Alicia Carr: Developer, Anti-Domestic Abuse Activist

"Victims of domestic abuse still love the person they're with”

Every once in a while we meet a woman who not only rises above all, but brings other women up with her. Alicia Carr is one such leader.

When she took a break from planning her son’s wedding to call me one Wednesday afternoon, I instantly felt like I was catching up with an old girlfriend. Our hour-long conversation covered Carr’s Purple Pocketbook app, which helps women escape abusive relationships, the psychology of domestic violence, women and people of color in STEM fields, and romantic relationships.

After we got off the phone, it was clear: This 51-year-old developer, life coach, and activist is just getting started.

Carr grew up in Manhattan’s Lower East Side in a family fraught with domestic violence. "I've seen my mama go through a lot with my stepfather, and it became very difficult because I couldn't fight for my mother,” she said. She also couldn’t save her aunt or her friend, who both died at the hands of their partners, or her daughters, who remain in abusive relationships. Many women aren’t willing to be saved, she explained: “They still love the person they're with . . . They feel that you don't understand because you're not in their shoes.” Sometimes, victims rely on their abusers to take care of the kids or pay the bills. Other times, women remain silent because they are embarrassed to be in such a vulnerable position. Carr decided to give these women an exit route in the form of her “Purple Pocketbook” app.

A screenshot of Purple Pocketbook, courtesy of Alicia Carr

Purple is the color associated with domestic violence, and “women carry everything in our pocketbooks,” so the name sounded perfect, Carr explained. However, she plans to change her company’s name to The Purple Evolution because of a copyright issue with Allstate Foundation Purple Purse and “because women, we evolve. We go through so many things.” Carr would know: She worked as a computer helpdesk technician, Zumba instructor, photographer, and life coach. She even started a website to sell books by African-American authors before picking up the programming skills to build her app.

The Purple Pocketbook app, which social workers and police officers have used to direct domestic violence victims toward recourse, provides a discreet interface so perpetrators can’t find it; information about shelters, hotlines, and other resources; instruction in six different languages; and legal information pertaining to the state of Georgia, which Carr plans to expand to other places.

However, Carr wants to make The Purple Evolution into more than a technology company. She aims to build it into a nonprofit that helps women learn programming skills and get jobs that require them — an ambition that stems from her personal frustrations in the workforce. “I'm a person that loves technology, and I have been criticized, stepped on, insulted, and I've come out of every situation stronger and more hardheaded and more determined to make these men feel like crap,” she joked. She decided to become a software engineer at age 18 because she loved "learning something that my brain can relate to," but even after extensive coursework in various programming languages, she struggled to find jobs in the field because of her age, gender, and race. Tech companies “just don't think women will fit in with a bunch of male geeks,” she suspects. To balance the tech industry’s skewed gender ratio and equip domestic violence victims to thrive without their abusers, Purple Evolution will provide technical training to survivors.

Stopping for a smile, image courtesy of Alicia Carr

After discussing Carr’s most recent projects, I had to find out what it was like to be a “women’s motivation relationship life coach,” as she describes her past role. The main takeaway from her sessions? “Women don’t listen,” she theorized, citing her clients’ common assumption that their partners knew what they wanted. “He knows how to go to the bathroom and he knows how to park the car, but he doesn't know what you want,” she laughed.

My jaw dropped lower and lower as Carr spoke about her own love life, starting with the four proposals she received at age 17. What was her secret? “All I had to do was let them know that they were not that important,” she said, describing her and her husband both as “players” before they met. She was even engaged to someone else at the time! But what about that fiancé? “He found out from my mom that I got married.”

After all she's done, can we please build a monument in her name? 

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