A co-founder of Black Lives Matter announced Thursday that she is stepping down as executive director of the movement’s foundation. He denied what he called a smear campaign by a far-right group, but did not say that even recent criticism from other black organizers influenced his departure.
Patrisse Cullors, who has been at the helm of the Black Lives Matter Global Network Foundation for nearly six years, said she would leave to focus on other projects, including the upcoming release of her second book and a multi-year television development deal with Warner Bros. Her last day with the foundation is Friday.
“I’ve created the infrastructure and support and the bones and foundations needed for me to leave,” Cullors told The Associated Press. “It seems like the right time.”
Cullors ’departure comes after a massive increase in support and political influence in the U.S. and around the world for the BLM movement, which was established nearly eight years ago in response to injustice against black Americans. The resignation also comes amid controversy over the foundation’s finances and Cullors ’personal wealth.
The 37-year-old activist said his resignation has been in the works for more than a year and has nothing to do with the personal attacks the far-right groups have faced or any dissension of movement.
“These were right-wing attacks that tried to discredit my character and I don’t engage in what the right thinks about me,” Cullors said.
When he leaves, the foundation incorporates two new interim executives to help lead him in the immediate future: Monifa Bandele, a former BLM organizer and founder of the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement in New York City, and Makani Themba, one of the first sponsors of the BLM movement and chief strategist at Higher Ground Change Strategies in Jackson, Mississippi.
“I think both come not only with a rich moving experience, but also with a wealth of executive experience,” Cullors said.
The BLM Foundation revealed to the AP in February that it earned just over $ 90 million last year, following the May 2020 assassination of George Floyd, a black man of whom last breaths under the knee of a white Minneapolis-inspired police officer protests globally. The foundation said it ended 2020 with a balance of more than $ 60 million, after spending nearly a quarter of its assets on operating expenses, grants to black-run organizations and other charitable donations.
Critics of the foundation argue that more money should have been for the families of black victims of police brutality who have been unable to access the resources needed to cope with their trauma and loss.
“This is the most tragic aspect,” said Rev. T Sheri Dickerson, president of an BLM chapter in Oklahoma City and representative of # BLM10, a national group of organizers that has publicly criticized the foundation for funding and transparency.
“I know some of them [the families] they feel exploited, their pain exploited, and that’s not something I ever want to join, ”Dickerson said.
Cullors and the foundation have said they support families without making public announcements or disclosing dollar amounts.
In 2020, the BLM foundation separated its network of chapters as a sister collective called BLM Grassroots, so that it could develop its capacity as a philanthropic organization. Although many groups use “Black Lives Matter” or “BLM” in their names, less than a dozen are considered affiliated with the chapter network.
Last month, Cullors was the target of several conservative-leaning publications that falsely claimed that he received a large annual salary from the foundation, which allowed him to recently buy a Southern California home.
In April, the foundation declared Cullors a volunteer executive director who, by 2019, had “received a total of $ 120,000 since the organization’s inception in 2013, for work as a spokesperson and participating in political education tasks “.
“As a 501c3 registered non-profit organization, [the foundation] it cannot and did not commit any organizational recourse to the purchase of personal property by any employee or volunteer, “the foundation said in a statement.” Any insinuation or assertion to the contrary is categorically false. “
In 2018, Cullors released When You Call You a Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir, which became a New York Times bestseller. He has also consulted several racial justice projects outside of BLM, obtaining compensation for this work in a personal capacity.
She and the BLM movement have come a long way since its inception as a social media hashtag, after 2013 absolution of George Zimmerman, the neighborhood surveillance volunteer who killed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in Florida.
Cullors, along with BLM co-founders Alicia Garza and Opal Tometi, pledged to build a decentralized movement governed by the consensus of a collective of members. In 2015, a network of chapters was formed, while donations and support were poured. Garza and Tometi soon left daily participation in the network to focus on their own projects.
Cullors, who has arguably been the most publicly visible of the co-founders, became the foundation’s full-time executive director last year out of sheer necessity, he said.
“We needed it,” said Melina Abdullah, who runs BLM Grassroots and co-founded, along with Cullors, the first official BLM episode in Los Angeles.
“George Floyd was killed and everyone got up,” Abdullah told the AP. “I would like it to be there forever, but I also know that this is not feasible. The real proof of any organization is that it can survive the departure of its founders. And I have no doubt that Black Lives Matter will survive, grow and evolve, even with the departure of our final co-founder in a formal role. “
On October 5, St Martin’s Press will publish Cullors’ latest book, A Handbook of Abolitionists, which she says is her guide for activists on how to care for each other and resolve internal conflicts while fighting to end with systemic racism. Cullors is also developing and producing original cable and streaming TV content that focuses on black stories, under a multi-year agreement with Warner Bros.
The first of his television projects will debut in July, he said.
“I think I’ll probably be less visible, because I won’t be at the helm of one of the largest and most controversial organizations right now in the history of our movement,” Cullors said.
“I am aware that I am a leader and I do not shy away from that. But no movement is a leader.