Black Lives Matter and the $6m luxury mansion
Founders of one of the movement’s wealthiest organisations accused of attempting to hide property purchase
The leaders of the largest organisation in the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement used $6m (£4.5m) in donations to buy a California mansion, an investigation has found.
According to New York Magazine, the 6,500 sq ft property was purchased “in cash” in October 2020 with money that had been given to the Black Lives Matter Global Network Foundation (BLMGNF).
The non-profit organisation’s “leadership had hoped to keep the house’s existence a secret”, wrote investigative journalist Sean Campbell. An “internal strategy memo” reportedly circulated after Campbell began asking questions was said to include queries about whether “we kill the story” and suggestions that “our angle” should be “to deflate ownership of the property”.
BLMGN is often referred to as just “Black Lives Matter”, but is not the sole organisation within the loosely affiliated, US-based social movement.
In 2020, Politico reported that “ten local chapters” of the BLM movement were “severing ties” with BLMGN. The groups were “furious” that the foundation’s co-founder Patrisse Cullors had “assumed the role of executive director” and was making “decisions without their input”, the news site said.
In his New York Magazine expose, Campbell alleged that the luxury California mansion was bought by the financial manager of Janaya and Patrisse Consulting, a company operated by Cullors and her spouse, Janaya Khan.
Dyane Pascall reportedly purchased the property two weeks after BLMGNF received $66.5m (£50.4m) in donations in “an outpouring of contributions” following George Floyd’s murder by former police officer Derek Chauvin.
Within days, Pascall “transferred ownership of the house to an LLC established in Delaware”, a “manoeuvre” that ensured “the ultimate identity of the property’s new owner was not disclosed to the public”, Campbell wrote. An LLC – or limited liability company – does not require the owners or managers to provide their identities.
Documents relating to the sale suggest “it has been handled in ways that blur, or cross, boundaries between the charity and private companies owned by some of its leaders”, Campbell continued.
Shortly after the transfer of ownership, BLMGNF bosses “began using the house in various ways, including as a set for recording videos and staying overnight when they didn’t feel safe at their own homes”.
Real-estate listings show that the mansion – known within the foundation as the Campus – has “more than half a dozen bedrooms and bathrooms, several fireplaces, a soundstage, a pool and bungalow and parking for more than 20 cars”, added Campbell.
In an emailed statement to the New York Magazine on 1 April, BLMGNF board member Shalomyah Bowers said the organisation had bought property “with the intention for it to serve as housing and studio space for recipients of the Black Joy Creators Fellowship”.
The fellowship was “announced the following morning”, Campbell reported.
The renovated 1930s “farmhouse” has a “custom-made wrought-iron staircase, marble-lined bathrooms, recessed lighting fixtures, digital cameras and thermostats”, the New York Post reported.
The property also includes “a private yard with an elaborate playset and a chicken coop”, and “a sound stage, music studio, pool and a two-bedroom guest house”, the paper said. A listing for the property reportedly said that “Marilyn Monroe and Humphrey Bogart were a few A-listers who stayed as guests in this estate”.
However, the exact location of the “opulent” property is “unclear”, said the Daily Mail, “because it is hidden behind an LLC purchase”.
The property purchase row has triggered an outpouring of criticism of BLMGNF. Civil rights attorney Leo Terrell questioned what the organisation had accomplished to benefit black Americans while its leaders were living like “the rich and famous”.
Terrell told Fox News that Floyd’s death had been exploited for profit, adding: “It is basically blood money. It’s sickening and it’s embarrassing.”
Missouri-based activist Tory Russell told New York Magazine that the foundation bosses should be living “in shame”. The mansion was “a waste of resources”, said Russell, who added that he had seen some local activists facing poverty and even homelessness.
Fellow Missouri-based activist Ashley Yates tweeted that she had been “housing insecure for YEARS while people who built careers off my work and others’ buy mansion after mansion”.
“If black people had any protection, we’d have recourse against vultures like the women that control ‘BLM’,” Yates added.
Even if the California mansion buy was not “illegal or even unethical”, it might be “unstrategic”, said Jacob Harold, co-founder of information service Candid, an organisation that tracks spending in the charitable sector.
Harold told New York Magazine that questions remained over why BLMGNF had not spent the money on policy or “other strategies that an organisation might take to address the core issues around Black Lives Matter”.
The “lack of transparency and possible impropriety from a highly visible and deeply polarising non-profit is, of course, not at all a good look”, said Los Angeles Magazine. The foundation has “provided fodder for right-wing talking heads to disparage the organisation and movement”.
And the mansion row is not the first time that BLMGNF has faced intense scrutiny over its financial management.
In April last year, the New York Post reported that co-founder Cullors had spent a total of $3.2m (£2.4m) buying three “high-end US homes” in the LA area and another near Atlanta in Georgia.
Cullors sold the Atlanta property months later and resigned from the organisation in May 2021.