Fearless Fund rallies for support in face of discrimination lawsuit

The Atlanta-based venture capital group holds town hall and annual summit amid legal battle with conservative group
A summit hosted by the Fearless Fund attracted hundreds of attendees on Friday, August 18, 2023, when founders Arian Simone and Ayana Parsons welcomed the audience at Atlanta Symphony Hall.

Credit: Kelly Yamanouchi

Credit: Kelly Yamanouchi

A summit hosted by the Fearless Fund attracted hundreds of attendees on Friday, August 18, 2023, when founders Arian Simone and Ayana Parsons welcomed the audience at Atlanta Symphony Hall.

As the clock neared 10 p.m. Thursday, The Gathering Spot on Atlanta’s Westside was filled to the rafters with verse from the Civil Rights anthem “We Shall Overcome.”

The song came in a room nearly packed on less than 24-hours’ notice, as the Atlanta-based venture capital firm Fearless Fund rallied awareness and support against an incoming lawsuit alleging racial discrimination at one of its programs. Fearless Fund, started in Atlanta by three Black women, invests in businesses owned by women of color.

The lawsuit was filed on Aug. 2 by the conservative nonprofit American Alliance for Equal Rights (AAER). The suit targets a program led by Fearless Fund that offers $20,000 grants for business growth to companies owned by women of color. The lawsuit, filed in Atlanta federal court, claims the grant program violates the Civil Rights Act of 1866 by excluding some of AAER’s members because they are “not the right race,” the complaint says. The conservative nonprofit brands itself as a member-based organization devoted to “challenging distinctions and preferences based on race and ethnicity.”

Two of Fearless Fund’s founders, Ayana Parsons and Arian Simone, stressed the high stakes of the lawsuit and the need for community resistance to it. They also emphasized the importance of minority-centered venture capital.

“We have to ensure economic freedom is here for years to come,” Simone said.

The morning after the town hall, Fearless Fund was back to business Friday hosting its Fearless VC Summit at Woodruff Arts Center, where the group planned educational workshops for hundreds of entrepreneurs and business owners.

Former Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms told the group that Parsons and Simone — who welcomed summit attendees and pushed for their support — “are fighting for all of us.

“When you come for them, you come for all of us,” Bottoms said. “They are fighting for our daughters, they are fighting for our communities, they are fighting for generations not yet born.”

Former Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms spoke at the Fearless Fund's summit in Atlanta on Aug. 18, 2023.

Credit: Kelly Yamanouchi

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Credit: Kelly Yamanouchi

Bottoms was a senior advisor to President Joe Biden and director of the White House Office of Public Engagement before stepping down in late March. She was recently appointed as a member of the President’s Export Council.

Panelists pointed out that AAER’s president, Edward Blum, also runs Students for Fair Admissions, the nonprofit at the heart of the U.S. Supreme Court case that struck down affirmative action in college admissions in June.

Blum earlier told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that his group was first contacted by a woman-owned business asking for legal representation to challenge Fearless Fund. In total, three white and Asian women business owners are part of the lawsuit, alleging the fund is “racially exclusive, thus violating our nation’s Civil Rights laws,” Blum said.

Fearless Fund panelists argued that AAER’s claim against their organization is the next step in targeting avenues of cultivating Black wealth.

“This is an individual who has made a career at trying to take back Civil Rights,” said noted attorney Ben Crump of Tallahassee, Florida, one of the panelists, who was previously announced as part of the Fearless Fund legal team.

The Gathering Spot co-founder Ryan Wilson asked Simone at one point what the fund needs to respond to the lawsuit. In response, Simone said donations and exposure. Attendees were encouraged to sign a petition at fearlessfreedomnow.org.

“You are not donating to us as individuals, you are donating to the cause to fight for this.” Simone said. “We are fighting for economic freedom.”

The fund is represented by California-based Gibson Dunn & Crutcher and the Global Black Economic Forum. Fearless Fund has also retained Atlanta-based Alston & Bird. Among the Atlanta attorneys engaged is Byung J. “BJay” Pak, a former U.S Attorney for the Northern District of Georgia, court records show.

Obiageli Sneed, who owns an e-learning business, Smart Course Design, in Phoenix, said she traveled to Atlanta for the summit to learn more about venture capital and to network with women of color who are also looking for business funding.

“It’s unfortunate that you have certain individuals who will target a group who’s already marginalized and trying to find opportunities here within our group,” Sneed said. “It’s so hard to get funding within other areas.”

Audrey Jacobs of Sandy Springs said her business, The Sarafina Group, advises philanthropists and foundations. “Opportunities like this are definitely needed,” she said. “The playing field is simply not level.”

One of the business owners supported by Fearless Fund, Chloe Cheyenne from Los Angeles, told of how the financial support she received boosted her online organizing platform, COMMUNITYx. She said COMMUNITYx grew from 20,000 users to 425,000 users in the 12 months after the investment.

Passion for Fearless Fund’s mission also came through in comments from attendees during the question-and-answer sessions. One attendee, India Gaston, was nearly moved to tears when she spoke about helping the organization fight the lawsuit.

“The more I stand here the more emotional I get, because I didn’t actually realize why I came here tonight,” Gaston said. “But this moment forward anything I can do, I’m here.”