When Anisha Murphy was growing up, her heroine was the TV character Clair Huxtable, a corporate attorney and feminist family woman raising five kids — one of television’s first working moms.
Murphy was inspired to go to law school. While at Hamline University, in 2012, 17-year-old Trayvon Martin was fatally shot in Florida while walking home from a store. He was shot by George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watchman who thought he looked “suspicious,” and who later claimed self-defense. There was no criminal charge until national media pressure about racial profiling led to a trial, which ended in an acquittal.
The case convinced Murphy that she wanted to go into law — not for corporate work, but to help “change systems for Black and brown communities.” She went to work on behalf of the unhoused, youth, and public policy with the Children’s Defense Fund.
At that time, Murphy says, society was still putting band- aids over wounds rather than moving the needle in meaningful ways. Coming from an entrepreneurial family, she realized that economic development might be the key. Seeing that business owners were not seeking out legal advice because of a disconnect and distrust, Murphy developed a program for entrepreneurs, especially for people of color, as a program director with the Northside Economic Opportunity Network in North Minneapolis. She created Just Law LLC in 2019.
“I believe economic development is a gateway toward leveling the economic playing field for people of color and women,” says Murphy. “It allows both groups equal and fair access to capital, housing, jobs, and overall opportunity by focusing on innovation, skills, and infrastructure, as well as economic growth.”
Murphy saw the difficulty entrepreneurs of color had in getting business capital — investments, grants, loans. She stepped in to work with organizations like the Metropolitan Economic Development Association, Latino Economic Development Center, and Neighborhood Development Center to work at the local level.
“To address barriers to accessing capital, you have to take an enhanced ecosystem approach,” Murphy says. “It’s about finding innovative solutions.”
Now Director of Community Advancement with Community Reinvestment Fund, USA (CRF), Murphy’s mission is to connect small businesses with lending capital and consulting services.
She stepped into her role a few months before the pandemic hit locally. Much of her time so far has been spent helping small business owners get Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans and recovery funds. Those who do not have the immediate access to computer technology, are targets of predatory lending practices, and do not have the people power to run a business and prepare for the paperwork-heavy loan process.
CRF partnered with local community organizations to provide 131 PPP loans totaling more than $9.6 million in the Twin Cities; 42 percent went to businesses owned by women and people of color.
Murphy intends to be a change agent that helps the financial industry figure out “how to do things differently. There is systemic racism in lending practices. We can make things more responsive and equitable.”