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 decision to step down as executive director of the movement's foundation.
, who has led the Black Lives Matter Global Network Foundation
for nearly six years, has announced her departure to focus on other projects, including the upcoming release of her second book
and a multi-year television
with Warner Bros. Her last day with the foundation is Friday.
“I’ve built the infrastructure
and support, as well as the bones and foundation, so that I can leave,” Cullors told The Associated Press
, adding, “It feels like the time is right.”
After almost 8 years, we say goodbye to the last of our founders, Patrisse Cullors, who has served BLM tirelessly. We reflect on the impact Patrisse has had on BLM, and we are grateful. Patrisse, we will always be in awe of you. pic.twitter.com/MOWP38DYpT — Black Lives Matter (@Blklivesmatter) May 27, 2021
Cullors' resignation comes on the heels of a massive surge in support and political influence for the BLM movement, which was founded nearly eight years ago in response to injustice against Black Americans, as well as a controversy over the foundation's finances and Cullors' personal wealth.
The 37-year-old activist stated that her resignation has been in the works for more than a year and has nothing to do with personal attacks from far-right groups or dissension within the movement.
“Those were right-wing attacks meant to discredit my character, and I don’t operate based on what the right thinks of me,” Cullors explained.
As she departs, the foundation has hired two new interim senior executives to help steer it in the short term: Monifa Bandele, a longtime BLM organizer and founder of the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement in New York City
, and Makani Themba, an early BLM supporter and chief strategist at Higher Ground Change Strategies in Jackson
“I believe both of them bring a wealth of executive experience, as well as a wealth of movement experience,” Cullors said.
Following the May 2020 murder
of George Floyd
, a Black man whose last breaths under the knee of a white Minneapolis
police officer sparked global protests, the BLM foundation revealed to the AP in February that it took in just over $90 million last year. 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.
Critics of the foundation argue that more of the money
should have gone to the families of Black victims of police brutality
who have been unable to access the resources they need to cope with their trauma and loss.
“That is the most tragic aspect,” said Rev. T. Sheri Dickerson, president of an Oklahoma
City BLM chapter and a representative of the #BLM10, a national organizing group that has publicly criticized the foundation over funding and transparency.
“I know some of (the families) feel exploited, their pain exploited, and that is not something I want to be associated with,” Dickerson said.
Cullors and the foundation have stated that they assist families without making public announcements or disclosing dollar amounts.
The BLM foundation spun off its network of chapters as a sister collective called BLM Grassroots in 2020, allowing it to expand its capacity as a philanthropic organization. Although many groups use the words "Black Lives Matter" or "BLM" in their names, only a few dozen are considered affiliates of the chapter network.
Cullors was targeted last month by several conservative-leaning publications who falsely claimed she received a large annual salary from the foundation, which allowed her to purchase a home in southern California
The foundation stated in April
that Cullors was a volunteer executive director who had “received a total of $120,000 since the organization’s inception in 2013, for duties such as serving as spokesperson and engaging in political education
work” prior to 2019.
“As a registered 501c3 non-profit organization, (the foundation) cannot and did not commit any organizational resources to the purchase of personal property by any employee or volunteer,” the foundation said in a statement, adding that “any insinuation or assertion to the contrary is categorically false.”
, "When They Call You a Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir," became a New York Times bestseller in 2018, and she has also consulted on a number of racial justice
projects outside of BLM, accepting compensation in her personal capacity for that work.
She and the BLM movement have come a long way since its inception as a social media
hashtag following the acquittal of George Zimmerman, the neighborhood watch
volunteer who killed Trayvon Martin, 17, in Florida
, in 2013.
Cullors, along with BLM co-founders Alicia Garza and Opal Tometi, pledged at the time to build a decentralized movement governed by the collective consent
of its members. In 2015, a network of chapters was formed, and donations and support poured in. Garza and Tometi soon stepped away from day-to-day involvement in the network to focus on their own projects.
Cullors, who has arguably been the most publicly visible of the co-founders, said she became the foundation's full-time executive director last year out of necessity.
“We needed her,” said Melina Abdullah, the director of BLM Grassroots and co-founder of BLM’s first official chapter in Los Angeles
“George Floyd was killed, and the whole world rose up,” Abdullah told the Associated Press. “I would like her to be there forever, but I also know that that is not feasible. The real test of any organization is whether it can survive the departure of its founders, and I have no doubt
that Black Lives Matter will survive, grow, and evolve, even with the departure of our final co-founder in a formal role.”
Cullors' latest book, "Abolitionists Handbook," will be released on Oct. 5 by St. Martin's Press. She describes it as her guide for activists on how to care for one another and resolve internal conflict while fighting to end systemic racism
. Cullors is also developing and producing original cable and streaming TV content centered on Black stories as part of a multi-year deal with Warner Bros.
Her first television project, she says, will air in July.
“I believe I will be less visible because I will not be leading one of the largest and most contentious organizations in our movement’s history,” Cullors said.
“I recognize that I am a leader, and I don't hide it; however, no movement is led by a single individual.”