BLM purchased an $8.1 million building in Toronto but didn't tell BLM Toronto

Last week the Washington Examiner reported that Black Lives Matter, the national organizing group which raised at least $90 million over the past 18 months, appears to have no director and no office. The address listed on their tax forms is a multi-purposed building in Los Angeles which houses several restaurants but no BLM office. As for who is running the organization, BLM co-founder Patrisse Cullors resigned last spring after her personal home buying spree made news. On her way out, she selected two other activists to take her place but both of them dropped out last September, meaning there is apparently no one running the organization at present. The group’s two remaining board members wouldn’t answer questions about it.

Despite BLM being adrift (the executive director of Charity Watch compared it to a “ghost ship full of treasure drifting in the night with no captain”) it did make a major purchase last year. Shortly after Patrisse Cullors stepped down from leading the organization, BLM funded the purchase of an $8.1 million property in Toronto. BLM Canada supported the purchase but the leading organizers for BLM Toronto weren’t told about it in advance and only learned about it from the media.

Real estate records obtained by the Washington Examiner show that BLM Canada, which also goes by M4BJ, purchased the property for $8.1 million on July 13, 2021. The purchase came just weeks after the group’s co-founder, Patrisse Cullors, resigned amid scrutiny of her own personal real estate purchases across the United States.

BLM Canada co-founder Rodney Diverlus said in July that BLM Canada purchased the property “outright.”

BLM Canada’s chairwoman, Sandy Hudson, said in an op-ed that the property came with a “history of resistance,” having previously housed the Communist Party of Canada for over 30 years.

Canadian news outlets and activist groups reported in July that BLM’s national arm, which appears to have been leaderless since Cullors stepped down in May, provided the bulk of the funding for BLM Canada’s purchase of the Wildseed Center.

There’s a curious battle taking place between BLM Canada and BLM Toronto over the purchase of this space. Both sides appear to be claiming the mantle of revolutionary socialist politics. Sandy Hudson, one of the founders of BLM Canada, wrote a piece for a socialist magazine describing the decision to buy the property as a way to limit the influence of capitalism and white land-owners.

Over the years, space has become difficult to access, and it has deeply impacted our organizing. As the isolating and exploitative hegemonic force of neoliberalism became the dominant economic ideology controlling our world, the price of housing, and property skyrocketed…

Space is scarce, expensive, and anti-Blackness adds another layer of difficulty for those of us struggling for Black liberation. As Black people have been pushed to the margins of urban spaces by gentrification, we have lost so many community spaces. For those of us still organizing in our cities, our use of space is subject to the hegemonic forces that disrupt and endanger our lives. We access space at the will of wealthy landowners. We transfer our resources out of our communities and into the coffers of wealthy landowners through leases and rents…

After years of struggling with space, we decided we would be audacious and attempt to purchase a community centre to build Black power and nurture Black creation. We wrestled with the tension inherent in the choices lying before us. On the one hand, we were seeking to own space on colonized land. On the other, continuing to lease, either short-term or long term, was enriching wealthy white landowners. On the other hand, any funding we raised could go toward time-limited mutual aid projects. On the other hand, ownership would provide an enormous resource that could be used in building power to eliminate the need for the mutual aid our communities deeply rely on.

In short, they bought the building to stick it to the man…or something. But the leaders of BLM Toronto, who weren’t told about the purchase, felt very differently about it. Two of the three of them wrote an open letter about how this and other experiences resulted in their decision to leave the group.

The letter reads in part:

We brought many families affected by police brutality to Ottawa, but left feeling as though the gathering was more for media hits than real deep engagement with the families. There were no real strategic conversations around how to materially or tangibly support the families in the long run and to continue engagement, despite the request for these conversations.

Shortly afterward we found out about the 8 million dollar expenditure for the BLM Canada building. Specifically, we found out about the cost and size of the building the day it was announced in the media. The BLM Canada members told the media that BLM-TO would have its headquarters in the new building—we were never told about this in advance. Immediately the three remaining new members called for a mediated meeting with BLM Canada members to ask questions. We asked about policy, about how this decision was made, and about who was consulted. BLM Canada members only mentioned an Afro-Indigenous real estate agent. It was very clear that the four BLM Canada members had intentionally excluded us from this decision. We asked about corporate donations, because on our end, we couldn’t see where the money was coming from. We found a screenshot online of a partnership between BLM Canada and Amazon, but when asked about it in the mediation, we got no direct answer. It was also explained in the mediation process that while we were joining the group, corporations like Coca-Cola were donating to BLM Canada. The BLM Canada members justified corporate donations by saying they couldn’t ethically decide which corporations to reject, and therefore accepted all of them….

When bringing up these concerns, especially around class, the four BLM Canada members met us with resistance and told us we were listening to “counter-organizers.”

So, BLM Toronto is claiming a lot of the money for their $8 million center came from corporate donors and they’re basically arguing that’s not really in keeping with the revolutionary ideals the group is trying to promote. So they decided to leave. Given that this purchase happened about a month after Patrisse Cullors left BLM, it’s not clear if she approved this or if someone else did. The Examiner notes that Cullors spouse, Janaya Khan, is (or was) a director of BLM Canada.

Here’s a video about the new center featuring an interview with BLM Canada co-founder Rodney Diverlus: