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Remaining Fearless in the Face of Adversity: Part 1 The Future of Civil Rights

June 19, 2024 Category: Explainer

Recent legal rulings have underscored the movement to dismantle civil rights policies and diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts, especially those supporting marginalized communities in entrepreneurship and higher education. A significant case involves the United States Court of Appeals for the 11th Judicial Circuit’s decision against the Fearless Fund’s Strivers Grant Program. The Program which aims to empower Black women entrepreneurs, was declared unlawful for violating the Civil Rights Act of 1866.

 

Striving for Equity

Data from the Fearless Fund indicates stark disparities in venture capital backing, with less than 1% of such firms led by women of color. This statistic highlights persistent barriers to equitable access to capital and opportunities for entrepreneurs from underrepresented groups. To address this disparity, the fund created the $20,000 Strivers Grant to support businesses owned by Black women.

Tonita Austin, CEO of MT Austin and Associates, an accounting services firm for the individual, non-profit and small business owners, expressed concerns sharing: “As an entrepreneur, specifically a Black woman business owner, it is very concerning. Unfortunately, with the accelerated rate of Black women-owned businesses since the pandemic, I am not surprised by this attack on our opportunity to access wealth.” Her remarks underscore a broader sentiment within communities striving for economic parity amidst systemic challenges.

While understanding the wide-ranging implications of the 11th Circuit’s ruling, the U.S is still making sense of the Supreme Court decision to end affirmative action in higher education. This ruling dismantled mechanisms designed to rectify historical injustices and foster diversity, posing a threat to widening existing disparities in educational achievement and perpetuating cycles of inequality. These repercussions extend far beyond university campuses and can have impacts workforce diversity.

It is worth noting Edward Blum, a prominent conservative activist, has played a pivotal role in challenging these affirmative action policies, advocating for a colorblind approach to law and policy. His efforts align with broader movements seeking to dismantle race-conscious policies, sparking debates over the efficacy of such measures in promoting equal opportunity and addressing systemic inequities.

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Fearless Freedom

In response to the 11th Circuit’s ruling, Arian Simone, Co-Founder and CEO of the Fearless Fund, has called for executive intervention. She is requesting President Biden to develop an Executive Order to protect diversity, equity and inclusion, and the right to fund specific marginalized groups if disparity exists. Moreover, she is asking for Congress to pass the Fearless Freedom Economic Civil Rights Act, which will support the executive order. Additionally, she is asking “for a signal to the DOJ given she does not believe we can rely on the court systems right now.”

Advocacy and business organizations alike have intensified their call for protections of diversity equity and inclusion programming and support for the Fearless Fund. Organizations such as Dream.org, and the U.S. Black Chambers, Inc. have used their platforms to highlight the necessity of being able to fund specific marginalized groups if racial disparities exist. They understand the precedent of this decision is far reaching, and continued advocacy is needed more than ever.

Lisa Rhodes, Chair Emerita of the PA Black Caucus, underscores the urgent need for advocacy:

“It’s alarming that Black women securing venture capital funding sparks federal scrutiny, while similar achievements by women of other ethnic backgrounds receive little attention. This disparity reveals deep-rooted biases of patriarchy and racism, highlighting systemic barriers that hinder fair access to capital based on race. Every woman’s journey to funding deserves equal opportunity under the law, free from discriminatory hurdles perpetuating inequality. Addressing these challenges is crucial for fostering fairness and justice in entrepreneurship. The recent court decisions, like that of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit, misinterprets racial equity efforts, jeopardizing hard-won Civil Rights progress, primarily benefiting white women.”

Critics argue that efforts to dismantle civil rights ignore the enduring effects of systemic racism and inequality, some even saying the U.S. is heading back to the Reconstruction era.

However, Austin shares “maybe I’m too optimistic but I have too much faith in our community and those who continue to fight for equity in this country to believe that we would ever go that far back. I am more concerned that this is the beginning of their push back to Black code or Jim Crow laws that served to disempower and remove access to wealth for Black and Brown people. Jim Crow laws were the inspiration for the Nazis so we should all be concerned about this strong push backwards.”

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