Today, we should be talking about Biden’s “Safer America Plan,” which funds the police and enables and encourages state-sanctioned violence against our communities. We should be talking about the water crisis in Jackson, where white supremacist leaders have allowed the city’s water system to fail, which is endangering and killing our people. We should be talking about how Black people are still seeking liberation across the globe. We should be strengthening each other as Black movement practitioners as we work toward our shared goal of ending state-sanctioned violence. We should be taking steps to create a society free of prisons, police, and racial injustice. We should be focused on the work — the work of liberation and Black joy.
Instead, we face, yet again, another round of struggle for “control” of one organization. This time, by people who say they love Black people and center abolitionist values but whose actions are furthest from movement principles of courageous conversations, reconciliation, and finding pathways for peace and understanding.
“One of the things that has to be faced is the process of waiting to change the system, how much we have got to do to find out who we are, where we have come from, and where we are going.” “Strong people don’t need strong leaders.” “Give light, and people will find the way.” — Ella Baker
Black Lives Matter Global Network Foundation (BLMGNF) is here to give light and fight for Black liberation. Make no mistake, the allegations of Melina Abdullah and BLM Grassroots (BLMGR) are false. They are slanderous and devoid of reality.
As the newly assembled Black Lives Matter Global Network Foundation (BLMGNF) Board of Directors, we were onboarded to bring the organization into compliance, and along the way we have done our due-diligence to honor the vision the founders left behind. We are disappointed and dismayed at the false narrative created by Melina Abdullah and Black Lives Matter Grassroots (“BLMGR”) during its press conference today. Nevertheless, BLMGNF will remain focused on our mission and continue evolving into a foundation that funds frontline liberation organizations and focuses not only on responding to Black death, but on centering Black life and the pursuit of Black joy. And we have always been clear, no one has ownership over the movement. As with all aspects of this movement, there’s no sole leadership nor should responsibility be placed on one person.
We, the Board, have zero interest in taking significant time away from our work towards building a solid, trusted Foundation. We are focused on the future and have been deeply engaged with and committed to Black liberation work. BLMGNF is a non-profit philanthropic organization committed to managing its current assets transparently and with accountability under its new leadership team. We have no desire and little time to put private business out in the street. However, Melina Abdullah, BLMGR, and its leadership seem intent on fighting publicly about their desire to control the entirety of Black Lives Matter.
The BLMGNF Board requested – on over ten occasions – private mediation or meetings with Melina Abdullah and BLM Grassroots, including and regarding social media policies. We did so in order to stay true to principles of abolition — resolving issues through conflict mediation rather than falling victim to the carceral logic and social violence that fuels the legal system. But Melina Abdullah and BLMGR ignored or refused our offers. To the contrary, they would rather take the same steps of our white oppressors and utilize the criminal legal system which is propped up by white supremacy (the same system they say they want to dismantle) to solve movement disputes. In particular, Melina Abdullah and BLMGR’s storytelling concerning the current BLMGNF Board is harmful, divisive, and false. It only gives fodder to right-wing media’s clear agenda of sowing distrust and division among Black folks, and it is in deep contrast to abolitionist values and the fight for Black liberation. Therefore, BLMGNF is forced to respond publicly to Melina and BLMGR’s attacks against BLMGNF and its current leadership. So respond we will, with love, facts, and a spirit of transparency which has been our focus over the last six months, as noted by the release of our IRS Form 990 and our BLM Transparency Center.
Melina Abdullah and BLMGR have taken issue with the decision-making coming from BLMGNF leadership after Patrisse Cullors’ departure from the Foundation. Shalomyah Bowers was duly and legally appointed by the previous board to continue building out the foundation as a Board member. However, they are mistaken in affixing decisions they take issue with to the current leadership. Following Patrisse’s departure, no decision has ever been made unilaterally, nor has one ever been made unfounded. All decisions have been made in pursuit of building BLMGNF towards sustainability and impact.
BLMGR and Melina Abdullah take issue with not being given control of all financial assets and the social media accounts of BLMGNF after Patrisse Cullors stepped down from BLMGNF in June 2021. Since Patrisse’s departure, Melina Abdullah and BLM Grassroots have sent threatening letters and attacked the livelihood of BLMGNF’s Board members directly. Not only have they demanded the resignation of current BLMGNF leadership in efforts to seize the financial resources of BLMGNF via intimidation tactics, but they have quite literally forced the firing of a BLMGNF Board member from her job, threatening her livelihood, and removed her from her activist community. Melina Abdullah has attempted to bully the BLMGNF Board into submission to her will. This press conference is its latest attempt to assert a false version of events and create enemies out of fellow movement leaders and impacted family members.
As an example, BLMGR and Melina Abdullah claim that they have not had access to BLMGNF social media accounts. Yet, Melina Abdullah posted to BLMGNF’s Facebook page just four days ago, clearly demonstrating that she has been able to use BLMGNF’s platform for her work on behalf of BLM Grassroots. In the last few months, BLMGNF created and shared a social media policy to make it more equitable for all grassroots voices to submit content concerning the great abolitionist work they are doing in their respective communities. The intent of this policy was to elevate all Black abolitionists nationwide. As a result, grassroots content, including BLMGR content, is posted on BLMGNF’s social media channels after the appropriate request procedure is followed. This policy has been shared with BLMGR, and Melina Abdullah has been personally invited to continue sending content to BLMGNF for sharing.
