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Hey, Margaret Seltzer, about that nonprofit ...

March 5, 2008 |  5:16 pm

Southla_tag_fame

Margaret B Jones Seltzer, the fake memoirist du jour, has included, in her stories of growing up in gangland, the fact that she's stayed involved with the community via a nonprofit called International Brother/SisterHood. The extent of that involvement -- and what that nonprofit is, exactly -- is unclear.

The New York Times Home section profile, which ran on Feb. 28 (and prompted her sister to call the paper with the news that the memoir was untrue), tells it this way:

Recently, she started a gang truce organization called International Brother/SisterHood to help youths move away from gang life.

But ... a library record of the book says that she was only:

an active member of International Brother/SisterHood, which works to reduce gang violence and mentor urban teens.

According to her Penguin author's interview (recently removed from the publisher's website but archived here), she is definitely involved, although the issue of who founded the organization remains murky:

I work with International Brother/SisterHood. The idea for the organization came from two homies who have been on death row for twenty years and who felt something needed to be done. ... We're gang members trying to use mentoring and positive contacts with youth, educators, parents and community mentors to elevate the community one person at a time. ... If you're a teacher or a parent and want someone to talk to, hit us up. If you are in the hood and looking for a way out and we have $25 and you need it to pay for submitting a college application, we'll pay it. We go out and talk to these little kids because they look up to us.

But who talks to the little kids? The author lives in Oregon. The homies live on death row. What "we" goes into the community? Where is the International Brother/SisterHood office? Is there a phone number? Where do those college aspirants go, exactly, for that $25?

The International Brother/SisterHood website was live at brothersisterhood.com until late last night or early this morning but has since been taken down. I took a few screenshots (Gawker did too), and there was, I'm afraid, none of the typical information provided by nonprofits. Instead, this was the homepage notice:

Welcome to BrotherSisterhood.com. This is the place for all the latest information about the upcoming book LOVE AND CONSEQUENCES and its author Margaret B. Jones. You will also find information about the International Brother/SisterHood foundation, as well as links to other, related organizations. Feel free to click through the links at left to explore our site.

The site of Brother/SisterHood is the place for all the latest information about "Love and Consequences"? That seems strange. According to Gawker, "[t]he foundation's website appears to have been registered in the name of Seltzer's agent, Faye Bender," in October 2007. Is the website of International Brother/SisterHood a book promotion vehicle? (A message inquiring about the registration and the purpose of the website was left on Bender's voicemail, but it was after hours in New York.)

Of course, the International Brother/SisterHood organization (upgraded, on the website, to a foundation) could certainly exist without a Web presence. Which is why I checked with some places that keep track of nonprofits and haven't been able to find any records. Guidestar, which tracks its data through federal filings, didn't find it; the closest it came was International Sisterhood -- which was founded 16 years ago and, as a nonoperating foundation, makes grants only to other nonprofits, not to individuals, as International Brother/SisterHood claimed to do. Initial inquiries with the California State Attorney General's Office -- all California nonprofits must be registered there -- didn't turn up anything. And a local LA nonprofit service organization didn't, either.

It's hardly shocking to think that Seltzer, who concocted a fictional memoir, could also invent a nonexistent nonprofit. But there are plenty of real organizations doing good work with at-risk kids all over LA. Why not get involved with one of them?

And think: If Seltzer actually volunteered with an organization, any organization, why bother to make one up?

Carolyn Kellogg

photo, titled "Fame," by Bernard Mickey Wrangle

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