A shake-up in the leadership of the local chapter of Black Lives Matter unfolded Wednesday morning on social media, with dozens of former members signing on to a letter to oust founder Tanya Faison from the organization.
In a letter posted to the chapter’s Facebook and Twitter pages, “We, current, former, and inactive members of Black Lives Matter Sacramento, publicly denounce Tanya Faison’s leadership of the chapter.” The letter cited “patterns of abuse.”
The letter was deleted from the official Black Lives Sacramento social media accounts about 30 minutes after it was posted, but continued to circulate on other social media accounts.
Twenty-nine current and former members signed the letter, including co-founder Sonia Lewis.
“I don’t intend to resign or step down ... I’m still going to do the work,” Faison said.
It’s unclear whether the group can actually force Faison out of the organization, as the group has no bylaws. The group has asked Faison to step down, or she will be removed from the group by Friday, Lewis said.
The letter said Faison’s actions had “negatively impacted” the chapter, and that removing her from leadership was the only way to move forward.
“Tanya has refused to accept any responsibility for her actions or behavior. Instead, she has chosen to criticize and vilify people expressing concerns or dissent and to lay blame upon individuals who left the chapter over her irresponsible and authoritarian leadership,” the letter said.
The group is now down to three remaining official members, Lewis said.
“We’ve been told by lots of people they would rejoin this group and do this work if she were not part of the equation,” Lewis said.
“I have not been abusive,” Faison said. “I have hurt people’s feelings and I am aware of that and I am working on making that better ... but it’s definitely not grounds for me to not be in the chapter. I’m the founder and I do all the work.”
If Faison agrees to go to counseling, she could be allowed back in the organization after one year, Lewis said.
Recently, the group’s members invited former members to a “healing space” to talk about why they left the group. There, the former members revealed “a whole host of toxic behaviors” from Faison, Lewis said.
Among the accusations, Lewis said, Faison held media events and protests on behalf of black men killed by police, telling the group the victims’ families wanted those events, when it turned out they did not. That happened multiple times with the family of Stephon Clark, the unarmed black man fatally shot by police in March 2018, Lewis said.
Faison said she was unaware of those concerns from victims’ families.
“They’ve always been very happy with what we’ve done for them,” Faison said. “I’ve built relationships with many of the mothers.”
There are also questions about how Faison has spent the organization’s funds, Lewis said.
Faison said she has never mismanaged funds.
“When I make purchases, I send them receipts,” Faison said.
Black Lives Matter Sacramento accepts donations from the public, but the group does not have records of how Faison spent those donations, or how much has come in, Lewis said. The group is working to find out, she said.
The group recently started receiving a two-year grant for $100,000 from the California Endowment to fund the salary of the “black liberation director” — the position that Faison currently holds, according to Ben Hudson, Jr., executive director of the Sacramento-based Gender Health Center. The nonprofit is BLM Sacramento’s fiscal sponsor, meaning the grant money flows through it until BLM Sacramento achieves nonprofit status, Hudson said.
BLM Sacramento’s board of directors has the authority to name a new black liberation director, Hudson said.
Lewis said the board plans to take that vote next week, and also determine if they can use some of the $100,000 for services other than a salary.
Hudson said it’s unclear whether the group could remove Faison as a member entirely.
“While great things have transpired under her leadership, it is not her alone that has made those things happen,” Lewis said. “She will always be the founder, and no one can negate the work she’s done.”
Faison has been the public face of the organization since 2015, appearing in national news broadcasts on CNN and other publications. She has led numerous protests, most notably after the police shooting death of Stephon Clark. Faison also orchestrated protests outside the Sacramento County District Attorney’s office three times a week for nearly a year.
The group plans to hold community meetings in the hopes of restoring community trust and recruiting more members, and then announce new leadership by the end of the summer, Lewis said.