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Arian Simone

Co-Founder & General Partner Fearless Fund

Black businesses, entrepreneurs, and professionals are under attack. Such a statement isn’t hyperbole. Nor is it a drastic declaration to grab a headline. Instead, this is simply the state of play for the assault on diversity, equity, and inclusion in Corporate America. 

 A relentless assault has unfolded since last June when the Supreme Court’s ruling in Students for Fair Admissions, Inc. (SFFA) v. President & Fellows of Harvard College (Harvard) and SFFA v. the University of North Carolina (UNC) gutted affirmative action. Right-leaning state attorneys general pounced on the signal from the nation’s highest court to go after DEI measures in America’s largest corporations. The late-June ruling has since set off a firestorm, bringing genuine promises to do better after the 2020 murder of George Floyd squarely in the culture wars. 

This assault on DEI and Black American’s chance at a fair shot — after generations upon generations of discrimination at work, school, mass transit, restaurants, and everywhere in between — is much more than a media talking point. It has real, long-term implications for the ability of a Black entrepreneur to become the next innovator or corporate leader. What’s at stake here are two paths: one in which Black girls in school right now have the ability to realize their dreams or one that takes us back to an era before the Civil Rights Movement. 

 I realized this when the American Alliance for Equal Rights sued my venture capital firm, the Fearless Fund, and its philanthropic arm, the Fearless Foundation, over an outrageous claim of discrimination. The suit was brought by Edward Blum, the same right-wing legal activist who led the charge to gut affirmative action in higher education. Within weeks of that painful Supreme Court decision, Blum’s fight was at our doorstep on the apparent belief we’d be an easy target.

This campaign against Black entrepreneurship set its sights on the Foundation’s Fearless Strivers Grant, which awards $20,000 to women of color starting a business. These grants were a lifeline to female entrepreneurs who otherwise couldn’t access this money in the short term. Some of our grantees could keep their businesses afloat because they could access this grant after they were denied a loan. 

What’s most egregious factor about their argument is their use of a clause in the Civil Rights Act of 1866. This section of that vital post-Civil War legislation was written to protect recently freed slaves from economic exclusion. It was meant to level the playing field for our ancestors. Yet, we have been marred in the decades since through policies, roadblocks, and loopholes meant to exclude Black Americans from access to good schools, jobs, and business opportunities. 

From an early age, I felt all of this history, the weight of the constant struggle for access. I was raised in the presence of Coretta Scott King, Rosa Parks, Juanita Abernathy, and Betty Shabazz — powerful women who were the real power behind the Civil Rights Movement. They exemplified the power, the dignity, and the potential of Black women. And these luminaries were dedicated to seeing the next generation rise even further. 

My mission has been to carry on that vision of my mothers and my grandmothers. I saw the emergence of Black female entrepreneurs, who have become the largest group of Americans starting new businesses. In the last ten years alone, businesses owned by Black women have grown by more than 50%. We have finally cemented ourselves through exciting brands like Live Tinted, ClevrAI, and Slutty Vegan — all of which the Fearless Fund became an investor. Sadly, I also realized the struggle for women of color to access even a fraction of a percent of the $240+ billion in venture capital every year as of 2022. This was a void in the system that no legislation, policy, or agency was protecting. 

The Fearless Fund and Fearless Foundation were a correction to this historic inequity. Corporations came to invest in our work after the George Floyd murder on what they said was a genuine gesture to do better. AAER’s lawsuit has prompted many of them to go silent. More have sunk further into the background after the legal group’s successful bullying of Perkins Cole and Winston & Strawn to water down their DEI programs. 

But my team and I have yet to back down. Many have the luxury of writing off a DEI program as another budget line item that did not work out. We do not have the luxury when investing in and supporting women of color, which is the foundation of what we do. If Fearless Fund and Fearless Foundation lose this case, it will be a loss for every Black woman who wants to start a business. There have been many moments over the last several months where we have been on our own, weathering a storm we did not sail into but one we are determined to pass through.  

We must emerge from this storm because a loss for the Fearless Fund and Fearless Foundation is a blow to decades of hard-won rights. It will stop companies like mine or Hello Alice from being the only source of venture capital or grants to help them get even a fighting chance at the American Dream. It will give more companies an excuse to back out of thoughtful programs they have built with powerhouse organizations like the National Urban League. 

As of this writing, the Fearless Fund and Fearless Foundation are still in court with still a long fight ahead. I cannot say what the future holds, but I have made it clear we will win this fight even if it means I lose my company because this is about more than just this company or the women we have supported. It’s about the future of equality for our nation.

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