Black Lives Matter co-founder leaves organization

By Sue Favor

Contributing Writer

LOS ANGELES — Black Lives Matter co-founder and chief executive Patrisse Cullors has announced she is stepping away from the organization after eight years.

In a video posted on her YouTube channel, the 37-year-old activist said her decision was a more permanent version of the one she made two years ago.

“At the end of 2019 I actually stepped back, though I didn’t make a public announcement,” Cullors said. “I really wanted to see the next generation lead. Last year, when the uprising happened [following the death of George Floyd], the organization asked me to come back … so I did. It was always meant to be on an interim basis, so now is my time.”

The announcement came just over a month after South Los Angeles activists raised questions about what Black Lives Matter does with donations it raises to fight racial injustice and police brutality. The organization revealed in February that it raised $90 million last year, which drew the ire of some who said promises made to them have never been fulfilled.

Lisa Simpson, whose son was killed at the hands of the Los Angeles Police Department in 2016, said Black Lives Matter promised $5,000 to cover funeral costs. Simpson said that though the organization used her son’s name to solicit donations, she has never received any money. She joined activists in mid-April in front of one of Cullors’ luxury homes to protest.

“Black lives don’t matter – your pockets matter,” she told reporters. “Let’s keep it real.”

Simpson joined with Samaria Rice — the mother of Tamir Rice, slain by Cleveland police in 2014 — in calling for Cullors and other Black Lives Matter leaders to “step down, stand back and stop monopolizing and capitalizing our fight for justice and human rights.”

The New York Post reported that Cullors had gone on a “million dollar real estate buying binge” over the last year, after finding that she had three luxury homes in the Los Angeles area and one in Atlanta. Simpson and local activist Najee Ali and others held a press conference in front of one of those homes in South LA.

The same day, Black Lives Matter said in a statement that Cullors had received a total of $120,000 from the organization since 2013, for acting as a spokesperson and for political education work. She hasn’t received any money from the organization since 2019.

“To be abundantly clear, as a registered 501c3, [Black Lives Matter Global Network Foundation] cannot and did not commit any organizational resources toward the purchase of any personal property by any employee or volunteer,” the statement said. “Any insinuation or assertion to the contrary is categorically false.”

In her own defense, Cullors has pointed to the numerous jobs she has held, including book writing, teaching, owning a gallery and a deal with Warner Brothers to develop scripts.

Local activists, however, remain unmoved. Ali said she Cullors’ resignation was no surprise.

“She only resigned after her multi-million dollar shopping spree of buying residential properties all across the nation was revealed,” he said. “BLM raised over $90 million using the names of victims that Patrisse never gave one penny to, according to the mothers of these victims. Patrisse betrayed these mothers and their children, who were murdered. Black people will never forget that.”

Cliff Smith, the founder of the Coalition for Community Control of the Police, called Cullors “a professional nonprofit careerist.” He said she knows how to use the right language, social media and branding tools to protest, but results are never attained because the organizations she works with are tied to the power structures they profess to fight against.

“Her role with BLM has provided her with an enormous platform, and she’s been able to leverage that for her own personal advancement,” Smith said. “To say she’s stepping aside from the leadership of struggle is an admission that the organization she’s stepping away from is no longer equivalent to the general struggle to solve the problems that it was built for initially.”

“If you’re committed to the struggle, there’s no stepping aside from being a community leader.”

Black Lives Matter has named two senior executives to take Cullors’ place in Makani Themba and Monifa Bandele. Themba has been the chief strategist at Higher Ground Change Strategies, while Bandele has been chief operating officer at Time’s Up Foundation.