WASHINGTON, D.C. — Ayana K. Parsons, Chief Operating Officer of the Fearless Fund, began her comments inside the opening town hall at the Congressional Black Caucus’s 52nd Annual Legislative Conference by making one simple declaration:
“So let me just start by saying that there are three things that make this world go round: Money, power, and love. And we, as Black folks, we got a whole lot of love. But I will tell you what we don’t have: we don’t have enough power and we damn sure don’t have enough money.”
The Fearless Fund is a venture capital firm founded by women of color investing in women of color-led businesses seeking pre-seed, seed level or series A financing. Their mission is to bridge the gap in venture capital funding for women of color founders building scalable, growth aggressive companies. Along with her partner Arian Simone, President and Chief Executive Officer of Fearless Fund, they have been seeking to shift the levels by which women of color led companies receive the requisite investments needed to compete in the American economy and invest in their respective communities.
If Black women-owned businesses matched the average revenue of those led by white women, $667 billion would be added to the U.S. economy, and if Black women-owned businesses matched by those led by men, $7.9 trillion would be added.
In 2022, more than $208 billion was deployed to entrepreneurs to start businesses. That is venture capital that seed money to start those businesses. Of that $208 billion, 0.39% of those dollars went to women of color, according to Parsons.
There is no debate that the Fearless Fund is needed and their efforts are noble. However, America’s right wing is equally determined to maintain the current status quo.
Edward J. Blum, the brains behind lawsuits that ultimately saw Affirmative Action get struck down by the United States Supreme Court, has targeted Parsons and Simone. On August 2nd, the conservative activist filed a suit against the Fearless Fund. In the suit, Blum’s non-profit, the American Alliance for Equal Rights, claims the Fearless Fund is violating Section 1981 of the Civil Rights Act of 1866, a U.S. law that forbids racial bias in private contracts, by making only Black women eligible in a grant competition. It was filed in federal court in Atlanta.
Blum’s lawsuit focuses on Fearless Fund’s Fearless Strivers Grant Contest. It’s a competition that awards Black women who own small businesses $20,000 in grants and digital tools to help them grow their businesses and mentorship opportunities provided by a partnership with Mastercard.
The ramifications are wide-ranging in either direction.
Thirteen Republican state attorneys general have sent letters to CEOs of FORTUNE 100 companies declaring their stances regarding diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) are unconstitutional if the Supreme Court’s ruling was applied.
“Treating people differently because of the color of their skin, even for benign purposes, is unlawful and wrong,” they wrote.
They also argued DEI programs are a modern form of discrimination.
Meanwhile, supporters on the side of the Fearless Fund believe this is not solely a Black or Brown versus white issue because the reality is that Parsons and Simone do have white allies on their side that are fighting alongside them. The law firm Gibson, Dunn and Crutcher has been enlisted to mount the defense of the Fearless Fund. Additionally, the Benjamin Crump, the National Women’s Law Center and the NAACP Legal Defense Fund are providing services to the Fearless Fund.
“This isn’t about money,” explained Parsons. “This is about wealth creation. This is about the American dream, and quite frankly, Edward Blum, who has sued the Fearless Fund, is trying to dismantle our economic freedom and our ability to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps, and experience that which is the American dream. So this is so much bigger than us.”
According to a study conducted by Pew Research, majority Black American-owned businesses made up the greatest share of all classifiable firms in the District of Columbia, Georgia and Maryland. Additionally, Nearly six-in-ten Black adults (58%) say supporting Black businesses, or “buying Black,” is an extremely or very effective strategy for moving Black people toward equality in the United States.
“80% of white Americans have networks that are 100% White,” explained Parsons. “If you are Black and Brown, you are eight, nine, even ten times more likely to have completely diverse networks of all races, all ethnicities. That’s why this is so important because if you can diversify the investors and those who are writing checks, you can diversify the investments so we can create economic freedom and progress for all.”
The Fearless Fund did not choose Atlanta by accident. Parsons and Simone are standing on the history that was made by former Atlanta Mayor Maynard Holbrook Jackson when he established the country’s first Minority Participation Program in 1974. Out of that program, the H.J. Russell Company, The Gourmet Companies and many others became prosperous, influential, and set the economic course for the City of Atlanta and for the next sixty years as the middle class expanded and Black entrepreneurship would not only be encouraged, but celebrated.
They dared to be different and they are taking a stand for it.
“So that, my friends, is why this lawsuit is so incredibly important,” said Parsons. “He has already taken away Affirmative Action in higher education; he has already gone after board diversity Legislation in California. He is coming after us. He’s suing West Point, now he’s suing the law firms. He’s going after the corporations and their D.E.I. initiatives. So this is a very targeted and planned attack and the time for us to fight back is now.”