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Thursday, December 7, 2023
Courthouse News Service
Thursday, December 7, 2023 | Back issues
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Lawsuit accuses Black Lives Matter head of syphoning more than $10 million from donors

The lawsuit accuses Shalomyah Bowers, the board secretary of Black Lives Matter Global Network Foundation, of using the organization as his "personal piggy bank."

(CN) — The head of the Black Lives Matter Global Network Foundation was accused of syphoning off more than $10 million in from donors, in a lawsuit filed on Thursday in Los Angeles Superior Court.

The lawsuit says that Shalomyah Bowers, the board secretary of Black Lives Matter Global Network Foundation, the non-profit organization that acts as the movement's administrative arm, used Black Lives Matter, or BLM, as his "personal piggy bank," and of "betray[ing] the public trust by self-dealing and breaching his fiduciary duties."

Bowers has taken control of Black Lives Matter's financial accounts and social media accounts, shutting out its founders and most prominent organizers, like Melina Abdullah. Abdullah, who founded BLM's Los Angeles Chapter and also heads its grassroots wing, estimates that the Global Network Foundation's financial accounts hold "over $100 million."

The Global Network Foundation's board of directors, Abdullah said, "are engaging in self dealing, enriching themselves off of the backs of people who put their blood, sweat and tears into this movement."

Bowers did not respond to an email requesting an interview. But a lengthy statement posted to the homepage of blacklivesmatter.com said, "the allegations of Melina Abdullah and BLM Grassroots (BLMGR) are false. They are slanderous and devoid of reality."

It added: "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."

For nearly a decade, Black Lives Matter has been among the most influential and effective political and social movements. It has pushed the boundaries of what is acceptable to broad swaths of left-leaning voters, urging cities and states to "defund the police" and "end white supremacy." What began as a hashtag, inspired by the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the lethal shooting of Trayvon Martin, blossomed into international recognition following the unrest over the killing of George Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer.

As cities across the country erupted into violent protests, donations poured into the Black Lives Matter organization. The group was not ready for such a windfall. After it was revealed that the group took in more than $90 million in 2020, local chapters of BLM, as well as families of victims of police shootings, wanted to know where all the money was going.

Its executive director, Patrisse Cullors, who cofounded the organization, became the subject of intense scrutiny after it was revealed she owned a number of houses, collectively worth more than $3 million. BLM later disclosed that it had paid nearly $6 million for a home in Los Angeles.

To better manage its finances and provide the public with greater transparency, Cullors helped set up the Global Network Foundation. Bowers, a consultant, was hired to run the new foundation. According to the lawsuit, Cullors explained to everyone "that Bowers would just serve in the administrative capacity and assist Ms. Cullors," and that he "did not have the ambition to 'take over and run' BLM." After the transition was complete, Cullors resigned.

"Within months," the lawsuit claims, "Bowers had run [two] 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."

"There was really no system of checks and balances that could hold him to account," said Abdullah, who said Bowers is "motivated by money and not the movement."

In March, according to the lawsuit, Bowers changed the passwords on the BLM's social media channels — including Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, each with millions of followers — shutting out Abdullah and other prominent organizers. Both sides say they requested private mediation to sort out access to BLM social media accounts; both sides say the other refused.

Abdullah said all the accusations of financial mismanagement leveled at BLM in recent years are the fault of Bowers: "Those were all decisions made by the global network foundation, not the boots on the ground."

In the statement posted on BLM's website, much the same accusations are leveled at Abdullah, citing a letter received in January 2022, pointing to Abdullah's "financial malfeasance, unprincipled decision making, and a leadership style rooted in retribution and intimidation."

"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,'" the statement adds. "It reflects a pattern that we see when money becomes the motivator."

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