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Black Lives Matter Pours $1M Into Former Black Panther Leader’s Low-Income Apartment Project

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Black Lives Matter Global Network Foundation announced Wednesday it will pour $1 million into the Black Panther building, a planned $80 million complex in Oakland, Calif., that will house 79 subsidized apartment units as well as a grocery store, community garden, and fitness center, all run by former prison inmates. Former Black Panther party leader Elaine Brown is spearheading the redevelopment of the building, which stands on the plot of land where Black Panther Party cofounder Huey P. Newton shot and killed a police officer in October 1967.

BLM is no stranger to real estate. The embattled charity quietly embarked on an international real estate buying spree after raising $90 million during the George Floyd riots in 2020. The group snagged a $6 million mansion in Los Angeles in October 2020 and footed the bill for its Canadian affiliate to purchase another $6 million mansion in Toronto in July 2021. The group’s cofounder, Patrisse Cullors, got in on the action in March 2021 when she purchased a $1.4 million home in a secluded, majority-white Malibu neighborhood.

But those purchases, and the excessive contracting fees that Cullors doled out to her friends and family with charitable funds, came at an immense cost for Black Lives Matter. The group bled cash, suffered blistering investment losses, and saw its revenues plummet by 88 percent in its 2022 tax year after the public caught wind of the transactions, the Washington Free Beacon reported.

It’s unclear if Black Lives Matter will hold equity in the Black Panther building in return for its contribution, which it calls “investment” in fundraising materials. Black Lives Matter said in a statement that the funds would support “100% affordable housing” and generate wealth in Oakland’s black community by supporting the for-profit businesses owned by Brown’s group that will operate out of the building.

The entire complex, Black Lives Matter says, will help fight “capitalism and white supremacy.”

Brown’s charity, Oakland & the World Enterprises, aims to sell its businesses to its formerly incarcerated staffers after they start turning a profit. But profitability is still a distant dream for the group.

Oakland & the World Enterprises’ first company, West Oakland Farms, reported $164 in sales during its first year of operation in 2015, according to the group’s tax return that year. Farm revenues plummeted even further the following year, but not for  lack of trying. The charity disclosed nearly $174,000 in “urban farm program expenses” in its 2016 tax return while earning “farm produce sales” of just $70—a negative return of 99.96 percent.

Video footage on the charity’s website shows West Oakland Farms were little more than a series of loose-knit, raised-bed gardens on the plot of land where the Black Panther Building now stands. The farm was dismantled in 2022 when construction on the building began.

Oakland & the World Enterprises said in 2022 the farm would reopen on the second level of the Black Panther building when construction is completed in May. But it is unclear how the group intends to operate a functional farm on the second floor of a five-story apartment building. The apartment complex has no balconies, according to concept photos on the charity’s website.

Oakland & the World Enterprises did not return a request for comment.

Brown served as the chairwoman of the Black Panther Party from 1974 through 1977, after Newton fled to Havana to escape prosecution for allegedly murdering a 17-year-old Oakland prostitute. Newton, who did not serve prison time for his 1967 cop-killing, was shot and killed by a member of the Black Guerrilla Family gang in 1989. Rep. Barbara Lee (D., Calif.) honored Newton’s memory during an October 2021 ceremony.

Brown began eyeing the site of the Black Panther building in the early 2010s, when the land was still owned by the City of Oakland. But then-Oakland councilwoman Desley Brooks told the former Black Panther Party leader at a barbecue restaurant in October 2015 that the project was “of no benefit to black people,” sparking a physical confrontation between the two.

Brown, who was 72 at the time of the incident, sustained injuries during the confrontation. A jury awarded her $4 million in damages in January 2018 after finding she was the victim of elder abuse and battery.

Shortly thereafter, the City of Oakland sold the land to Brown’s charity in 2018 for $1, the San Francisco Chronicle reported. The group has since secured $61 million in public funding from the State of California to build the Black Panther building. Brown told the Guardian in October that she hopes the building will inspire her community to bring about the communist revolution as predicted by former Soviet leader Vladimir Lenin.

“I’m trying to concretize the idea of owning our own lives and destinies. Black people have got to be self-determining—we cannot continue to beg white people for our livelihoods,” Brown said of her taxpayer-funded building. “If you get something that you need, what now, goddammit?”

 

“I got breakfast, I want lunch; lunch, I want dinner; dinner, I want a place to live; place to live, I want medical care; medical care, I want education,” Brown added. “Then, as Lenin said, the moment comes when the oppressor cannot accommodate you. That’s when the people will be ready for revolution.”

Black Lives Matter did not return a request for comment.

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