The North Star has dropped its paywall during this COVID-19 crisis so that pertinent information and analysis is available to everyone during this time. This is only possible because of the generous support of our members. We rely on these funds to pay our staff to continue to provide high-quality content. If you are able to support, we invite you to do so here.
Before I begin, I first want to thank so many of you for your unwavering support. I am deeply grateful.
In this article, I am going to give a detailed narrative response to the continued false allegations about me, about my work, about my fundraising, and about my wonderful colleagues at The North Star, Real Justice, The Action PAC, and The Grassroots Law Project.
My enemies won’t read this. They won’t share it. They don’t care about facts. This isn’t for them. It’s for you — our supporters — and it’s even for those of you who are on the fence about what to believe because you’ve seen so much misinformation.
First though, for those of you that are in a hurry, I am going to provide a list of important resources below so that they don’t get lost in the longer narrative. Look at them for yourself. Look at the statements. Look at the nearly 20 different FEC reports we’ve filed. Look at the work. Look at the results. Look at the impact.
And make your own decision.
1. A team of accountants, attorneys, and some of the most respected activists, organizers, and leaders in the world took weeks to look at years and years of my tax returns, all of my banks statements from business, personal and savings accounts, my credit card statements, retirement accounts, and every single fundraiser I’ve ever participated in, shared, or consulted on.
They issued a public 72 page report that can be found here. It was the single most exhaustive, transparent look into the personal and professional finances of any leader I’ve ever seen in my life. I do not know of another civil rights leader, or any leader from any profession for that matter, that has allowed so many people, so much unfettered access to their financial life. I literally gave that team the usernames and passwords to every area of my life — including all of my email accounts, text messages, social media, and more.
It covered nearly $35 million that I’ve raised, or helped to raise, since the Black Lives Matter Movement began. The report stated, as I have stated, that not once has anyone in my entire universe been scammed, cheated, or defrauded out of a single penny. As I have stated, the report made it clear that I do not even have access to the money that I raise for families or causes. Every family I’ve ever supported is included in this report and spoke up on my behalf. I love them. We speak and support each other regularly. No family or charity has ever even accused me of touching their money. It’s a complete fabrication. Always has been.
2. In 2017, I became a Co-Founder of Real Justice. Here is our website. We help elect bold, compassionate change agents as district attorneys. We are the leader in that space. It’s the best, most impactful work of my life up to this moment. We just put our heads down and do the work. And we are moving mountains.
We’ve raised and spent millions of dollars and have ousted horrible prosecutors all over this country as a result. We have helped to manage, guide, fund and support successful campaigns that have already resulted in sweeping changes on the local level.
We helped to elect brave new district attorneys in Philadelphia, San Antonio, St. Louis, Boston, Portland, Oregon, San Francisco, Jackson, Mississippi, in Portsmouth, Fairfax and Arlington, Virginia, in Contra Costa County, California, and more. Those district attorneys have changed the game in immeasurable ways, including reducing the jail population by as much as 50 percent. I have become close friends and partners with many of them. I literally spoke to three of our district attorneys yesterday.
We have filed public, quarterly reports of our ENTIRE BUDGET four times per year since we started in 2017. Here they are on the FEC website for all to see. Every dime we’ve raised and spent. When people ask, “where in the world is all of that money Shaun is raising going,” send them there. But listen, they won’t go. They don’t care. Those reports have been public for four years now. They never get mentioned in a single smear about my work.
Not only do I not have access to our money, I’m not a signer on any of our accounts (never have been), don’t have the usernames or passwords, and don’t have a say in where or how the money we raise is spent. It’s been this way since we launched to protect me from false allegations and to protect our organization so that we can be beyond reproach. Our staff has regularly apologized to me that we even need it to be this way – it is somewhat humiliating – but we have an award-winning team of seasoned experts, attorneys, and accountants who manage every penny we raise.
