Errin Haines, AP, May 12, 2009
Maggie and John Anderson of Chicago vowed four months ago that for one year, they would try to patronize only black-owned businesses. The “Empowerment Experiment” is the reason John had to suffer for hours with a stomach ache and Maggie no longer gets that brand-name lather when she washes her hair. A grocery trip is a 14-mile odyssey.
“We kind of enjoy the sacrifice because we get to make the point . . . but I am going without stuff and I am frustrated on a daily basis,” Maggie Anderson said. “It’s like, my people have been here 400 years and we don’t even have a Walgreens to show for it.”
So far, the Andersons have spent hundreds of dollars with black businesses from grocery stores to dry cleaners. But the couple still hasn’t found a mortgage lender, home security system vendor or toy store. Nonetheless, they’re hoping to expand the endeavor beyond their Chicago home.
Plans are under way to track spending among supporters nationwide and build a national database of quality black businesses. The first affiliate chapter has been launched in Atlanta, and the couple has established a foundation to raise funds for black businesses and an annual convention.
Now, the Andersons are following up with 4,000 people who signed up for the experiment on their Web site to gauge their commitment and set up online accounts to track their spending. Hundreds have also joined the experiment’s Facebook page, Maggie Anderson said.
Gregory Price, chairman of the economics department at Morehouse College, said black visionaries like Booker T. Washington and Marcus Garvey made similar calls to action.
“The idea is a sound one, given that black Americans are still underrepresented in the ranks of the self-employed and that entrepreneurship is a key component to wealth,” Price said.
There are one million black businesses in the United States accounting for more than $100 billion in annual sales, according to the National Black Chamber of Commerce. The latest U.S. Census numbers report that blacks have more than $800 billion in expendable income each year.
The Andersons track their spending on their Web site and estimate about 55 percent of their monthly spending is with black businesses for things like day care, groceries, car maintenance and home improvements.
Price, the Morehouse professor, said defining the project’s success won’t be easy, since the real barriers to black advancement are poor access to capital and lack of training opportunities.
“It would be nice to see some real, hard data,” Price said. “Otherwise, it could just be an episode of ethnic cheerleading.”