A Company That Profits Off Of The Black Lives Matter Movement
MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
Many people have been moved by the recent protests against police brutality - moved to join in, to demonstrate and to donate. Among the recipients of people's charity - the Black Lives Matter Foundation. It has raised several million dollars in recent weeks in the form of small gifts from individuals, also well-intentioned employees of big corporations, including Apple and Microsoft. Here's the rub. The Black Lives Matter Foundation is not connected in any way with the Black Lives Matter movement. Reporter Ryan Mac has been trying to untangle this for BuzzFeed News.
RYAN MAC: How's it going?
KELLY: Well. Thank you. So the Black Lives Matter Foundation sure sounds like it would be tied to the movement. If it's not, tell us what it is.
MAC: You'd think so - right? - with a name like that. It's actually a foundation that's based out of Santa Clarita, Calif., that has one paid employee and whose professed goal is actually to create unity between the community and the police, which is kind of an antithetical message, I guess, if you consider what the current Black Lives Matter movement is pushing for right now.
KELLY: And how much money are we talking about that has rolled in?
MAC: It's a little unclear. There's dozens of giving platforms out there. You mentioned companies. They often use these platforms to raise money from employees and match. And so one of those platforms, Benevity, told us that they had accumulated about $4 million worth of donations between May 31 and June 5, which, to their credit, they froze. They noticed the issue a couple of days before we contacted them, and they froze it. And so that money actually never was sent.
KELLY: When you go and search on some of these platforms where you can give, it comes up. It's a registered, legit charity.
MAC: It is, yeah. It's a registered 501(c)(3). It's been around since - 2015, I believe, is when it was registered, shortly or a couple of years after the origination of the Black Lives Matter movement.
KELLY: So I want to understand what's going on here. You obviously did, too. You reached out, and you spoke with the founder, the one registered employee of the Black Lives Matter Foundation. Who is he? What does he say about this?
MAC: Yeah, so my colleague Brianna Sacks actually made the call to this man named Robert Ray Barnes. And he is a 67-year-old music producer who, I guess, lives in Santa Clarita, and he's a African American man. He has been affected by things, including, apparently, the LAPD killing of his wife's ex-husband. And he started this foundation to kind of build relationships between communities and police. And so he has this large mission statement of things that he wants to do. He wants to, for example, have annual dinners with cops, and he wants to have community-funded, like, coffee meetings with cops.
KELLY: So there have not been coffee meetings? There have not been dinners?
MAC: From what we could find and from what he told us, no. There's been kind of no expenditure of the money towards that kind of relationship-building that he wants. It's kind of all just a figurative plan.
KELLY: When you reached out to leaders from the Black Lives Matter movement, what do they say about this? What do they say about the foundation?
MAC: They told us - I mean, it was a short statement, but they said they're two completely separate organizations, that Barnes' foundation has nothing to do with them. They also mentioned that the Santa Clarita group is improperly using their name, that they intended to call them out and follow up.
KELLY: For people who gave to the foundation and they didn't mean to - they were trying to give to the broader movement - do they have any recourse? Can they get their money back?
MAC: So these platforms are now saying that they're going to work with some of these donors to redirect the funds if they were incorrectly sent or incorrectly raised for the Black Lives Matter Foundation. And so they're giving people the option to either give to the Black Lives Matter movement's charitable partner, which is something called Thousand Currents, or other racial justice charities or funds.
KELLY: And does the foundation - does Barnes say he will give any of this money back?
MAC: He thinks that it's a rare occurrence that the money that was sent to him was a mistake, and so he hasn't committed either way.
KELLY: That is Ryan Mac, a reporter for BuzzFeed News.
Thanks so much.
MAC: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.