3. Last year, after starting The North Star, I was advised by our attorneys and senior team that it would be best that any advocacy or political work I do be boxed out of The North Star and put into a separate organization that we called The Action PAC, so that the media work we do at The North Star would have an ethical wall separating it from the advocacy and political work I lead. We did that to protect the staff of The North Star so that their work could never be seen as a campaign contribution. Furthermore, I advised the writers and editors of The North Star to not run any stories they were writing about political candidates by me, but to write them independent of my views and that I would have no judgment.
Like Real Justice, The Action PAC has filed quarterly FEC reports for the past year to show every dollar we’ve raised and every dollar we’ve spent. Attorneys and compliance officers go through every detail with a fine tooth comb to make sure we are beyond reproach. The reports are publicly available. It always has been. Again, when somebody asks where all the money goes, send them there. They won’t go there though.
I lead and guide The Action PAC, with a staff of nearly a dozen brilliant organizers, and I am literally the only person on the staff who does not get paid. I’ve never been paid for it. We have raised over $1 million this past year and I have not received a salary or a stipend of any kind for the entire year. You can check the FEC reports. Again, our staff regularly tells me how embarrassed they are by this, but we do it so that the integrity of our work can never be questioned and nobody can ever say that I am doing this work for personal gain. I am often the first staffer up and the last staffer to leave, but I do it all for free.
Over the past year, we have done the very best work of my life. I have pushed our small staff to their maximum capacity and have burned my own candle at both ends in this work. Over 6 million people have joined and supported our campaigns. We’ve made millions of phone calls. We’ve sent hundreds of millions of emails. And we’ve been so damn successful.
We worked with the family of Rodney Reed to stop his execution.
Rodney’s dear brother, Rodrick, is an advisor for the Grassroots Law Project.
We are working now to help free Michael Thompson from prison. He has been jailed for over 25 years for a damn weed conviction. I speak to Michael often and see him as a good friend.
We worked with the family of Nate Woods to stop his execution. We failed, but gave it our very best shot.
Nate’s dear sister, Pamela, is an advisor for The Grassroots Law Project and has become my friend in this work.
We are working hard alongside his family to free Christopher Kearney from prison. We raised the money to pay for legal defense.
Christopher’s wife, Traci, is an advisor for The Grassroots Law Project, and has become a major source of encouragement to our whole team.
We are working hard to get justice for Steve Taylor, who was murdered by police right before the coronavirus pandemic began. His attorney, Lee Merritt, is the Legal Director of the Grassroots Law Project.
Some of the best work we have ever done is going on right now in our fight to get justice for Ahmaud Arbery. Before the case was even known nationally, his family asked me to help them in any way I could. We stopped our entire lives to begin the fight for Ahmaud. Millions joined us. 500,000 people ran for Maud with our campaign. We sent over 100 million emails and phone calls to elected officials. Lee Merritt is their attorney. The public has no idea how hard this campaign was and all the complicated work that has gone on behind the scenes.
Ahmaud’s mother, Wanda Cooper-Jones, is also an advisor for The Grassroots Law Project, and openly said thanked God, me and Lee for getting her family this far in the pursuit of justice.
We are working directly with the families of Breonna Taylor and Kenneth Walker, and with the attorneys for both families. We are fighting to hold the officers who murdered Breonna accountable. We raised the legal defense fund for Kenneth and fought to get him released. I have talked directly with Breonna’s mother, Tamika, and her sister as well as the parents and siblings of Kenneth Walker. Their attorneys are my close personal friends.
Yesterday our volunteers made over 30,000 phone calls to the Louisville City Council to get Breonna’s Law passed, which bans most uses of no-knock warrants. It passed committee and will soon be up for a full vote.
Working directly with the attorneys of George Floyd, we built the campaign to hold the officers who murdered him accountable. Millions have joined the campaign and we have sent hundreds of millions of emails and phone calls to elected officials on this case. It’s some of the best, most organized work we’ve ever done. Stephen Jackson, who was like a brother to George Floyd, is an advisor for The Grassroots Law Project, and has walked with us every step of the way.
Our team at The Action PAC started a national mutual aid society to help people and families impacted by the coronavirus called the C-19 Help Squad.
