This family’s ‘experiment’ shows what could happen if we did
Spending the U.S. dollar at a Black-owned business is a rarity local and globally. It is a rarity even in Black communities around the world. This was the topic explored in what Maggie Anderson and her husband, John Anderson, called their “Empowerment Experiment.”
Maggie was the featured speaker (her husband was not present) at the March 30 event, sponsored by the University of Minnesota as part of its Business Development Institute launch, held at the Capri Theatre in North Minneapolis. She is the author of Our Black Year: One Family’s Quest to Buy Black in America’s Racially Divided Economy.
Maggie and John Anderson are an African American couple raising two daughters in a suburb of Chicago. They are engaged in a highly publicized social experiment to reinvest in the Black community and buy from only Black-owned businesses for a year.
Mother, wife and activist, Maggie Anderson went from being a corporate working woman to a community activist based on the need that she and her family saw in the African American community. Anderson is of Cuban decent.
“My mother taught me that our speaking Spanish and our being from Cuba did not make us any less Black or not Black,” she said. “[My mother] told me to never forget it just meant we got dropped off [slave ships] just a little bit earlier. We were shucking cane while brothers and sisters [in the North American South] were picking cotton.”
A student of then-professor Barack Obama in a college course on common law, Anderson recalled learning “every major tenet of our democracy — our legal system, right to vote, right to fair trial, right to free speech, labor rights — came out of the African American struggle. This is what Professor Barack Obama taught me.”
Maggie shared an interesting fact found in a study on spending power: “Studies show that middle-class consumers with $75,000 or more, if we were to increase our spending [in Black-owned businesses] from two-to-three percent to 10 percent, we [would] create one million jobs based on the increased demand on Black businesses. New jobs, with money we already have and already spend. Just 10 percent needs to go into the quality programs we already have — no government programs [needed].”
These dollars can be spent by supporting local Black-owned businesses, dealers, agents, firms that make Black-owned products, or businesses investing in supporting diversity. “It all starts with consumer demand,” Anderson said. “We cannot have ‘Daryl’ do all the work and the consumer does not do their part. That is what I do every day — a drop in the bucket.
“My girls need to know that they can buy from Sears — that was the ’50s and ’60s. They [now] need to know that they can own Sears. Are you still ready to fight for that, too?”
Anderson went on to tell her captive audience at the Capri, “In the 1930s grocery stores represented the largest category of Black-owned businesses. We had 6,400 Black-owned grocers. At the turn of the [21st] century, we had 19 Black-owned grocers across the U.S.”
To further support her point, Anderson added that there are now 4,800 Hispanic-owned grocery chains, most of which have begun business over the past 20 years. This number does not include independently owned bodegas.
“Who is shopping at these stores? Whose products stock the shelves? Who is getting hired by the stores? Who is going to college off that money?” she asked. “There is nothing wrong with that, but we can do the same.”
After the Andersons’ year of buying exclusively Black, all of the businesses she supported closed down. She wondered if it was worth it, her children going without, her husband almost losing his job, and the lifestyle change from being a well-paying corporate employee to being an activist.
During the Empowerment Experiment, Anderson said, her mother was dying from pancreatic cancer. Anderson’s mother, who died in her arms, said to her, “I am going out fighting. Are you?”
“So the questions still stands,” said Anderson “Do you believe it’s about you or the community? Are you with the Empowerment Experiment? Are you willing to make a change?”
Brandi Phillips welcomes reader comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Brandi Phillips is a contributing writer at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.