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Maggie Anderson's Black Year – Her Journey to Support Black Owned Businesses

By Fletcher Word
Sojourner's Truth Editor

It all began some years ago in a five-star restaurant, according to what has since become legend.

Maggie Anderson and her husband John were celebrating their anniversary and reflecting on their blessings. A well-educated, professional couple, living in a nice Chicago suburb, living the good life.

On that particular evening, as the only black folks in the restaurant, their conversation inevitably turned to the fact of “the discouraging status of blacks in America.”

On so many occasions, for so many people, such talk usually ends when the waiter brings the check. The Andersons discussed action on this occasion, however. They knew that Black America has a buying power approaching one trillion dollars annually but that not much of those dollars end up in the black community – two percent typically goes to black-owned businesses.

Finally, several years later, the Andersons were ready to take action. In 2009, they went black – they made the effort to only buy black. And what an effort it was.

Black-owned grocery stores were particularly difficult to find, black-owned clothing stores almost as rare. Long drives through the inner city to find businesses that had closed before the Andersons arrived.

The Andersons chronicled their adventures on a web site and then in a book titled Our Black Year.

Why was Anderson so driven to undertake such a challenge – the “Empowerment Experiment?”

“It was mostly guilt,” Anderson told The Truth several years ago when we spoke to her from her home in Chicago. “And secondly, frustration. As a financially-blessed black mother, I felt so powerless and frustrated by the asymmetry between all out talents, resources and buying power … and what was actually represented in and reinvested in our neighborhoods. I hated feeling like the system and some unknown, uncontrollable forces were dictating the future of my kids and my community. The Experiment showed me that I could do something and that everything that hurts us is absolutely reversible. That kind of enlightenment and empowerment is a precious blessing that cannot be expressed in words. The overwhelming sense of depression is gone now because I support black businesses every day.”

What do black-owned business need to do to enhance their presence in the consciousness of potential black consumers?

“I get that question a lot because people see struggling black businesses that are not delivering the best possible goods, value or service and use that as an excuse not to seek and support their own,” said Anderson. “So those folks want to hear Maggie Anderson blame our businesses so they can be justified for preventing the recycling of our wealth and feel no responsibility for contributing to the demise of our culture and neighborhoods.

“I think that if our people were to look at how hard it is for our businesses and accept responsibility for crippling them, maybe we'd focus more on supporting them and less on stereotyping and criticizing them and talking about what they need to do to earn our business. And then we should be spending just at least as much time talking about what all those mainstream brands and all those outside groups, that do nothing for our community, need to do to earn our blind support.”

What are the great challenges for black-owned businesses in their pursuit to grab a piece of the consumers' dollars?

“It is obvious that the major problem facing our businesses is lack of access to capital and influencers,” said Anderson. “In addition, the spirit of entrepreneurship has faded in our community. Before, it was a survival strategy. Other folks would not hire or sell to us, so we were forced to create for, sell to and hire each other. We did it and got better and better at it. Our businesses, as they were able to depend on a loyal black consumer base, made money and were able to re-invest in their own growth, while gradually being able to control more parts of the supply chain relevant to their industry. They were able to diversify, own multiple firms and had the wherewithal to support each other's businesses, even if it cost a little more to do so.”

What are the long-range benefits for the black community as a whole when we become infuse with the spirit to support our own black businesses?

“We believe that these challenges can be resolved with heightened and proactive demand from black consumers,” said Anderson. “We must focus on supporting top-quality black businesses that do exist. Once we do that, those businesses can grow and locate their plants and retail outlets in underserved black neighborhoods. Not only could they counter unemployment there, they could help attract more investment – black and not – to the struggling areas that are currently underserved.

“Another major impact is that black businesses trying to earn more contracts and partnerships with major main stream corporations can more effectively negotiate and might even be actively recruited if those big firms see the power of a mobilized black consumer base. We would see a lot more of our products on the shelves of the major retailers, a lot more black franchises and a lot more contracts being given to our entrepreneurs and professionals if corporate America were to see that black consumers are starting to be more loyal to black businesses.”

In the time since Maggie Anderson started The Empowerment Experiment Foundation, she has appeared on a variety of television and radio shows explaining the purpose of the Experiment.

Anderson earned her BA from Emory University and her law degree and masters of business administration from the University of Chicago.

“I cannot, after our journey and living my life as a conscious consumer now, say that black businesses need to do more to appeal to me,” said Anderson. “Once I realized how important it was to find them, I was able to support them. It is not as hard as people think”



Copyright © 2018 by [The Sojourner's Truth]. All rights reserved.
Revised: 11/24/18 23:28:08 -0500.

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