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We began Barred Business in the early days of the pandemic, when the federal Small Business Administration specifically added to its Paycheck Protection Programs two questions about criminal records for all loan applicants. By June 2020, we had raised over $96,000, primarily from individual donors, which we used to fund a first round of 20 $500-$3,500 grants directly to impacted people whose struggling businesses were ineligible for these government funds.


Working with us, the IDA B. WELLS Just Data Lab at Princeton University created a story map journal, Barred Business: A Response to the Small Business Administration’s Exclusion of Formerly Incarcerated Business Owners,” which, through interactive maps and narrative, tells the story of both the impact on Black and brown communities and the scope of Barred Business’ work: as one of our co-founders said, “We had to become the SBA for our communities.”  We have also supported predominantly needs-based entrepreneurs who have started businesses in response to hiring discrimination that bars them from other jobs. Our Small Business Relief Fund distributed more than $106,000 in 104 grants to businesses in 17 states that were excluded from federal COVID-19 relief funding, including 70 to LGBTQI+ people. One of our long-term goals is to become the first Black Community Development Financial Institution dedicated to serving formerly incarcerated people.


Along with these activities, we began in 2019 to work closely with the National Bailout (NBO), partnering locally with FAAM (the Free Atlanta Abolition Movement), Atlanta's Black autonomous bail foundation, to disburse NBO funds to bail out Black mama’s from pre-trial detention, as well as to provide post-release case management and support to the released women. This work led us to develop the S.T.A.B.L.E. program—the centerpiece of our reentry program—to empower formerly incarcerated Black women and equip them with the tools and skills to thrive as small business owners and/or employees. In April 2022, we rented a three-bedroom house in East Point, Georgia, an Atlanta suburb. We welcomed our first residents in May.


In June 2022, we became a Metro Atlanta Area Participatory Defense Hub, part of the National Participatory Defense Network. This work is based on a community organizing model for people facing charges, their families, and communities to impact the outcomes of cases and transform the landscape of power in the court system.


In that same month, we kicked off the Atlanta Protected Campaign to push through the Atlanta Protected Campaign a bill to add formerly incarcerated people to the city’s list of legally protected classes, along with race, gender, age, and other classes. In October, we—along with our justice-impacted community and coalition partners—had an historic win, when the City Council voted unanimously in favor of this bill.


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