When Crystal Egli was learning how to hunt, she felt anxious and afraid. Her lessons were primarily in rural areas, and she didn’t know if she, as a Black woman, was welcome.
When she expressed her fears about carrying a gun in public spaces to her white male mentors, they were skeptical, even asking her to support her concerns with data. They simply didn’t understand the reality of living as someone who regularly experiences discrimination.
“She wished that she knew which spaces other folks of color had visited safely,” Parker McMullen Bushman, Egli’s friend and business partner, told AFAR. “That’s when Crystal got the idea for this kind of revitalized Green Book.”
Published from 1936 to 1966, The Green Book was an annual guidebook written for Black road-trippers. It provided motorists with a list of places and services—from restaurants and hotels to mechanic shops and drugstores—that were friendly to Black travelers. During an era when Jim Crow laws meant people of color experienced frequent prejudice or even danger, it was meant to help Black people travel without fear. Though it stopped being published shortly after the passage of the Civil Rights Act, Egli felt something similar could still provide a useful service almost 60 years later—it just needed to be modernized.
Egli brought the idea of what would become the Inclusive Guide to McMullen Bushman in 2019. The original concept had been more of a blog format—Egli would list places she had been and felt comfortable. Eventually, they decided the project would benefit from incorporating the insights of others.
“Your experience can be greatly affected depending on what’s going on in your life, so we decided if we really wanted to understand how a place is and what it is for multiple people, we needed to find some way to allow lots of people to give their thoughts about particular places,” McMullen Bushman said. “We put those ideas together and moved forward with a user-review website.”
Much like user-review site Yelp, Inclusive Guide allows users to rate businesses. However, each business’s scores are generated with a focus on whether patrons feel safe, welcomed, and celebrated.
Though The Green Book served as inspiration, Inclusive Guide differs in one major way: It doesn’t just focus on the experience of Black people; it includes anyone who may face discrimination or feel unsafe in certain situations, ranging from other persons of color to those in the LBGTQ community to those with disabilities.
“The systems that affect Black people often are mirrored in other forms of oppression, and so we thought it was important this was something everyone could use,” McMullen Bushman said.
Users rate businesses on a scale of one to five (with five being the best). The review questions ask if they felt safe (physically, emotionally, and mentally), if they were treated with dignity and respect, if they felt better having been there, and if they saw themselves represented in the advertising and products.
It also notes elements like Americans With Disabilities Act compliance and gender-neutral bathrooms. Reviewers are also asked to provide information about their race, gender identity, sexuality, accessibility needs, and appearance (such as body modifications—piercings, tattoos, and beyond—or scars). Anything that might affect how they’re treated.
The goal beyond helping users find businesses with welcoming environments—and community, by extension—is to provide businesses with a data-driven economic incentive to be more inclusive.
“We want to pull the levers that affect long-term change in our country and economy,” McMullen Bushman said. “If we can get the Inclusive Guide in regular use, that provides a resource for people who experience discrimination to be conscious about spending their money at businesses that are inclusive.”
After a business receives reviews, the Inclusive Guide aggregates the data and shares it with the business, noting who is feeling unwelcome or is having trouble accessing the space. It also provides businesses with suggestions of how they might change to be more equitable.
“Money talks,” McMullen Bushman said, adding that businesses with poor scores are less likely to have consumers who experience discrimination shop there. On the other hand, being recognized as a beacon of hospitality helps drive dollars.
The Inclusive Guide started in Denver, where Egli and McMullen Bushman are based, in late 2021. This year, on Juneteenth, the federal holiday commemorating the emancipation of enslaved Black people, Inclusive Guide was launched nationwide.
Going forward, the founders hope to get reviews, good and bad, from as many different types of people as possible—including those who experience discrimination and their allies who don’t. The latter helps provide a baseline for their reporting. It helps better identify businesses that serve certain populations but aren’t as inclusive of others.
“That is how we’ll shift the economy towards being more inclusive,” McMullen Bushman said.