Black Lives Matter UK has given the first grants from its £1.2million fundraiser to 14 Black-interest groups, HuffPost UK can reveal.
The anti-racism collective received more than 36,000 donations amid the global protests in the wake of George Floyd’s murder last year.
The initial grants total £170,000 and a second round later this year will see that rise to £600,000 – half of the money received. The remaining £600,000 will be spent on “building an anti-racist organisation that can scale up its existing community organising, educational work and direct actions”.
Among the groups receiving cash are Sistah Space in Hackney, which is London’s only specialist domestic violence service for women of African and Caribbean heritage. Others include AZ Magazine, an arts and culture initiative for LGBTQ+ people of colour, and African Rainbow Family, a charity supporting LGBTQ+ refugees and asylum seekers.
Speaking to HuffPost UK, member Alex Wanjiku Kelbert said: “Summer 2020 was very transformative for us as an organisation and also for a lot of people in the country.
“There is a lot energy and we’re really excited to be a big part of the anti-racism movement that’s going to take us forward.
“We really wanted to support groups that are Black-led, multi-ethnic led or are working on issues that affect Black communities.”
The collective has clarified that by “Black” it means of African descent, adding that its commitment to Black causes is not being conflated under political Blackness or the BAME (Black, Asian and minority ethnic) banner which frequently overlooks issues unique to Black people.
The beneficiaries of a first-wave of grants are:
- Abahlali baseMjondolo (£14,650) – a Black South African shack dwellers’ movement campaigning against evictions and for public housing
- All Black Lives (£5,000) – a Black activist group that helped coordinate last summer’s protests
- Acts of Love International (£5,000) – an African-Caribbean community centre offering support and activities for Black and migrant communities
- African Rainbow Family (£10,500) – a charity supporting LGBTQ+ refugees and asylum seekers
- AZ Mag (£7,500) – an arts and culture initiative for LGBTQ+ people of colour
- B’Me Cancer Communities (£15,000) – a charity that protects the health of BME and low income communities
- Justice for Black Lives (£3,200) – a Black activist group that helped coordinate last summer’s protests
- Independent Workers of Great Britain (£15,000) – the UK’s leading trade union for precarious workers
- Northern Police Monitoring Project (£11,000) – a grassroots group working to build community resistance against police violence, harassment and racism
- Sistah Space (£10,000) – a community-based non-profit that supports Black women and girls who have survived domestic abuse – a community-based non-profit that supports Black women and girls who have survived domestic abuse
- Sindicato de Manteros de Madrid (Street Vendors Union) (£7,500) – a Spanish labour union for precarious street vendors, who are primarily from Black and migrant communities
- A Tribe Named Athari (£5,000) – a Pan-Afrikan, anti-colonial, youth-led organisation, centred around transformative justice and community healing
- United Voices of the World (£15,000) – A grassroots trade union for low paid, migrant and precarious workers
- United Family and Friends Campaign (£45,000) – a coalition of those affected by deaths in police, prison and psychiatric custody, which supports others affected by state violence
In September, Black Lives Matter UK was registered as a community benefit society under the name Black Liberation Movement UK by academic Adam Elliott Cooper, PhD student Kelbert and Lisa Robinson, a director of a Nottingham-based social enterprise.
This move was legally required to enable Black Lives Matter UK to receive the funds.
Prior to this, and in the absence of a statement of intent for how the money would be spent, some people voiced concerns about a perceived lack of transparency.
Responding to this in June, the group posted a statement to Twitter reassuring the public that this wasn’t the case.
Kelbert told HuffPost UK that the group was busy seeing through important legal and administrative processes, while adapting to the responsibility of organising around this new amount.
The group went from not being allowed to open a bank account due to managers being suspicious of the name to suddenly being in possession of more than £1m, she said.
“There was an expectation that we move with a particular kind of speed, which we couldn’t do,” Kelbert continued.
“It’s a really big responsibility to suddenly have so much money and we had to take that seriously. Plus the fact that we’re all volunteers [for BLM UK] with full-time and part-time jobs – some are carers – there’s lockdown, the pandemic, health – all that stuff.
“There were also concerns around the communications, but it wasn’t necessarily that we weren’t being transparent, it’s just that there were no updates to give.”
People questioned who was behind the BLM UK name, but Kelbert said safety concerns saw a deliberate “scaled back” approach from the group, which some saw as a lack of transparency.
“Since the summer, members have been doing interviews and attending events and we had to balance being visible and considering the safety of members in the group because we’re activists,” she added.
“Some of our names have been floated in the public sphere for a long time. It’s been tricky to be targeted by the right wing press – some of them coming to our house – and also being name dropped in parliament. Our names and faces are out there, so actually there was a lot of scaling back.”
Another BLM UK spokesperson, Lorna Mulungushi, told HuffPost UK: “The fact that we are now a registered organisation as a community benefit society, under the Financial Conduct Authority, means there’s a whole set of mechanisms that mean we’ve got to show accounts, how funds are being used, all of those things.
“You can be assured that the state will be scrutinising us as much if not more than our wider community will be.”
So, what was the qualification criteria that determined which groups received funding?
The short answer is: groups have to have a proven track record of helping Black communities. Many of them are known to BLM UK which, having been established in 2015, has long been working with other anti-racism, grassroots organisations.
“Black Lives Matter UK has been around for five years among this particular configuration of anti-racist organisers – so we’ve also been working with lots of groups, and have an understanding of what their needs are and how they need to be resourced particularly in this moment,” Kelbert said.
The beneficiaries are “aligned” with Black Lives Matter’s political demands which include funding Black futures, transforming education, defunding the police and investing in communities as well as ending the hostile environment, protecting Black lives from Covid-19 and international solidarity.
Speaking of the latter, two of the fourteen organisations are based overseas: Abahlali baseMjondolo and Sindicato de Manteros de Madrid in South Africa and Spain respectively.
Kelbert said: “International solidarity has always been a crucial part of the history of Black organising in this country. We’re not the first one to have this understanding and that’s a legacy we’re also inheriting.
“A lot of people in the community have an understanding of the kind of relationship and responsibility we have towards the rest of diaspora and places we come from.
“Thinking about Britain’s history and legacy of colonialism, it’s only right that some of the money goes towards furthering causes in these countries. There’s some really exciting anti-racism work that’s taking place outside of the UK so it’s cool to be able to support it. These are people that we’ve had a relationship with and we want to honour that.”