Lastly, BLMGR and Melina Abdullah read a press statement claiming that Patrisse Cullors created a transition plan giving all of BLMGNF’s assets to BLM Grassroots. That is absolutely false. In fact, that statement in the press release was recanted by Patrisse and her team. No such plan exists or ever has. In fact, when Patrisse Cullors stepped down from being the sole decision maker, executive director, and sole board member of BLMGNF in June 2021, she appointed a five person “Leadership Council” — created in the spirit of our foremother Ella Baker — to handle decision making and the new direction of BLMGNF. While BLMGNF and its then Leadership Council discussed transferring certain assets to BLM Grassroots under Melina Abdullah’s leadership, that course of action changed when the Leadership Council received a letter in January 2022 from BLM Grassroots leaders detailing countless allegations of Melina Abdullah’s financial malfeasance, unprincipled decision making, and a leadership style rooted in retribution and intimidation. Here are some excerpts from the letter:
- “I’m writing to you today with some serious concerns about the management and operations of Black Lives Matter Grassroots. As this is the body that is currently entrusted with the Tides Collective Action fund, and as there is serious consideration about transitioning the Black Lives Matter Global Network Foundation over to this body, I feel a sense of urgency in letting you know how things are currently operating. It is my view that the Black Lives Matter Grassroots team, of which I am a part, is ill-equipped at this time to run and manage a multi-million dollar organization. In the over two years we have been working together, we have been unable to build an infrastructure through which the organization can operate.”
- “We have a leadership problem. As much as we are calling ourselves a leaderful organization, we have over the last two years, permitted leadership power to concentrate to one person. That is antithetical to the way we describe ourselves. The consequences are significant.”
- “Additionally, some members of the Grassroots team secretly took a book-writing retreat trip to Jamaica without notifying the entirety of the team, or without approving a budgetary expenditure.”
- “Members who have been temporarily absent due to health concerns or concerns for sick family members during the pandemic have led to insistence that their stipends be suspended without notice or discussion. The Director has unilaterally made decisions to this effect, leading to a toxic work environment. Directors should not have this singular power.”
- “Apparently, a budget exceeding $7 million has been created. This was not collaboratively created, or approved by the entirety of the Grassroots team. In fact, members of the Grassroots team who have been calling for these anti-democratic procedures to be addressed have been removed from viewing the document. As an organization that has failed to hire even one full-time staff member, a $7 million budget is unlikely to be well-managed.”
- “As a result of the power imbalance on our team, ideas that do not originate from Los Angeles tend to be met with deep scrutiny or ignored. This means that initiatives to support grassroots movement initiatives are significantly imbalanced. If the Grassroots team is meant to support international and domestic organizing from all over the country, trends from the last two years of work suggest that this team will not be interested in doing so.”
These are just a few points from the letter described above. Moreover, BLMGNF leadership received other similar red flags, which resulted in the termination of discussions around transitioning the organization to Melina Abdullah and BLMGR.
The soundness in the decision not to transfer further assets of BLMGNF — beyond the $7 million Melina Abdullah and BLMGR already received this year — was reinforced when BLMGNF learned that BLMGR leaders were giving themselves $10,000 monthly stipends while claiming they were “volunteer leaders,” instead of allotting those resources to either further developing their own Grassroots infrastructure or redirecting those funds to local organizers and families they purport to support. BLMGR also was not a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization at that time. In what appears to be a conflict of interest, money was going through Angela Austin’s organization, One Love Global, while Austin was also reporting directly to Melina Abdullah in her capacity as the leader of BLM Michigan and member of BLMGR. Until recently, Melina and BLMGR were heavily reliant on the operations and management support of BLMGNF towards executing their projects.
The BLMGNF Board of Directors has been consistent and truthful — even in the face of right wing media attacks that have created doubt and distrust among the Black communities we aim to protect and support. We will not be quiet or idle while lies are spread about our work and our integrity.
Our hearts are broken at this moment because white supremacy is the winner when movement leaders take the approach of publicly “calling out” comrades instead of “calling-in.” It is nonstrategic, short-sighted, and a trauma response rooted in the scarcity that white supremacy and capitalism has cultivated in our communities. It reflects a pattern that we see when money becomes the motivator. We are serious about deconstructing and decolonizing philanthropy because existing funding models continue to tear apart visionary organizations and foster a spirit of distrust, greed, and resentment. We as Black people and Black-led organizations cannot continue spending all of our precious time and energy fighting and tearing each other down. That is using the oppressor’s tools.
While the filing of our 990, navigating right wing media assaults, and compliance with state regulations has demanded our attention for much of the last six months, we are looking forward to officially announcing our staff search, uplifting our continued investments in Black arts and culture, and sharing new initiatives including grants and debt relief that will directly help Black people across the country. We look forward to resolving this dispute and Melina and BLMGR’s baseless claims quickly, and moving towards achieving our vision of the Black Lives Matter Global Network Foundation as a hub for funding Black liberation and investing in Black joy.