By Michelle Watson, CNN
An executive at Black Lives Matter Global Network Foundation (GNF), is accused of “syphoning” more than $10 million from donors, the grassroots arm of the BLM organization said a court filing this week.
The suit is against executive Shalomyah Bowers, the foundation itself, Bowers’ consulting firm and unnamed individuals.
Bowers was hired by BLM co-founder Patrisse Cullors in 2020 to help run the Black Lives Matter Global Network Foundation (GNF), an extension of the Black Lives Matter grassroots organization, the suit said.
Bowers denied the claims leveled in the suit, which BLM Grassroots presented in a news conference last week, saying in a statement posted on the BLM website that the accusations are “harmful, divisive, and false.”
GNF was originally created by Cullors “as an administrative organization to raise funds to provide financial support for local-level community efforts of BLM Grassroots,” the suit said, while the BLM Grassroots organization did the “on-the-ground” work.
Cullors initially oversaw the GNF, but in May 2021 “decided she could no longer lead GNF and that it should wind down and transition the entire organization to BLM Grassroots,” the suit said.
In that same month, Cullors notified Bowers and Melina Abdullah of a “formal transition plan” of GNF’s leadership, along with other internal leaders. Abdullah is a co-founder of the Los Angeles chapter of BLM.
Bowers took umbrage with this recollection of events in the statement posted on BLM’s site. “BLMGR and Melina Abdullah read a press statement claiming that Patrisse Cullors created a transition plan giving all of BLMGNF’s assets to BLM Grassroots. That is absolutely false,” Bowers said.
“Mr. Bowers and the GNF Leadership Council agreed to execute the transition plan set forth by Ms. Cullors,” the suit said. “However, Mr. Bowers, who made $2,167,894 million dollars from GNF in less than eight months, decided he wanted to keep the ‘piggy bank’ that GNF had become to him and his company.”
Bowers was also supposed to disclose certain financial and organizing information other leaders within the group, but “refused” to so, the suit alleges.
“Within months, Bowers had run these well-respected advocates out of the organization,” the suit alleges. “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 suit also said Bowers changed social media account passwords for the grassroots organization and tried to “to register the trademark of BLM Grassroots using the logo and design of BLM Grassroots leader Angela Waters, in what appears to be an attempt to ‘steal’ the logo or prevent BLM Grassroots from utilizing.”
The BLM grassroots organization said in the suit that Bowers has siphoned money.
“Mr. Bowers continues to fraudulently raise money from unsuspecting donors passing himself off as the organization that is doing the work of BLM, padding his own pockets at that of his associates at the cost of BLM’s reputation,” the suit said.
The grassroots organization arm of the organization is asking for a jury trial and accuses Bowers of unfair businesses practices, fraud and intentional misrepresentation, among other claims.
CNN reached out to Bowers through his consulting firm Sunday but did not receive a response.
GNF has since responded to the claims, in a statement saying:
“The BLMGNF Board requested — on over ten occasions — private mediation or meetings with Melina Abdullah and BLM Grassroots, including and regarding social media policies. We did so in order to stay true to principles of abolition — resolving issues through conflict mediation rather than falling victim to the carceral logic and social violence that fuels the legal system.
“But Melina Abdullah and BLMGR ignored or refused our offers. To the contrary, they would rather take the same steps of our white oppressors and utilize the criminal legal system which is propped up by white supremacy (the same system they say they want to dismantle) to solve movement disputes.
“In particular, 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.
“Therefore, BLMGNF is forced to respond publicly to Melina and BLMGR’s attacks against BLMGNF and its current leadership. So respond we will, with love, facts, and a spirit of transparency which has been our focus over the last six months, as noted by the release of our IRS Form 990 and our BLM Transparency Center.”
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