We do not accept donations, but instead match people who can help those in need with people who actually need the help. It’s a beautiful, vibrant, active community of generous people who’ve given hundreds of thousands of dollars in direct aid to those in need. Beyond that, they’ve completed thousands of other tasks ranging from running errands, to delivering food and medicine, to providing jobs, housing, and clothing, paying countless bills, and so much more.
We’ve also created a powerful database of resources for people to take advantage of. We just do this work in private. We don’t brag about it. We don’t do press releases or anything else. It’s a private group of generous people, managed by the paid staff of The Action PAC.
People started blasting this work and telling people not to give to it and we weren’t even taking donations. I don’t even take a salary, but people continue to post that I am scamming and skimming and stealing anyway. It’s wrong. They just want anything I do to fail, even if it’s helping people who are hurting from the coronavirus pandemic.
Our team on this project, who all worked so fucking hard to pull it off, was stung by the public rebuke that we were all scamming people. It’s so destructive and hurtful. I have delivered, on average, two eulogies a week at funerals for the past three months. I have spoken at nearly fifty different middle school, high school, and college graduations. Like our coronavirus work, I did it all for the love. So it hurts to see people maligning our good work and efforts to just help relieve some of the pain people are experiencing right now.
4. This week we just launched The Grassroots Law Project to be the official home for all of our justice related cases and work. My friend and brother Lee Merritt will serve as the full-time Legal Director for GLP and I will serve as the lead strategist and organizer.
This week, thanks to the amazing generosity of our donors and volunteers, we’ve hired Lee and 9 other full-time staff members to help lead the project. They are one of the most brilliant, skilled, experienced, determined teams that I have ever seen or been a part of.
Our custom-designed call tool, which I help lead, guides volunteers through calls for causes all over the country. We’ve made as many as 500,000 calls in a single day and the tools cost us over $50,000 per month. Our customized super petition system, which emails the elected officials we target, now costs nearly $30,000 per month. And the more we grow, the higher the costs.
Again, I do not get paid for this work. I work on it daily, sometimes working 20 hours a day, and guide the team and set the strategy, but I am doing the work without receiving a dime of income. Nothing. Again, I am the only unpaid staffer on the team. Anybody saying I am using this work for my own personal or financial gain is not only lying, they are being willfully and intentionally destructive. We are working directly with families to make change, and your lies are a distraction. They are also slanderous and libel, but when we try to fight back against the lies, people then say we’re doing too much.
We are being officially advised by the families of Ahmaud Arbery, Oscar Grant, Sean Bell, Philando Castile, Rodney Reed, Nate Woods, Christopher Kearney, and more. These are all families that have been impacted by the evils of mass incarceration and police brutality. We not only do this work for them, but side by side with them. They are our partners.
When people post, “Don’t’ Give to Shaun King” when we raise funds to do the work of the Grassroots Law Project, they are the frauds — not me. They are the scammers. I don’t make a damn dime off of this work, but I am giving it my whole life. When people post on social media not to work with The Grassroots Law Project, you are telling them not to work with Ahmaud’s mother. They are telling them not to work with Philando’s mother. They are telling them not to work with Nate’s sister. They are telling them not to work with Oscar’s uncle. They are telling them not to work with Christopher’s wife. They are telling them not to work with Rodney’s brother. They are telling them not to work with Sean’s widow. They are an official part of this work.
When you tell people that I am scamming these hurting families, not only are you lying, but you are serving as a major distraction and hindrance to them,sometimes when they are already in a very, very vulnerable position. It’s gross.
I had a family our whole staff was helping six months ago. They had experienced a horrible injustice. People started telling the family that I would steal from them, which no family on earth has ever said about me, and so the family decided to stop working with our team. The people who told them to stop working with me never actually did anything for the family and almost zero movement has happened on the family’s behalf since people convinced them I was going to cause them harm. It’s tragic. And it hurts the families and hinders the process of getting them justice.
