Over the recent weekend, Black Lives Matters co-founder Patrisse Kahn-Cullors defended the spending of BLM and Black lives Matters Global Network Foundation (BLMGNF), including the purchase of millions of dollars worth of expensive houses in California and Georgia, and denied accusations that she personally benefited from the group.
BLM has been facing growing scrutiny in the aftermath of the George Floyd protests in June of 2020. Initially founded in 2013 in response to George Zimmerman’s acquittal in the 2012 shooting of Trayvon Martin, BLM quickly grew in the mid to late 2010’s following numerous other police shooting deaths of African Americans, as well as other external factors such as the election of Donald Trump in 2016 and an increase in voter ID laws in numerous states. In 2020, BLM faced its biggest moment in helping orchestrate protests nationwide following the shooting death of George Floyd. Record donations poured in in 2020 and 2021 in response to the protests, as well as BLM’s role in defunding numerous law enforcement agencies until a rise in crime backlash caused many of those de-fundings to stop or are to be reversed soon.
As a result, with a record number of funds going to BLM and BLMGNF, Kahn-Cullors and others proceeded to buy several expensive homes. Last month, it was revealed that the extent of how many homes were bought and how much they cost were far greater than most realized. According to New York Magazine, this included a $6 million house that had not originally been disclosed in the initial report of $3.2 million in houses purchased in LA and Atlanta by BLM leaders. The 6,500 square foot, seven bedroom house was purchased with Black Lives Matter Global Network Foundation (BLMGNF) funds in October 2020 by Dyane Pascall shortly after over $66 million came in from sponsors that September.
The house was immediately linked to BLM leadership by Pascall being the financial manager for the Janaya and Patrisse Consulting Firm. The firm itself is owned by Kahn-Cullors and her spouse Janaya Kahn. Initially hidden, group leaders had been attempting to say that the house, known internally as “Campus” would be used for either a safe house for BLM leaders when threatened or as a space for artists and influencers. However, when asked about the house in March by journalists, BLM officials tried to downplay the cost and bury the story in the coming days. The report came out anyway in April.
Since the report, BLM has been the target of growing criticism, with many former BLM supporters and civil rights leaders blasting the organization for making such reckless purchases that could easily be criticized by opponents.
Kahn-Cullors finally responded to criticism on Monday by saying that BLM received a rush of money in 2020 in the wake of the George Floyd protests and had to quickly figure out where the money was to go and how to grow quickly. The purchase of the expensive homes, according to Kahn-Cullors, was to give the organizations assets and give the group property that few other similar organizations could have.
“On paper, it looks crazy,” said the former BLM leader. “We use this term in our movement a lot, which is we’re building the plane while flying it. I don’t believe in that anymore. The only regret I have with BLM is wishing that we could have paused for one to two years, to just not do any work and just focus on the infrastructure.
“We really wanted to make sure that the global network foundation had an asset that wasn’t just financial resources and we understood that not many Black-led organizations have property. They don’t own their property.”
The $6 million LA house controversy
Kahn Cullors also explained that she did not profit from BLM, and had only used BLM property twice for personal purposes.
“The idea that BLM received millions of dollars and then I hid those dollars in my bank account is absolutely false,” added Kahn-Cullors. “That’s a false narrative. It’s impacted me personally and professionally, that people would accuse me of stealing from Black people. I should not have used the property for any personal reason. I look back at that and think, that probably wasn’t the best idea.”
“I thought practicing radical transparency with Black people would have been received well. What was unhelpful about releasing it was not getting enough people allying with us about it. We weren’t the only organization to receive millions of dollars.”
However, Kahn-Cullor’s explanation was received coolly on Monday. Many civil rights and non-proft group members continued to criticize her and BLM for how they spent and managed the money.
“I acknowledge that having to expand rapidly after suddenly getting $90 million in a few months is a big project for any group to go through,” said Hector Webster, a civil rights teacher in Northern California, to the Globe. “But that money could have gone to so many places and people instead of these houses in LA. When the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and the NAACP received donations in the 60’s, they really didn’t buy any expensive property. A lot they spent on organizing and hiring the best people to bring about change. Yes, it was slower, but it worked. [Former NAACP President] Roy Wilkins was a genius and had the right people put the money to where it was needed. BLM? They failed to do that. Still are really.”
Others had similar responses, but to a more local level.
“That is not how you engage the community and keep up with the people,” explained Mandala Jackson, a non-profit low-income housing coordinator and advisor, to the Globe on Monday. “Expensive houses, yeah people going to them will feel cool for a day when they go, but their minds always go back to saying ‘How much did this cost? That could have fed or housed a lot of people!'”
“You know how you do it? You buy some modest or cheap homes in rough areas or around people who would benefit the most. There you can bring the community together and make it an easy place for people to travel to and gather, as well as make it emergency housing for a needy family, hand out food and clothes, organize drives and protests, so much. A lot of poor supporters won’t be able to get to these expensive areas easily enough.”
“It’s not that they shouldn’t have property. In fact, it should be encouraged, if not for anything but to have an address you can’t easily be kicked out of. But they went about this the wrong way, and all attempts to rectify it, by being transparent after the fact, only made it worse.”
BLM and BLMGNF have yet to respond to Kahn-Cullors response as of Monday evening.