The Black Lives Matter Foundation raised millions of dollars in donations. But it is not associated with the Black Lives Matter movement that sparked worldwide protests against police brutality.
BuzzFeed reports the “charitable organization” raised at least $4.35 million in early June, according to estimates. The Black Lives Matter Foundation is based in Santa Clarita, California and has one paid employee: its founder Robert Ray Barnes.
In a statement to BuzzFeed, Barnes said the foundation is not associated with the one behind the global movement.
“I don’t have anything to do with the Black Lives Matter Global Network. I never met them, never spoke to them,” Barnes said. “Our whole thing is having unity with the police department.”
He also refused to tell the outlet how much his foundation has raised in total. Tax filings shows it took in $279,000 in donations in 2017. It collects donations through PayPal, GoFundMe, and employer matching programs, furthering the confusion.
The foundation’s purpose vastly differs from the Black Lives Matter Global Network Foundation, Inc., which the original movement is formally filed under. The original Black Lives Matter movement is focused on defunding law enforcement and reallocating those funds to invest in communities. It does not advocate for working with the police.
“The Santa Clarita group is improperly using our name,” a Black Lives Matter Global Network spokesperson told BuzzFeed. “We intend to call them out and follow up.”
In a mission statement posted to Benevity, the charity donation platform that Apple, Google, and other companies use to encourage employee donations, the Black Lives Matter Foundation writes, “Something must be done to heal the riffs [sic] between some communities and the police.”
The statement, quoting both the Harry Potter series and Barack Obama, outlines a plan for “Community Organized Programs” that would not only host buffet dinners for certain communities and police officers, but also distribute positive pamphlets about the police to local businesses. He also has an idea called “have a cup with a cop,” in which members of the certain communities can meet police officers over coffee and donuts.
As BuzzFeed reports, Barnes still hasn’t launched programs from his vision. The Los Angeles-based music producer insists that the name “Black Lives Matter” was originally his idea. He registered the name in May 2015, after protests against police brutality broke out in Ferguson, Missouri in 2014.
“It can’t be done overnight. The idea is to go slow,” Barnes said.
In 2017, the year the Black Lives Matter Foundation took in $279,000 in gifts and contributions, the foundation spent $89,000 on expenses. There are no recorded disbursements of the funds except for a $5150 cash grant to the “Family Renewal Develop Center,” which may be a childcare center in Los Angeles. When pressed, Barnes could not provide the names or details of the churches and scholarship funds he claimed the foundation donated to.
GoFundMe only recently shut down all active campaigns associated with the Black Lives Matter Foundation, and froze $350,000 in donations. Bonfire, a site that sells apparel and donates the profit to charity, froze the $14,000 raised for the Foundation from sales.
The Black Lives Matter Global Network began when the phrase “Black Lives Matter” started trending after neighborhood watch member George Zimmerman shot and killed a Black teenage boy. At first, the movement didn’t have centralized leadership. Since then, the movement has grown to a network of local Black Lives Matter chapters.
If you’re going to donate, make sure to do so wisely.