United States Bankruptcy Judge Marci B. McIvor (Eastern District of Michigan- Southern Division – Detroit) ruled on Thursday, December 17, 2015 that Detroit-based Keeper of the Word Foundation (KWF) had 10 days in which to turn over assets to a Chapter 7 Trustee. According to KWF’s founder, Attorney Gregory J. Reed, Judge McIvor’s two-page Opinion/Order means that the organization’s assets will be sold and liquidated to pay the debts of a third party. In this case, Reed is the third party and is linked to an epic divorce from his wife, and the subsequent division of properties that started in 2000.
Reed said that KWF’s assets contain protected intellectual and historic properties/works/artifacts of noted black authors, artists, and activists, which include Rosa Parks, Malcolm X, Alex Haley, Martin Luther King, Jr., Nelson Mandela, Nikki Giovanni, Jacob Lawrence, Romare Bearden and more. The Malcolm X papers are specifically mentioned among the eight-tier of assets listed in the Judge’s Opinion/Order.
Reed called the court order unconscionable and out of bounds. He said that the bankruptcy ruling should be levied at him personally and should not include the assets of the non-profit organization he started almost 20 years ago.
“The bankruptcy court contends that Keeper of the Word Foundation is mine,” said Reed. “But how could it be mine when there a board and it operates by the laws of government pertaining to non-profit foundations? The judge believes that Keeper of the Word Foundation and its assets are my alter egos, but they are not. The foundation is a separate entity that has done everything correctly. All of its paperwork has been filed correctly. Keeper of the Word Foundation should not be a party of this bankruptcy.”
Reed points to the city of Detroit’s recent bankruptcy and how some emergency management officials initially looked to the Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA) and its billions in assets as a possible way to help pay the city’s debts. Yet, Bill Schuette, Michigan’s Attorney General, issued his Opinion on June 13, 2013 that read in part, “The art collection of the Detroit Institute of Arts is held by the City of Detroit in charitable trust for the people of Michigan, and no piece in the collection may thus be sold, conveyed, or transferred to satisfy City debts or obligations.”
“Just like the Detroit Institute of Arts was not a party of the City’s bankruptcy, Keeper of the Word Foundation is not a party to my personal bankruptcy” said Reed. “The DIA had separate assets; KWF has separate assets. By law, how can you take something that’s not a party of the case? There’s no due process.”
What also bothers Reed about the case, he said, is the Trustee Counsel that’s attached. The Trustee, according to Reed, is being investigated by the Attorney Grievance Commission for perjury, fraud, and conflict of interest. The Trustee, said Reed, along with produced documentation, has been removed from nine bankruptcy cases.
While Reed doesn’t deny that he (Reed) has purchased historic works of black authors, artists and activists – some of which were long before KWF was incorporated – he maintains that all works purchased were legally transferred to KWF many years ago. Thus, they exclusively belong to KWF.
A call was placed to Judge McIvor on Monday morning, Dec. 21 for comment, just to add balance to this story. However, the judge’s judicial assistant, Susan Maruszewski, stated that the United States Bankruptcy Court only responds through written rulings and opinions that are issued accordingly.
In the meantime, Reed and his attorney, Carolyn Jackson are moving fast to file an appeal and a subsequent stay, which he feels will ultimately free the historic work and integrity of iconic African American authors, artists, and activists. Reed said he is proud of the work that the foundation has done over the past two decades to educate others, especially African Americans, about the work of so many black trailblazers.
Additionally, Reed said his reputation is on the line, as he is one of the nation’s premier legal professionals that specializes in cultural/social history and preservation of noted authors, artists and activists, most of which are black. He has worked for or with Rosa Parks, Nelson Mandela, Malcolm X’s and Alex Haley’s Legacies, Dr. Betty Shabazz, Coretta Scott King, Aretha Franklin and six world boxing champions.
Over the past two decades, KWF, under the direction of Reed, has produced or collaborated with exhibits and projects, such as the co-development of Trayvon Martin’s official website and App; Obama Talks Back: Global Lessons – A Dialogue with America’s Young Leaders; Dear Rosa Parks – Dear Mr. Mandela: Global Lessons; Alex Haley/Roots Lecture Series with William Haley; Rosa Parks’ exhibit at the Walt Disney Epcot Center; 100 Plus One Exhibit – Before Motown and Beyond, Celebrating America’s Music; The Malcolm X Collections – Excerpts of the Unpublished Chapter Exhibit; the 50th anniversary Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee; the 40th anniversary of the Montgomery Boycott; and lots more.
While Reed has made major accomplishments in the aforementioned arenas, he remains humble. Yet, he wants what’s right in this case. “It’s not about me; it’s much bigger than me,” Reed said. “It’s about the protection of foundations, museums and charitable organizations, and the protection against their assets being seized to settle third party debts. It’s about protecting the intellectual properties of noted black authors, artists and activists. What I want is someone to look at the facts and follow the law.”