WASHINGTON DC (AP) – A Black Lives Matter co-founder announced Thursday that she was stepping down as executive director of the movement’s foundation. She opposed a so-called smear campaign by a far-right group, but said that neither this nor recent criticism from other black organizers influenced her departure.
Patrisse Cullors, who has headed the Black Lives Matter Global Network Foundation for nearly six years, said she will focus on other projects including the upcoming release of her second book and a multi-year TV development deal with Warner Bros. Her final day with the foundation is Friday.
“I have the infrastructure and support and the bones and foundations necessary to walk,” Cullors told The Associated Press. “It feels like the time is right.”
Cullors’ departure follows a massive surge in support and political influence in the US and around the world for the BLM movement, which was founded nearly eight years ago in response to injustice against black Americans. The resignation also follows controversy over the Foundation’s finances and over Cullors’ personal wealth.
The 37-year-old activist said her resignation had been in the works for more than a year and had nothing to do with personal attacks by far-right groups or disagreements within the movement.
“These were right-wing attacks that tried to discredit my character and I don’t take what the right-wing thinks of me,” said Cullors.
Upon her departure, the foundation will bring two new temporary executives on board to steer her in the near future: Monifa Bandele, a longtime BLM organizer and founder of the Malcolm X Grassroots movement in New York City, and Makani Themba, an early supporter of the BLM movement and chief strategist at Higher Ground Change Strategies in Jackson, Mississippi.
“I think both of them not only have a wealth of movement experience, but also a wealth of leadership experience,” said Cullors.
The BLM Foundation announced to the AP in February that it raised just over $ 90 million last year after the murder of George Floyd in May 2020, a black man whose last breath was below the knee of a white one Minneapolis police officers led to protests around the world. The foundation announced it ended 2020 on more than $ 60 million after spending nearly a quarter of its fortune on operating expenses, grants to black-run organizations, and other donations.
Critics of the foundation claim that more of this money should have gone to the families of black victims of police brutality who were unable to access the resources needed to cope with their trauma and loss.
“That’s the most tragic part,” said Rev. T. Sheri Dickerson, president of a BLM chapter in Oklahoma City and representative of # BLM10, a national group of organizers the foundation has publicly criticized for funding and transparency.
“I know some of (the families) feel exploited, their pain exploited, and that’s not something I would ever want to be associated with,” said Dickerson.
Cullors and the Foundation have stated that they are supporting families without making public announcements or disclosing any dollar amounts.
In 2020, the BLM Foundation spun off its chapter network as a sister collective called BLM Grassroots in order to expand its capacities as a philanthropic organization. Although many groups use “Black Lives Matter” or “BLM” in their names, fewer than a dozen are considered to be members of the Chapter Network.
Last month, Cullors was targeted by several conservative publications falsely claiming she stole a large annual salary from the foundation to recently buy a home in Southern California.
In April, the foundation stated that Cullors was a volunteer executive director who prior to 2019 “had received a total of US $ 120,000 since the organization was founded in 2013 for such tasks as serving as spokespersons and doing political education.”
“As a registered 501c3 non-profit organization (the Foundation), organizational resources for the purchase of personal property by an employee or volunteer could not and has not been made available,” the foundation said in a statement. “Any suggestion or assertion to the contrary is categorically wrong.”
In 2018, Cullors published If They Call You A Terrorist: A Reminder Of Black Life Matter, which became a New York Times bestseller. She has also consulted a number of racial justice projects outside of BLM and received compensation for this work in her personal capacity.
She and the BLM movement have come a long way since its inception as a social media hashtag after George Zimmerman, the volunteer neighborhood guard who killed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in Florida, was acquitted in 2013.
Cullors, along with BLM co-founders Alicia Garza and Opal Tometi, promised to build a decentralized movement ruled by the consensus of a membership collective. A network of chapters was formed in 2015 while donations and support poured in. Garza and Tometi soon resigned from daily involvement in the network to focus on their own projects.
Cullors, who was arguably the most publicly known of the co-founders, was named the foundation’s full-time executive director last year out of necessity, she said.
“We needed them,” said Melina Abdullah, who heads BLM Grassroots and co-founded the first official chapter of BLM in Los Angeles with Cullors.
“George Floyd was killed and the whole world was resurrected,” Abdullah told the AP. “I want it to be there forever, but I also know that it can’t be done. The real test of an organization is whether it can survive the departure of its founders. And I have no question that Black Lives Matter will survive and grow and evolve even if our ultimate co-founder takes on a formal role. “
On October 5th, St. Martin’s Press will publish Cullors’ latest book, “An Abolitionists Handbook,” which is their guide for activists on how to care for one another and resolve internal conflicts while battling systemic racism. Cullors also develops and produces original cable and streaming TV content that focuses on black stories under a multi-year contract with Warner Bros.
The first of her TV projects will debut in July, she said.
“I think I’ll probably be less visible because I’m not currently at the head of one of the largest and most controversial organizations in the history of our movement,” said Cullors.
“I know that I am a leader and I don’t shy away from it. But no movement is a leader. “