In the world of venture capital, the Fearless Fund is a relatively small player.
In the last four years, it has invested $26 million and awarded $3 million in grants to about 40 businesses led by women of color. It’s a drop in an ocean of hundreds of billions: Last year, the value of venture capital invested in the U.S. was nearly $241 billion.
But it is a desperately-needed drop. Although women entrepreneurs of color have been founding companies at four times the rate of the overall population, only 0.1 percent — one tenth of one percent — of venture capital funds went to Black and Latino women founders last year.
But even that is too much for the anti-racial-justice extremists who are suing the Fearless Fund based on the ludicrous assertion that the system is rigged in favor of Black women.
Edward Blum, who was behind the case that ended affirmative action in college admissions, has filed a lawsuit on behalf of the mockingly-named front group American Alliance for Equal Rights. The suit is the latest offensive in Blum’s well-funded and alarmingly successful crusade to preserve systemic racial inequities and the advantages they afford people like himself, and the anonymous backers who funnel him hundreds of millions through dark-money foundations.
Becoming ‘the investor I had been looking for’
It took Fearless Fund founders Ayana Parsons and Arian Simone, both Black women with a wealth of business experience, an estimated 300 meetings with potential investors to secure their first $5 million in funding.
Sadly, their experience is not unique. Black women business owners who apply for funding are rejected at three times the rate of white business owners. Only 3% of black women-owned companies mature and survive longer than five years.
The adversity that Parsons and Simone have faced has only fueled their resolve.
“I made a promise to myself that one day I was going to be the business investor that I had been looking for,” Simone said.
“We know that women such as ourselves have been marginalized, we’ve been overlooked, we’ve been underfunded, and unsupported,” Parsons said in response to the lawsuit. “We will not sit on the sidelines and watch idly by as Black and brown women are under attack.”
Simone serves as president and chief executive officer of Fearless Fund, while Parsons holds the position of chief operating officer. Between them, they have nearly 40 years of experience and expertise.
A self-described “serial entrepreneur” with an MBA from Florida A&M University, Simone pioneered a successful PR and marketing firm with billion-dollar corporate clients such as Sony Pictures, Universal Pictures, Walt Disney Pictures and more.
Parsons also holds an MBA from Florida A&M, where she also graduated summa cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in management. She previously served as the global head of retail, consumer goods and lifestyle industries at the World Economic Forum.
The National Urban League has joined in filing an amicus brief in the case, along with Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, National Action Network, NAACP, National Coalition on Black Civic Participation, and LatinoJustice PRLDEF.
Perversely, Blum is suing the Fearless Fund under a post-Civil War law intended to protect Black Americans from racial discrimination. As our brief explains, Section 1981 of the Civil Rights Act of 1866 was explicitly designed to further the aims of the 13th Amendment by creating a remedy for discrimination against Black people that hampered their ability to enter into contracts and fully participate in the nation’s economy.
Programs like the Fearless Fund, which strengthen Black Americans’ rights to equal participation in the marketplace, are indisputably authorized under federal law.
If extremists like Blum and his backers have their way, even 300 meetings won’t be enough for women entrepreneurs of color to secure even a tiny percentage of the funding they need to succeed. As Damon Hewitt, president and executive director of Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, said, “They seek to kneecap any effort to undo entrenched racial inequalities and further cement the status quo of inequitable market access.”
Parsons and Simone are determined not to let that happen. “Activism is in our DNA,” Simone said. “We are not scared, we are fearless.”
Marc H. Morial is president and CEO of the National Urban League and former mayor of New Orleans from 1994 to 2002. He writes a twice-monthly column for the Sun-Times.
The Sun-Times welcomes letters to the editor and op-eds. See our guidelines.