In recent weeks, millions of Americans have been moved to donate money to organizations working to promote civil rights and racial justice. But now, some are discovering that, in their well-intentioned haste to contribute cash, some of the funds may have gone to organizations that aren’t quite what they thought. That may be the case with the Black Lives Matter Foundation, a small, Santa Clarita-based organization that is not affiliated with the organizers of recent demonstrations.
Some speculate that at least some portion of the $4.35 million raised for the Foundation since June 1 may have been intended to go to the movement organizers, formally known as the Black Lives Matter Global Network, or to local groups helping demonstrators and those on the front lines, but donors failed to fully vet the organization. Millions of dollars in donations from Apple, Google, and Microsoft were all initially committed to the Foundation, but then retracted upon closer examination of the group.
“The Santa Clarita group is improperly using our name,” a spokesperson for Black Lives Matter Global Network told BuzzFeed.
Music producer Robert Ray Barnes, the founder and sole employee of the Black Lives Matter Foundation, disagrees. In his telling, it is the Network improperly using his intellectual property.
“It appears there is a lot of scamming going on, but how can it have to do with me?” Barnes said to BuzzFeed. “They took my name. I own that name. I haven’t stolen anything from them.”
The Black Lives Matter movement was founded under that name by Patrisse Cullors, Alicia Garza, and Opal Tometi in 2013, and came into wide recognition in August of 2014, during demonstrations in Ferguson, Missouri. However, the founders did not immediately take the step of setting up a 501(c)(3) with the IRS. In May of 2015, Barnes took the initiative himself to file the paperwork for the name ‘Black Lives Matter Foundation.’
“I had plenty of motivation to create the Black Lives Matter Foundation and the people who were doing Black Lives Matter weren’t interested in a foundation,” he says. “They never created it. Now all of the sudden they’re interested in it.”
Barnes confirmed to BuzzFeed that he has neither spoken to nor met with any representative of the larger BLM group.
While the diffuse nature of a grassroots movement might naturally see multiple organizations popping up in various locations, all trying to participate in the cause, Barnes’ group seems to have an altogether different mission from the Black Lives Matter Global Network.
“Our whole thing is having unity with the police department,” Barnes told BuzzFeed.
He says he will be putting the money toward “prototypes for community and police bonding” and throwing parties or coffee-and-doughnuts mixers where residents and police could hang out together, among other plans.
Though the organization has existed since 2015 and has brought in at least $300,000 an analysis of tax records by BuzzFeed could only account for funds being spent on “expenses,” a salary for Barnes, and one cash grant to a “Family Renewal Develop Center” in Carson, an organization that could not immediately be identified. Barnes says the Foundation has also donated to churches, a veterans foundation started by his family, and scholarship funds, though did not produce any details about these gifts.
Last December, the office of California Attorney General Xavier Becerra issued a cease and desist order to Barnes, demanding the Foundation close down “all operations, including all solicitations for charitable purposes by any means.”
Stay on top of the latest in L.A. food and culture. Sign up for our newsletters today.