A co-founder of Black Lives Matter announced Thursday that she is stepping down as executive director of the movement’s foundation. She decried what she called a smear campaign from a far-right group, but said neither that nor recent criticism from other Black organizers influenced her departure.
Patrisse Cullors, who has been at the helm of the Black Lives Matter Global Network Foundation for nearly six years, said she is leaving to focus on other projects, including the upcoming release of her second book and a multi-year TV development deal with Warner Bros. Her last day with the foundation is Friday.
“I’ve created the infrastructure and the support, and the necessary bones and foundation, so that I can leave,” Cullors told The Associated Press. “It feels like the time is right.”
Cullors’ departure follows a massive surge in support and political influence in the U.S. and around the world for the BLM movement, which was established nearly eight years ago in response to injustice against Black Americans. The resignation also comes on the heels of controversy over the foundation’s finances and over Cullors’ personal wealth.
The 37-year-old activist said her resignation has been in the works for more than a year and has nothing to do with the personal attacks she has faced from far-right groups or any dissension within the movement.
“Those were right-wing attacks that tried to discredit my character, and I don’t operate off of what the right thinks about me,” Cullors said.
As she departs, the foundation is bringing aboard two new interim senior executives to help steer it in the immediate future: Monifa Bandele, a longtime BLM organizer and founder of the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement in New York City, and Makani Themba, an early backer of the BLM movement and chief strategist at Higher Ground Change Strategies in Jackson, Mississippi.
“I think both of them come with not only a wealth of movement experience, but also a wealth of executive experience,” Cullors said.
The BLM foundation revealed to the AP in February that it took in just over $90 million last year, following the May 2020 murder of George Floyd, a Black man whose last breaths under the knee of a white Minneapolis police officer inspired protests globally. The foundation said it ended 2020 with a balance of more than $60 million, after spending nearly a quarter of its assets on operating expenses, grants to Black-led organizations and other charitable giving.
Critics of the foundation contend more of that money should have gone to the families of Black victims of police brutality who have been unable to access the resources needed to deal with their trauma and loss.
Cullors and the foundation have said they do support families without making public announcements or disclosing dollar amounts.
On Oct. 5, St. Martin’s Press will release Cullors’ latest book, titled “An Abolitionists Handbook,” which she says is her guide for activists on how to care for each other and resolve internal conflict while fighting to end systemic racism. Cullors is also developing and producing original cable and streaming TV content that centers on Black stories, under a multi-year deal with Warner Bros.
The first of her TV projects will debut in July, she said.
“I think I will probably be less visible, because I won’t be at the helm of one of the largest, most controversial organizations right now in the history of our movement,” Cullors said.
“I’m aware that I’m a leader, and I don’t shy away from that. But no movement is one leader.”