Last week, without announcing it to the world or even mentioning it on social media, our team raised over $866,016.57 for the top five bail funds in the country in Minneapolis, Los Angeles, Chicago, Brooklyn, and Louisville. Here is our fundraiser. I’m glad people didn’t listen to the voices telling the world to not give anything to the links we shared. Those funds we raised have been put to essential use all over the country and 100% of what we raised went exclusively to those bail funds.
5. I am so amazingly proud of our entire staff of 14 writers, editors, managers, producers, fulfillment and customer service staffers, and more at The North Star. I have to defend them, because so many lies and so much blatant misinformation has been shared about our staff.
First off, we love working with each other. We’re super close. Our young company is not even 18 months old. We’re a startup. But we’ve had SO much success. Let me brag on our team, talk about our budget, talk about our resilient members, and more.
An article that was widely shared blasting our work erroneously said that over the course of our first 16 months, we hardly produced any articles. Just flat out lies. I literally wonder if they even went to our website. Our editorial team, which is driven by trained journalists, who’ve worked in mainstream media, and have advanced degrees in journalism, have.
In fact, our brilliant team has authored, edited, and published a staggering 1,534 articles since we launched! I love them. All of them. Our team meticulously fact checks everything we do knowing how much scrutiny they will be under. We have a custom guide that we created making sure that we use liberated language on race, racism, mass incarceration, police brutality, white supremacy, women’s issues, LGBTQ issues, slavery, and so much more. We saw people all over the Internet saying The North Star had closed down, wasn’t publishing articles, and was just stealing people’s money. All lies.
Our flagship podcast, The Breakdown, is one of the most heard, most shared, best reviewed daily news podcasts in the country. It is beautifully produced. Every instrument, sound, and track you hear on there is original. We have over 11,000 5-star reviews on Apple. We have now produced 251 original episodes of The Breakdown and some of our top episodes have now crossed over 1 million total streams, a goal I am not sure I thought we’d ever cross. Our action steps have not only become viral, they have literally changed the world. We’ve had dozens of successful action steps. I have literally had to delay today’s episode to write this.
The North Star produced and released the entire first season of an original podcast called Married to the Movement featuring my wife, Rai–who is so much more than my wife. She is a doctoral student at one of the top universities in the nation. She taught elementary school for over 15 years. Rai was recently the Director of Diversity and Inclusion at one of the top charities in the nation, and she recently came on board to help manage the day to day operations of The North Star.
The North Star just released a brand new original podcast series called Sick Empire, starring Branden Janese. It also has 5 stars on Apple Podcasts and is one of the best things our talented team has ever produced. It unpacks the true impact of the coronavirus on everyday people in the epicenter of it all–New York City–where we all live and work everyday.
The North Star has more original podcasts under development and they are all so brilliant and unique. They center people and voices and stories that just aren’t being told anywhere else. We’ve also recently been contracted out to produce an original podcast series for one of the largest hospitals in New York. Our podcast crew is stellar and they work SO damn hard to do with 2-3 people what other larger companies with 20-30 staffers do.
Right before the coronavirus pandemic hit, we hired an amazing full time television producer to lead our first regular online video series. When we launched The North Star, we hoped to have videos, articles and podcasts from day 1. Damn near every guru I spoke to told me to do one at a time, but I thought I knew better. They were right. It took us nearly a year to really nail the process of a daily podcast, daily articles, and special original podcasts. It was after we finally got those things under our belt, that we decided to launch our first video series. Then the pandemic forced us to close our entire office building in Brooklyn and our staff has been forced to work remotely for over three months.
Thousands of our members at The North Star lost their jobs. We know because they wrote us and told us that they had to cancel their memberships. Most promised to come back when things got better. It dropped us all the way down to about 10,000 monthly members and those monthly memberships are literally almost 97% of our entire budget. We have a few ads that give us a little bit of income, but we are member driven.
The Daily Beast erroneously stated that our monthly income was somewhere near $625,000. LUDICROUS! They literally just made that shit up. I couldn’t believe it. Our monthly income from our members is now under $100,000 per month. We use that to pay all 14 of our staffers a living wage, pay for our office space, pay all of our bills and more. Some media companies have CEOs that make more per month than our entire company. Our annual income for the company is on pace to be $1.2 million dollars. Let me give you some perspective. The New York Times had $709 million in digital sales last year. They probably spent $1.2 million dollars on toilet paper and soap last year. That’s our whole budget. That’s not my income. That’s the whole damn thing.
