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Seke Ballard is the founder of Good Tree Capital, a firm that lends money to small cannabis businesses.
Ballard’s interest in cannabis was sparked during the summer of 2015, when churches were being burned across the South and a young white man walked into a church in Charleston, South Carolina, and murdered nine people, all of whom were black. He says it felt like Jim Crow was back.
Ballard lives in Chicago, but half of his family is from Charleston, so his dad recruited him for a road trip to pay respects to the victims. During the 10-hour car trip, a question animated the drive: Where had his dad’s generation gone wrong?
“His response to that question was that he felt like securing the economic foundation of the African-American community was the unfinished business of the civil rights movement,” Ballard says. “His belief was that as a people it wasn’t practical that they couldn’t sustain social and political advances unless those advances are built on firm economic footing.”
His dad ran into many of the barriers black and marginalized people continue to run into today. When he applied for 13 small business loans to expand his pulpwood logging company, he was rejected by every bank for every loan.
The Cannabis Question is a series exploring questions about proposals to legalize marijuana in Wisconsin.
“His hypothesis was that it had nothing to do with the merit of his business but instead with the color of his skin. Turns out he was exactly right,” Ballard says, referring to studies finding people of color are often discriminated against when seeking small business loans.
In August, Ballard and…