Black Lives Matter co-founder quits role amid controversy over $3m property portfolio

Patrisse Cullors poses for a photo - Amy Harris /Invision/AP
Patrisse Cullors poses for a photo - Amy Harris /Invision/AP

A Black Lives Matter co-founder has resigned from her role as executive director amid controversy over her $3m property portfolio.

Patrisse Cullors, who founded the racial justice movement in 2013, is a self-described “Marxist” but faced criticism after it was reported last month that she owns four properties, including a $1.4m house in Malibu and a ranch in Georgia.

The 37-year-old says she was the victim of “right-wing attacks that tried to discredit my character,” and that her resignation had long been planned because she has a new book and television deal.

"I've created the infrastructure and the support, and the necessary bones and foundation, so that I can leave," she said.

"It feels like the time is right.

“I don’t operate off of what the right thinks about me,” she added as she denied that finances had any relation to her resignation.

Black Lives Matter supporters and others march across the Brooklyn Bridge to honor George Floyd on the one year anniversary of his death on May 25, 2021 - Spencer Platt /Getty Images North America 
Black Lives Matter supporters and others march across the Brooklyn Bridge to honor George Floyd on the one year anniversary of his death on May 25, 2021 - Spencer Platt /Getty Images North America

BLM said she had "received a total of $120,000 since the organisation's inception” following the 2013 acquittal of George Zimmerman, the neighborhood watch volunteer who killed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in Florida.

This was for duties such as serving as spokesperson and engaging in political education work.

Claims that she had misused donations to purchase property were strongly denied and last month she told the Black News Channel that suggestions of financial impropriety against her were "categorically untrue and incredibly dangerous".

But she faced criticism from BLM organisers over the way she has spent her money.

“If you go around calling yourself a socialist, you have to ask how much of her own personal money is going to charitable causes,” Hawk Newsome, a Black Lives Matter organiser, told The New York Post.

"It's really sad because it makes people doubt the validity of the movement."

BLM collected $90 million in donations last year, as the movement hit the global spotlight following the murder of George Floyd by police officer Derek Chauvin, in Minneapolis.

The foundation spent a third of that sum in 2020 on operating expenses, grants to black-led organisations and other charitable giving.

But concerns have been raised as to how much of the funding was spent on racial justice programmes.

Activists called for more transparency and said more should be given to the black communities directly impacted by police brutality.

“That is the most tragic aspect,” said the Rev T Sheri Dickerson, the president of an Oklahoma City BLM chapter and a representative of the BLM10, a national group of organisers that has publicly criticised the foundation over funding and transparency.

“I know some of [the families] are feeling exploited, their pain exploited, and that’s not something that I ever want to be affiliated with.”

Ms Cullors and the foundation said that they support families without disclosing finances or making public announcements.

In 2018, Ms Cullors’ book "When They Call You a Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir” became a New York Times bestseller.

She will release a second book, "An Abolitionists Handbook”, in October and has a multi-year deal with Warner Bros to produce original content centred on black stories.

The first of her TV projects will debut in July, she said.

"I think I will probably be less visible, because I won't be at the helm of one of the largest, most controversial organisations right now in the history of our movement," Ms Cullors said.

"I'm aware that I'm a leader, and I don't shy away from that. But no movement is one leader."

As she departs, the foundation is bringing aboard two new interim senior executives to help steer it in the immediate future: Monifa Bandele, a longtime BLM organiser and founder of the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement in New York City, and Makani Themba, an early backer of the BLM movement and chief strategist at Higher Ground Change Strategies in Jackson, Mississippi.

"I think both of them come with not only a wealth of movement experience, but also a wealth of executive experience," Ms Cullors said.