Every single member of the full-time staff at The North Star has health insurance and we cover 100 percent of the costs of it for most of them. We have mental health days and one of the most generous vacation and sick day policies of any media company I’ve ever seen. My advisors all told me it was too much for a startup, but we insisted on doing it the right way.
Like every startup, The North Star had its struggles getting off the ground. The biggest mistake I ever made was thinking that we could start the company with two offices in two entirely different parts of the country. Entrepreneurs with far more experience than me told me before we launched not to do it, but I just knew in my mind that we could pull it off. We couldn’t. With my big family–, kids in elementary school, middle school, high school, and college–I just couldn’t go back and forth from New York to Atlanta and be there to pick up and drop off the kids every day. It was a major admission of defeat to close our Atlanta office, but we had to do it.
I hired people who I hoped would balance my own shortcomings. Like every startup, some of those hires and relationships were the right ones, some of them were wrong. I can say this, though, The North Star is a success story. We are a wildly different company in these last nine months than we were in the first nine. Under the leadership of my entire team, including our COO, we are the most organized and productive that we’ve ever been. We haven’t let a single person go in nearly a year and have a team that I think we could build something truly special with. I’m sorry that the struggles of our beginning have overshadowed our current state as a thriving, debt-free, company that provides a space for creatives of color to hone their talents.
As our income for The North Star sank and sank during the pandemic, we came very close to having to let multiple staffers go. Instead, I decided to launch The Breakdown Live, recorded live from my house, produced by our team, on Twitch. Check us out here. We launched it on Patreon so that the hundreds of thousands of listeners of The Breakdown, who are not members of The North Star, could chip in and support our team.
I do not receive a single dime of the income we have generated from Patreon and it does not even cover all that we’ve lost since the pandemic hit, but that income has allowed us, unlike mega-outlets like Vox and The Atlantic, to not lay off a single staffer. We have not cut any salaries. We have not reduced any benefits. It’s rough, and we are barely getting by, but we are holding it down. Do the math. $100,000 split among 14 staffers, with rent for our expensive-ass office, all of our tech and hosting costs, and nobody working for us is well off.
I made more income as the Senior Justice Writer at the New York Daily News five years ago than I make as the CEO of The North Star, the host of The Breakdown and The Breakdown Live. I made more income as the Justice Writer at The Intercept than I make for The North Star. I made more income as the Writer-in-Residence at Harvard Law School than I make for The North Star. In fact, I don’t make enough income at The North Star alone to even support my family. I have to write for other outlets, consult for businesses, and speak anywhere I can to supplement my income.
I have started doing ads on The Breakdown that I told myself I’d never do,like for workout videos and gaming apps, but each ad I do basically covers an entire month of health insurance for one of our staffers, so I do these ads with pride, knowing that they keep our team healthy. I don’t make any money off of the ads.
Our staff has been impacted in a major way by the pandemic and one of our team members even contracted the virus but recovered. During the pandemic, my mother-in-law was diagnosed with cancer and hospitalized for an emergency surgery. My own mother was just hospitalized for an emergency surgery, got a critical blood infection that became sepsis and fought like hell to beat it.
Our nation has had a hell of a time these past few months. None of us are unscathed. Our nerves are frayed. 40 million people have lost their jobs. Over 100,000 people have died from the coronavirus. And we are experiencing police brutality and white supremacy out in the open all over this country. It’s too much for me. It’s too much for you. And I think that in the midst of all of this, I am an easy target. In every battle we face, I am there – fighting, organizing, speaking out, writing, recording, sharing. And in a time where it’s truly hard to hold our system accountable, some good people have been deeply misinformed about me, my work, the teams I help lead, and the fundraising I do.
In the spring of 1999, I was elected the youngest Student Government President in over 50 years at Morehouse College. Just a sophomore, I won over 50 percent of the vote in a crowded field. I really ran as an activist and organizer more than a budding politician.
