Empowerment Project Aims to Harness Black Buying Power, Community Strength

La Risa Lynch, Carib News, December 30, 2009.

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The Chicago area couple [John and Maggie Anderson] {snip} decided to forgo shopping at the Walmarts and Targets of the world and buy all their necessities from food, clothing, to furniture from quality Black-owned businesses or professional service providers.

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The Andersons wanted to change Black Americans’ mindset from just being consumers to being more conscious of how they spent their money and with whom. It wasn’t too long ago that Blacks largely patronized Black businesses, said Mrs. Anderson, formerly a business consultant who now heads the Empowerment Experiment full-time. Before the fight for integration in this country, Blacks had little choice but to support their own. She said integration was a good thing, but for Blacks “integration was bad economically . . . because we lost that sense of duty to shop with our own.”

“Integration, economically, was just permission for us to shop with everyone else, and opportunity for everyone else to make money off of us,” said Maggie, a mother of two daughters, Cara, 4, and Cori, 3. Blacks are a distant third in entrepreneur success rates compared to Latinos and Asians, a stark contrast from 20 years ago, when Black businesses were first, she said. Black communities now subsist on the usual suspects of chicken shacks, barbershops and braid salons, and are still poor and rundown, Maggie added.

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The Anderson’s push for self-help economics has been criticized as racist, a notion Maggie finds absurd. She said other ethnic groups “openly and proactively support their own,” but critics call it racist when Blacks want thriving business communities comparable to Little Italy or Chinatown.

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They did the ground work of their experiment, which will end this year, in an academic study to monitor the potential and economic impact of buying Black. They plan to use their website EEforTomorrow.com to track spending habits.

Supporters can register at the site and will be able to log what they’ve spent with Black business.

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The goal is to determine if a concerted effort to buy Black would reduce unemployment, spur job creation, increase an area’s tax base or reduce crime. Maggie Anderson noted that only five percent of African-American’s purchasing dollar stays in the Black community. She wants that number to rise into the double digits.

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“Right now, we just want people to support quality Black businesses and professionals and buy Black-made products that are already out there,” she said. The couple has established a foundation to solicit donations for their endeavors.

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While Black purchasing power nears $1 trillion, revenues from Black businesses only equaled $88 billion in 2002, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. James Clingman, an advisor with the experiment who has a syndicated column called Blackonomics, said those figures show Blacks are not patronizing their own.

“It is not easy begging my own people to keep supporting one another when all they do is complain about poor goods and services . . . like they never had a bad experience at a White-owned, Arab-owned, Asian-owned or Indian-owned business,” Maggie said.

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That misconception of the White man’s ice is always colder felled Karriem Beyah’s grocery store, the only Black-owned full-service grocery store in Chicago. The store closed because of lack of support from the Black community. The Andersons routinely shopped there.

Mr. Beyah retooled the store for his Latino customers, which he said, supported his businesses more than Black consumers.

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[Editor’s Note: Other stories on the Andersons’ “buying black” project are listed here.]

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