Black Lives Matter is multiple things; it’s a statement, a movement, a network of local organizations and a global network. Like anything that is a lot of things all at once, BLM has seen its share of messaging issues and clashes between activists and organizers with different visions of what the movement is and should be.
In December, The Root reported that 10 BLM chapters from 10 different cities published an open letter criticizing the BLM Global Network Foundation (BLMGNF) for its alleged lack of transparency and inclusion of local chapters in decision making and, above all, distribution of raised funds.
But recently, BLMGNF shared a financial snapshot with the Associated Press that shows the organization raised just over $90 million last year alone, and it shared plans with what it plans to do with the wealth it has accumulated. Mainly, the message appears to be that BLM needs to be more than just protests that come after a Black person has been killed unjustly.
“We want to uplift Black joy and liberation, not just Black death. We want to see Black communities thriving, not just surviving,” the organization wrote in an impact report shared with AP.
The foundation said it committed $21.7 million in grant funding to official and unofficial BLM chapters, as well as 30 Black-led local organizations. It ended 2020 with a balance of more than $60 million, after spending nearly a quarter of its assets on the grant funds and other charitable giving.
In its report, the BLM foundation said individual donations via its main fundraising platform averaged $30.76. More than 10 percent of the donations were recurring. The report does not state who gave the money in 2020, and leaders declined to name prominent donors.
Last year, the foundation’s expenses were approximately $8.4 million — that includes staffing, operating and administrative costs, along with activities such as civic engagement, rapid response and crisis intervention.
One of its focuses for 2021 will be economic justice, particularly as it relates to the ongoing socioeconomic impact of COVID-19 on Black communities.
“One of our biggest goals this year is taking the dollars we were able to raise in 2020 and building out the institution we’ve been trying to build for the last seven and a half years,” BLM co-founder Patrisse Cullors told AP.
In December, BLMGNF shared a statement with The Root in which they explained why some local BLM chapters weren’t involved in the organization’s day-to-day operations and decision making and why they don’t see much of the money that has been raised.
According to the statement, “BLM affiliated chapters are now under the BLM Grassroots umbrella, a separate entity that provides official chapters with the flexibility needed to engage in rapid response work, grassroots power building, and transformative justice grounded in abolitionist principals, which are at the core of our movement.”
The statement also explained that chapters that “are a part of BLM Grassroots joined a unity pledge that laid out a set of organizing principles,” and that none of the chapters that signed the open letter were affiliated with BLM Grassroots. (Although, four of them were previously affiliated.)
Still, according to AP, BLM DC organizer April Goggans said that the chapters behind the letter—referred to as the “BLM10"—are only asking for more say in “this thing that our names are attached to, that they are doing in our names.”
“We are BLM. We built this, each one of us,” she said.
More from AP:
Records show some chapters have received multiple rounds of funding in amounts ranging between $800 and $69,000, going back as far as 2016. The #BLM10 said the amounts given have been far from equitable when compared to how much BLM has raised over the years. But Cullors disagreed.
“Because the BLM movement was larger than life — and it is larger than life — people made very huge assumptions about what our actual finances looked like,” Cullors said. “We were often scraping for money, and this year was the first year where we were resourced in the way we deserved to be.”
The truth is that any organization that has become as huge as BLM has—a thing none of us could have imagined years ago when it was little more than a hashtag—is going to have internal struggles and external messaging problems. A lot of activists will be tempted to view this as a reason to distrust the global network—and maybe they wouldn’t be completely wrong—but an imperfect movement isn’t automatically a corrupt one.
Hopefully, by sharing its finances with the media, BLMGNF is demonstrating a willingness to be more transparent about how it operates and where the money it’s raising is going. After all, the movement and the statement that the organization grew itself from was indeed built by “each one of us.”