- Black Lives Matter’s “on-the-ground” activism organization is suing the BLM Global Network Foundation.
- BLM GNF leader Shalomyah Bowers is accused of siphoning $10 million from funds meant to support BLM organizing.
- The lawsuit represents another high-profile display of infighting at the organizations that led the BLM movement in 2020.
A group of Black Lives Matter activists accused an administrator of the Black Lives Matter Global Network Foundation, a nonprofit that collects donations on behalf of the movement, of siphoning $10 million in donations, according to a lawsuit.
The suit filed last week in a Los Angeles court on behalf of Black Lives Matter Grassroots, the “on-the-ground” organizing arm of BLM, alleges that Shalomyah Bowers, who was hired by the BLM Global Network Foundation to manage its donation fund , refused to resign after calls to do so from more than 300 BLM members and uprooted plans to transfer control of the organization to BLM Grassroots.
“Mr. Bowers decided he could not let go of his personal piggy bank… Instead, he continued to betray public trust by self-dealing and breaching his fiduciary duties,” the lawsuit states.
The lawsuit says Bowers diverted donations “to his own coffers” and took “calculated steps” to prevent the funds from being used by BLM Grassroots after recent incidents, like the mass shooting in Buffalo and police shooting of Jayland Walker in Akron, Ohio.
The foundation called the allegations “slanderous and devoid of reality.”
A ‘fight for the soul’ of BLM
Black Lives Matter Grassroots announced the lawsuit at a press conference last week, declaring it a “fight for the soul of #BlackLivesMatter.” The group is fronted by Melina Abdullah, the leader of Black Lives Matter’s Los Angeles chapter.
“Sometimes the existing system uses people who look like us to advance its interests,” Abdullah said at the press conference, flanked by fellow activists. “It’s much more difficult to have to face challenges from within. But that’s what we’re doing right now.”
Bowers and his consulting firm, Bowers Consulting, were hired in the fall of 2020 by Patrisse Cullors, former executive director of the BLM Global Network Foundation and a BLM co-founder, to help administer the foundation’s fund after it saw an unprecedented influx of donations during the George Floyd protests that erupted across the country in the summer of 2020, according to the lawsuit.
When Cullors decided to step down as executive director of the foundation in May of last year, she initiated a transition plan that would transfer control of the organization to Black Lives Matter Grassroots, according to the lawsuit. Cullors appointed two BLM members, Monifa Bandele and Makani Themba, as co-senior executives to oversee the transition, while Bowers remained in his administrative role, according to the lawsuit.
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“Within months, Bowers had run these well-respected advocates out of the organization. Through a series of misrepresentations and unauthorized backroom dealings, Mr. Bowers managed to steal control over GNF as the sole board member and officer,” the lawsuit states.
Bowers, who had earned $2.1 million in his role at the foundation, then began appointing board members from his own consulting firm, issuing grants to his own firm and “less-aligned organizations who agreed to hire the firm,” the lawsuit alleges.
“At all times, GNF continued to raise money under the auspices that it was being used to support the work of BLM Grassroots,” the lawsuit states. The BLM Global Network Foundation is now under investigation by the Internal Revenue Service and multiple state attorneys general, according to the lawsuit.
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Locked out of social media accounts
The lawsuit alleges that the foundation, now under the control of Bowers, locked BLM Grassroots organizers out of the foundation’s social media accounts by changing the password in March, hampering BLM Grassroots’ ability to disseminate information about its organizing.
It also alleges the foundation failed to end BLM Grassroots’ recent activism.
“GNF requested the Fund be given wholly to GNF and no longer be used to support the work of BLM Grassroots,” the lawsuit reads.
A lawyer for Bowers and the foundation released a copy of an independent audit Monday it said proved there was no wrongdoing.
“Under Shalomyah Bowers’ leadership and the work of Bowers Consulting, BLMGNF has charted a path of responsibility,” a statement from the lawyer, Byron McClain, reads. “The exact opposite of what Melina Abdullah and BLM Grassroots’ baseless lawsuit claims.”
Last week, the foundation denied that a plan to transition the organization to BLM Grassroots was ever enacted, and accused BLM Grassroots leaders of giving themselves $10,000 monthly stipends. It also said it received several letters from members alleging “financial malfeasance” by Abdullah.
The lawsuit marks the latest public example of internal strife plaguing the organizations leading the BLM movement, whose leadership has come under great scrutiny in the last two years after the 2020 protests.
Last year, a band of local BLM-affiliated groups publicly denounced both the foundation and BLM Grassroots, citing a lack of accountability and transparency from the organizations. And in April, the foundation faced widespread criticism and a media firestorm after a report revealed that it had purchased a $6 million home to serve as a campus for activists.