A few days after I won, I had a chance to sit down with the late Reverend Joseph Lowery, often called the Dean of the Civil Rights Movement, in a room that he and I both considered sacred on the campus. It was the small, weathered chapel of Sale Hall, where every legendary Black voice imaginable from 1900 on had spoken. A young Martin Luther King, Jr. came there as a student for the mandatory twice weekly chapel service and learned at the feet of the legendary college president. Dr. Benjamin Elijah Mays would go on to perform Dr. King’s eulogy in the shadows of that same chapel just 20 years later.
Sitting next to each other in seats at the back of the auditorium, Rev. Lowery leaned in and gave me a sage piece of advice that I’ve never forgotten. He said “son – nowadays your opposition won’t kill you, but they will try to ruin you and wear you down. Stay focused. Surround yourself with people you trust. And give each day your best.”
For the past 21 years of my life as a public leader, from Morehouse until this very moment, I’ve tried to take those words to heart each and every day. Rev. Lowery knew then what I know now — those who oppose you and your work won’t necessarily kill you, but they will try to ruin you, smear you, defame your character, lie on you, gossip about you, wear you down, and make you out to be something you aren’t. And they will enjoy doing it. They will laugh at your expense. People will make it their literal mission to stop you and even grow to feel like it’s their calling to do so.
Right now, I am caught between a war of two very opposing factions of friends and family in my life. One group of friends and family has begged me to never respond again to a single false accusation saying that I have misspent, misallocated, scammed, or defrauded a single person out of a single penny a day in my life. It has never happened. Not once. Ever. Every single person, family, cause and charity, I’ve ever raised a single penny received the money they raised. And not a single person, family, cause, or charity says otherwise. And I have maintained close relationships with each of them to this very day. I have seen hundreds of thousands of comments and DMs and emails over the past week begging me to just let the haters hate so that I can just focus on the work that I do each and every day.
But I have another faction among my family and friends, including my wife Rai, some of my closest friends, and some of my staff members at The North Star who were rightfully stung by so much of the misinformation and lies now spreading about them. Some have asked me to again pause all of my workand temporarily stop advocating for families and justice, so that I can once again explain to the public what I have explained ad nauseum, over and over again, just one more time. And so here we are.
Several months ago, a team of data scientists concluded that one or multiple outside groups or corporations are funding and fueling a deliberate, coordinated misinformation campaign about me. Several months before that, almost every friend, family, colleague and classmate of mine going all the way back to elementary school told me they were getting phone calls and emails from people claiming to be private investigators. On two different occasions, police and other local authorities literally showed up at my house after people filed false reports against my family.
I have no idea who the ultimate source of misinformation is, but either way, what they have intended to do, which seems to be to stop me, has not worked. It will not work. On an average day, my team and I see a few thousand mentions of me stealing from families and causes, scamming them, defrauding them, robbing them. We see these lies shared by real people that I thought I knew and respected. They believed the lie because someone they trusted believed it and posted it because someone they trusted did the exact same thing. It has been an out of body experience to see so many people believe and publicly declare a complete fabrication about me to be the absolute truth. In spite of that, more people than ever have signed up to support the work we lead. More people are volunteering. More people are donating. More people are doing the work. And I am determined to keep pushing forward – no matter what.
Here’s the thing. I will always swing for the fences. I will take chances and fail. I will fight with my whole heart, and sometimes I will lose. In fact, we lose a lot in this fight for justice. I will experiment with new ideas and new technologies. I will try new concepts of organizing people. Sometimes they will work. Sometimes they won’t. Sometimes I’ll take great advice. Other times I’ll lean on my own intuition to varying results. I have never, and would never, mistreat anyone. Even those who were let go in the early days of The North Star received a month’s severance, and in the case of our co-founder, an entire year’s severance.
I will work day and night to give people from all over the world ways to fight alongside us. But I won’t stop. I won’t stop fighting. I won’t stop organizing. I won’t stop fundraising. I won’t stop writing. I won’t stop.