Better Ed criticized for appropriating #BlackLivesMatter hashtag, black fist

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In recent days, Better Ed, a Bloomington-based 501(c)(3) nonprofit that's made headlines for trolling Minneapolis Public Schools right outside its headquarters, has been distributing mailers that read "#BlackLivesMatter" on one side and feature a black fist on the other.

(See both sides at right.)

The mailers shed light on racial disparities in reading proficiency rates in Minneapolis and St. Paul public schools. Nobody disagrees that achievement gaps of that sort need to be addressed.

But it's the appropriation of the hashtag and fist image by an organization that has no people of color on its staff that's drawn the ire of activists associated with Black Lives Matter, including Nekima Levy-Pounds, an acclaimed University of St. Thomas law professor and one of the 11 people charged in connection with the December 20 anti-police brutality Black Lives Matter demonstration at the Mall of America.

"The problem has to do with the fact that this is a conservative education group that has no black people on [its] staff, and they don't listen to people of color," Levy-Pounds tells Fox 9. "All of their staff is being paid to put out this propaganda. If you really care about black lives, how come you don't receive any input from black people?"

Levy-Pounds raised some of her concerns during an animated Twitter exchange with Better Ed today:

Asked whether he thinks the racial composition of Better Ed's staff is significant, Foley rhetorically replies, "What [race] was Harriet Beecher Stowe?"

"I think actually Nekima and us, we need to get together and get coffee or something," Foley continues. "I think we're on the same page and thoroughly horrified about what's happening in Minneapolis Public Schools, especially with African-American students."

Foley points out that the most recent Minneapolis reading statistics indicate less than 30 percent of black students are reading at grade level, compared with upward of 70 percent for whites.

"This is one of the worst, if not the worst achievement gaps in the country, so [our messaging] should be celebrated," Foley says. "It's our understanding that the phones are ringing off the hook at the Capitol at certain offices by parents who have received these mailers."

Asked about whether they have any plans to heed Levy-Pounds's request and stop using the #BlackLivesMatter hashtag, Foley replies, "Did Nekima trademark it?"

And with regard to the solutions Better Ed would like to see implemented, Foley says, "I think when the system fails, we need to take the funding that's available and give the parents the freedom to go find a better school, whether that be through vouchers or an education savings account, so be it."

But Levy-Pounds thinks Better Ed has ulterior motives.

Better Ed is "one of numerous conservative groups around the country that exploits negative statistics about black children and families and profits from this messaging," she says. "Better Ed demonstrated on Twitter today that it could care less about the voices of black parents and community members on these issues, which seems hypocritical to many of us who engaged with them online. Their stats should be able to stand alone without the need to co-opt a black-led movement, which I find to be reprehensible."