There is a weak pulse at the Harlem-based Black United Fund of New York (BUFNY), but the long-standing charitable organization is perhaps breathing its last. “For all intents and purposes, BUFNY is dead,” says Kermit Eady, the institution’s founder and former executive director. “It’s ludicrous to give any other evaluation.”
William Davis, chairman of BUFNY’s interim board, has another take on the troubled body. “It is true that we are in financial distress and had to lay off several employees, but we haven’t pulled the plug,” he says. He says the downsizing was necessary in order to determine ways to save it.
Eady founded the organization in 1979 to empower the Black community through self-reliance. He devised a payroll deduction plan—modeled on United Way’s—as a unique way of gathering funds to develop programs to service the community, particularly the critical need for low-income housing. But Eady was terminated last year, along with the organization’s vice president, Larry Barton, after New York State Attorney General Eliot Spitzer appointed an interim board to oversee the charity’s operations.
Spitzer charged that BUFNY’s investments in real estate had caused it “to fall behind in its financial commitments to designated grantees that are directly supported by payroll contributions from federal, state, municipal, city and corporate employees,” and that it was “chronically delinquent in filing documents required by law with the Attorney General’s office.”
In a recent interview, Eady pointed out that only two staff members remained at BUFNY—acting executive director Briding Newell and a bookkeeper. “If that ain’t dead, I don’t know what is. When they suspended the donations, that was pretty much the end of things,” he said.
Of all of BUFNY’s accomplishments, nothing is more remarkable than the 400 or more housing units it developed in Harlem and Brooklyn. If reports are accurate, Webb & Booker, a prominent realtor with a substantial number of properties in New York City, will now manage those units.
Eady also notes that the radio station he had purchased during his last days at BUFNY, as well as one of the two Harvest Centers, established to serve like mini-Kinko’s, no longer exist. “The radio station would have brought in a new source of additional revenues, not to mention the teaching and consciousness-raising that would have taken place in Black communities across the country,” he says. “They claimed I changed the mission of the organization, but that’s a lie. Our mission was to empower the community, and that’s what we were doing.”
It was the acquisition of the radio station—purchased to serve listeners along the Hudson River Valley corridor—that precipitated the move to oust Eady and Barton, supporters of the former executives contend. BUFNY’s demise, Eady says, was “facilitated by deceit and abuse of power by the state, the treachery of Black collaborators as ‘enemies within,’ and the powerlessness and silence of our elected representatives.” He insists that these elected officials and others should not go unpunished. “The war against the practice of self-help principles for the empowerment and self-reliance of Black people continues.”
Eady is adamant in his claims that Attorney General Spitzer is the source of his removal from BUFNY and the subsequent moves to dismantle the organization. “He appointed the board that went after Larry and me, so I put the blame on him.”
A spokeswoman for the attorney general has repeatedly refuted Eady’s charges, insisting they are without merit.
“It is unfortunate that the various parties involved couldn’t come together to salvage this incredibly important institution,” says Ron Daniels, executive director of the Center for Constitutional Rights and one of New York’s most prominent Black activists. “This is a terrible loss to the entire community."
By Herb Boyd