable wing is the Black Lives Matter Global Network Foundation.
It was the death of Floyd, an unarmed Black man who was killed by Minneapolis police during an arrest, that catapulted the organization to worldwide recognition.
Now that BLM has achieved major attention, things seem to be falling apart for the group. There is infighting and several chapters have splintered away from the main organization. Two of the founders — Garza and Tometi — have disassociated themselves from the group. The problem is BLM grew organically without much structure.
“The Black Lives Matter movement is buckling under the strain of its own success, with tensions rising between local chapters and national leaders over the group’s goals, direction — and money,” Politico reported.
From the beginning, the group had no central hierarchy as the concept was to keep power concentrated in the hands of the people.
BLM is now scrambling to get organized.
Cullors, one of BLM’s three co-founders, blamed her movement’s “half-drawn blueprints and road maps that led to untenable ends,” as well as its lack of funds and vision. Black people, she wrote in September, had “paid dearly” for these shortcomings. Better focus and organization were needed.
Soon after the start of the protests, BLM had to figure out how to offer a first round of $6.5 million in grants—far more than ever before—to city chapters, gay-rights groups and others, The Economist reported.
There is still no exact figure released on how much BLM has received in donations. That won’t be known until the central body overseeing BLM spending publishes its finances. The organization has another entity, a “fiscal sponsor,” the Tides Foundation, to oversee its books.
Cullors has taken the role of the main leader of the “once leaderless” group. She is in charge of the foundation, which will control funds, distributing them to officially recognized BLM city chapters through another new body called BLM Grassroots.
The foundation is also looking to flex its power in government. Cullors received backlash for asking for a meeting with President-elect Joe Biden. The foundation is pressing Congress to pass legislation, known as the Breathe Act, that would order a big increase in federal spending on public housing, The Economist reported.
BLM leaders plan to campaign for more funding for the U.S. Postal Service, a big employer of middle-class African-Americans. Early next year, BLM hopes to launch a bank to offer capital to Black-owned firms and nonprofits.
But not all of the members agree on the plans and are still waiting on money to operate the various chapters.
On Nov. 30, representatives of 10 city chapters including Chicago, Denver, and Philadelphia rejected the recent changes and accused Cullors of a secretive power grab.
“We became chapters of Black Lives Matter as radical Black organizers embracing a collective vision for Black people engaging in the protracted struggle for our lives against police terrorism,” 10 local chapters wrote in an open letter. “With a willingness to do hard work that would put us at risk, we expected that the central organizational entity … would support us chapters in our efforts to build communally.”
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The 10 chapters, which are calling themselves #BLM10, complained there’s a lack of transparency over money the movement has raised and how chapters can access it, Politico reported.
“What (supporters) see is national folks talking about trying to get a meeting with Biden, while kids are literally outside of my door asking for food,” said April Goggans, lead organizer with Black Lives Matter D.C.
In July, BLM invited affiliate chapters to apply for funding in the form of unrestricted, multiyear grants up to $500,000.