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St. Louis Post-Dispatch
St. Louis Post-Dispatch
St. Louis Post-Dispatch Editorial Board

Editorial: Black Lives Matter is a good cause. Gross financial mismanagement is not

A closer inspection of the nonprofit tax form filed by the Black Lives Matter Global Network Foundation reveals even more unseemly details about the group’s financial mismanagement than previously known. The group came under initial scrutiny after New York Magazine reported that the organization had secretly purchased a $6 million mansion in Los Angeles that had occasionally served for board members’ private enjoyment.

Black Lives Matter was founded in 2013 after a self-appointed neighborhood security enthusiast stalked and killed Black teenager Trayvon Martin in Florida, then was acquitted. The movement’s funding and following grew dramatically in 2014 after an officer shot and killed Michael Brown Jr. in Ferguson. It had another major surge, reaching $90 million in funding, in 2020 after police in Minnesota murdered George Floyd.

The causes were absolutely the right ones: promoting social justice and organizing to fight all forms of racial oppression. But the group’s founders were rank amateurs who apparently had no idea how to run a nonprofit and ensure proper financial management so that generous donations weren’t wasted or abused.

Local Black Lives Matter chapters formed across the country, with 12 of them receiving grants of $500,000 each, The Associated Press reported. Family foundations formed in honor of Martin received $200,000 contributions, while the foundation formed by Brown’s mother, Lezley McSpadden, received $1.4 million.

But the big money was doled out internally. More than $2.1 million went to Bowers Consulting for operational support, staffing and fundraising. That firm belongs to Shalomyah Bowers, the foundation’s former deputy executive director. Another $840,000 went to Cullors Protection LLC, owned by the brother of Patrisse Cullors, the foundation’s co-founder and executive director. Another $970,000 went to a company founded by Damon Turner, the father of Cullors’ child.

In all, this has the distinct odor of personal enrichment and nepotism. It’s hardly the first time philanthropy has been abused, nor is it the first time that those caught in the act offered up flimsy excuses. Despite being 9 years old, it wasn’t until recently that the organization filled out its first Form 990, the federal tax form required of nonprofits to detail their expenditures and executive compensation.

Those forms are available for public inspection specifically so that donors can track the group’s efficiency. If a nonprofit steers a lot of funding toward administration and compensation, that’s a clear warning sign of wasteful practices — meaning that donations won’t be going to the good cause donors intended.

The natural tendency of people horrified by tragedies such as those involving Martin, Brown and Floyd is to donate generously. That’s good. But the first order for donors must be to ensure the organization and its leaders are qualified to deploy the funds properly. No one advances the cause of racial injustice with self-serving contracts and a $6 million mansion.


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