Home Purchase by Black Lives Matter Foundation Scrutinized

Real estate purchases by the organization and its leadership have been the source of controversy before.

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In April 2021, news reports by the celebrity real estate gossip site Dirt and the New York Post created an internet dustup.

The publications reported that Black Lives Matter Co-Founder Patrisse Cullors had purchased homes, one in Georgia and several in the Los Angeles area, which led to accusations that donations from massive Black Lives Matter protests in 2020 had been misappropriated.

Both Cullors and the Black Lives Matter Global Network Foundation (BLMGN), of which she was the executive director at the time, denied the allegations.

Almost exactly one year later, revelations of another, larger real estate purchase, this time by the foundation, sparked fresh controversy.

On April 4, 2022, an investigative report by New York Magazine’s Intelligencer revealed that BLMGN purchased a $6 million, 6,500-square-foot home in Southern California replete with a pool, sound stage, at least half a dozen bedrooms and bathrooms, and a bungalow.

The home, dubbed the Campus, the Intelligencer reported, was purchased in October 2020, “with money that had been donated to BLMGNF.” The transaction had not yet been publicly reported, and the foundation’s leaders had “hoped to keep the house’s existence a secret.”

We reached out to BLMGN asking about the Intelligencer’s story. BLMGN Board Member Shalomyah Bowers responded with an emailed statement saying the group planned to disclose the home purchase in its upcoming IRS financial filing, due May 15, 2022.

The house doesn’t serve as a personal residence, Bowers said. It’s intended for studio space and housing for recipients of the Black Joy Creators Fellowship:

“The fellowship provides recording resources and dedicated space for Black creatives to launch content online and in real life focused on abolition, healing justice, urban agriculture and food justice, pop culture, activism, and politics. Providing housing is an established practice for creators and artists.”

The Intelligencer report cited internal BLM chat messages, documents that “suggest that [the home purchase] has been handled in ways that blur, or cross, boundaries between the charity and private companies owned by some of its leaders.”

Citing leaked internal communications, Intelligencer journalist Sean Kevin Campbell reported that after he inquired about the home, BLMGN officials strategized on how to respond. They floated describing the home as a “safehouse” for movement leaders who felt their safety compromised; as a place of content production to promote the movement’s values; downplaying ownership; or attempting to kill the story altogether.

The April 2021 Controversy

On April 7, 2021, Dirt reported that Cullors and her spouse, Janaya Khan, had purchased a $1.4 million home in Topanga Canyon, a leafy, offbeat Los Angeles neighborhood in the hills northwest of Downtown.

And the New York Post reported that Cullors had gone on a “million-dollar real estate buying binge,” citing public records to lay out purchases for the aggregated amount of $3.2 million for several homes, including properties in Topanga Canyon, Inglewood, South Los Angeles, and Georgia.

As we reported at the time, the stories had the combined effect of sparking a wave of accusations that Cullors, who had been at the forefront of massive civil rights protests in the spring and summer of 2020 over the police killings of Black Americans, misappropriated millions of dollars of donation money collected by the newly formed BLMGN foundation, to purchase the homes.

Cullors resigned from her role as executive director of the foundation in May 2021, stating she wanted to pursue other ventures. In April 2021, a spokesperson for the foundation told Snopes in an email that Cullors had been paid a total of $120,000 between the organization’s inception in 2013 through 2019. After 2019, she didn’t receive any compensation, per the statement.

At the time, the foundation directly denied allegations that donations had been used to buy personal property, emailing Snopes a statement on April 14, 2021, that said, in part:

“To be abundantly clear, as a registered 501c3, BLMGNF cannot and did not commit any organizational resources toward the purchase of personal property by any employee or volunteer. Any insinuation or assertion to the contrary is categorically false.”

In 2021, we found no evidence that Cullors had used donated money to buy the homes cited by Dirt and the New York Post, and noted that Cullors, a public figure with multiple ventures, had her own sources of wealth. For example, Cullors co-authored the New York Times bestseller book “When They Call You a Terrorist,” and had struck a deal with Warner Brothers to help the network develop programming.

In February 2021, BLMGN disclosed it had raised $90 million in donations in 2020. The 2021 revelations about home purchases created tensions over finances within the decentralized movement, namely bitter accusations that while BLMGN was flush with cash, activists on the ground and various chapters languished. Meanwhile, families of victims of police violence slammed the group for using their loved ones’ names to raise cash while failing to assist them.

When the stories broke, we were unable to independently verify the home purchases. But in the 2022 Intelligencer report, Black Lives Matter movement leaders indirectly acknowledged that Cullors had purchased homes, though the story doesn’t give specifics:

“I think they’ve attempted to cancel us, but they have not been successful in canceling us,” [BLM leader Melina] Abdullah said at another point in the conversation. “They’ve attempted to say — and I’m just gonna say it — ‘She bought some damn houses. We gonna cancel her.’” [BLM leader Alicia] Garza cut in with a comment seemingly addressed to critics: “Y’all don’t know shit about what it takes to live in a box here.”

We asked BLMGN for an updated amount the organization has collected from donations to date, but didn’t get a response in time for publication. We will update this story when and if we do.

Sources:

Campbell, Sean Kevin. “Black Lives Matter Secretly Bought a $6 Million House.” Intelligencer, 4 Apr. 2022, https://nymag.com/intelligencer/2022/04/black-lives-matter-6-million-dollar-house.html.

Vincent, Isabel. “Inside BLM Co-Founder Patrisse Khan-Cullors’ Million-Dollar Real Estate Buying Binge.” New York Post, 10 Apr. 2021, https://nypost.com/2021/04/10/inside-blm-co-founder-patrisse-khan-cullors-real-estate-buying-binge/.

David, Mark. “Black Lives Matter Co-Founder Patrisse Khan-Cullors Lands Topanga Canyon Compound.” DIRT, 7 Apr. 2021, https://www.dirt.com/gallery/more-dirt/politicians/black-lives-matter-co-founder-patrisse-khan-cullors-lands-topanga-canyon-compound-1203374803/.

Connelly, Eileen AJ and Isabel Vincent “Father of Teen Whose Death Sparked BLM Blasts Organization’s Leadership.” New York Post, 12 June 2021, https://nypost.com/2021/06/12/father-of-teen-whose-death-sparked-blm-blasts-organizations-leadership/.