A major donor is suing the One Love Foundation, claiming that the Baltimore-based nonprofit, which has educated 2 million young people about relationship violence, has breached an agreement and is in “disarray” due to the actions of one of its founders.

The lawsuit asserts that founder Sharon Love fought against One Love’s “outreach to LGBTQ and minority communities” and threatened to fire board members who disagreed with her, prompting nearly all board members and the organization’s CEO to resign earlier this year. Love founded the non-profit after her daughter, University of Virginia senior Yeardley Love, was murdered by an ex-boyfriend in 2010.

The Michael Ward and Jennifer Glock Foundation, led by the former CEO of CSX Corp. and his wife, demands in the lawsuit that its most recent $1 million gift to One Love be redirected to another charity, as stipulated in a 2022 contract. The suit comes after more than two years of struggle over One Love’s future.

“The wonderful momentum we had has been destroyed,” Michael Ward, who is also a former One Love board member, said in an interview. “All the board members who resigned are very upset.”

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A representative of One Love said that Sharon Love was unavailable for comment this week. “We’re aware of the litigation,” said Jon Higgins, One Love’s chief strategy officer. “We don’t believe it has any merit. We are defending it vigorously.”

The One Love Foundation is a familiar presence in both the Baltimore region and across the country. The NFL highlighted its #Thatsnotlove campaign during primetime games in 2017. The foundation hosted a gala in Boston this year and fundraising runs in Seattle and Baltimore, where the Ravens partnered with the organization. The foundation’s logo sticker, a heart made from lacrosse stick strings, appears on water bottles and car bumpers throughout the region, and is particularly popular with female student athletes.

Ward, through his family foundation, was one of the first major donors to One Love, giving the nonprofit $8.75 million since 2012. One Love had an operating budget of $10 million to $12 million and has educated more than 2 million middle and high school and college students about healthy and unhealthy relationships, according to the suit, which was filed in a Florida court last month.

Love became upset with the nonprofit’s direction in 2020, according to the suit, and she “began to openly and harshly criticize” the organization’s outreach to marginalized communities. After Minneapolis police killed George Floyd in 2020, sparking national protests, Love “criticized One Love for ‘jump[ing] on the band wagon’” of supporting Black Lives Matter, according to the suit.

Love “expressed her dismay at the ‘outpouring of sympathy and support’ for the Black community,” the suit alleges.

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In an open letter posted on One Love’s website in June, Love wrote that the board members and CEO had resigned due to “a difference of opinion on the governance structure of the organization.”

“When my family and I founded One Love, it was important to us that, as guardians of Yeardley’s memory, we retain ultimate control of the Board and CEO positions,” she wrote. “As One Love has grown, some felt uncomfortable with that structure, a position we respect and understand, but it will not change.”

Earlier this year, the foundation moved its headquarters from New York back to Timonium. In an interview with WJZ last week, Love said, “Baltimore is my hometown. Baltimore was Yeardley’s hometown.”

Yeardley Love, 22, who was raised in Cockeysville and was a lacrosse standout, was killed in 2010 by an ex-boyfriend at her off-campus apartment near the University of Virginia. A foundation focused on relationship violence was created in her honor.

Raised in Cockeysville, Yeardley Love was a lacrosse standout at Notre Dame Preparatory School before enrolling at the University of Virginia, where she majored in political science and played on the women’s lacrosse team. Just a few weeks before Love was set to graduate, the 22-year-old was found dead in her off-campus apartment. Her ex-boyfriend, George Huguely V, who played on the university’s men’s lacrosse team, was quickly arrested and charged with her murder. Authorities said a drunken Huguely, 24, of Chevy Chase, broke into her bedroom and attacked her, according to the Washington Post. He was found guilty in 2012 of second-degree murder and sentenced to 23 years in prison. Last year, a Virginia jury found Huguely civilly liable in Love’s death and said he must pay $15 million in damages to her family.

Sharon Love and her older daughter, Lexie Love Hodges, founded One Love in 2010. At first the nonprofit focused on supporting young athletes and constructing and maintaining athletic facilities, but its focus soon changed to stopping relationship violence. That’s when Ward, a Baltimore native, began donating to the nonprofit. His gift enabled One Love to create an educational film, “Escalation,” that helped young people recognize the warning signs of abusive relationships, according to the suit.

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The nonprofit began to grow rapidly, attracting prominent board members and moving its headquarters to New York City. Katie Hood, who had previously led the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research, became the CEO in 2014.

For years, Sharon Love appeared thrilled by Hood’s leadership and Ward’s beneficence, Ward said. However, the relationships started to sour in 2020 when Love believed the board and leadership were “doing too much to help LGBTQ and minority communities and not enough to address her concerns,” according to the suit.

“She all but abandoned One Love,” the suit alleges. “She explained that she was ‘plagued by stress and the only way [she knew] how to stop the stress [was] by walking away from [the] unhealthy relationship’ she had with One Love.”

In May 2022, One Love’s leaders approached Ward’s foundation about providing an additional $2 million. Concerned by Sharon Love’s statements, Ward asked One Love in December to sign an agreement stating that the nonprofit would alert him to any changes to its strategic plan, key personnel or operations.

“If you determine that decisions or changes made adversely affect One Love’s ability to carry out or accomplish the purpose of your grant, you can request that One Love resolve your concerns within 90 days,” said the agreement, which is included in a suit. If that did not occur, Ward was free to redirect his donations to another charity, the agreement said.

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Love’s relationship with the board and Hood continued to decline. She accused One Love of being a “runaway foundation” that was “’falsely presenting’ its messaging and even ‘endangering young lives,’” according to the suit.

In May and June, Hood and 14 of 15 independent board members resigned, according to the suit. The one board member who remained finished her term and left. Hood declined to comment, citing the pending litigation.

One Love then appointed Julie Myers, Yeardley Love’s coach at UVA, as CEO and Ojeda Hall, who has a prestigious resume in the corporate and nonprofit world, as president. The organization’s website currently only lists Sharon Love and Alexis Love Hodges as board members.

Ward said he was “saddened” by the direction One Love had taken in recent months, but proud of the work that the organization accomplished previously.

“We’ve made a difference in millions of people’s lives,” he said. “We did a lot of good.”

julie.scharper@thebaltimorebanner.com

Julie Scharper is a news enterprise reporter who writes about interesting people, places, trends and traditions in Baltimore and the surrounding counties. She seeks to answer the question: What does it mean to be alive in this time and place? 

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