Buying black: Inspiring a spirit of legacy in our youth

December 20, 2012
Economic activist Maggie Anderson with Milwaukee Urban League president and CEO Ralph Hollmon.

Economic activist Maggie Anderson with Milwaukee
Urban League president and CEO Ralph Hollmon.

By Raina J. Johnson Special to the Milwaukee Times

Black Friday. Small Business Saturday. Cyber Monday. Equal Opportunity Day. Yes, I know, there aren’t long lines, steep discounts or commercials for Equal Opportunity Day, but that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist.

On Thursday, December 13, 2012 the Milwaukee Urban League hosted its 53rd annual Equal Opportunity Day Luncheon at the Pfister Hotel in downtown Milwaukee.

Equal Opportunity Day was chartered through the National Urban League to promote equality and diverse economics among a wide range of ethnic communities to stimulate and support self-help and growth.

The keynote speaker for the lunch was author and self-help economics activist Maggie Anderson. Driven by a passionate business career and witnessing a recycling of wealth in other communities, Anderson and her family rose to front page news and made appearances on cable news channels in 2009 when her family decided to buy most, if not all of, their family’s needs from black-owned businesses. She chronicled their year- journey in a book titled, “Our Black Year: One Family’s Quest to Buy Black in America’s Racially Divided Economy.”

“In the Asian community the dollar circulates among that community’s banks, retailers and professionals for up to 28 days before it goes to outsider; in the Jewish community that circulation period is from 19-21 days; in the White suburbs – 17 days; for our Hispanic brothers and sisters – 7 days, but in our community, the strong, black community – we keep our dollar for 6 hours,” Anderson said in her speech at the Urban League luncheon.

Throughout the year-long quest to buy black, the Andersons spent over $90,000 and almost 90 percent of all the products they bought were from black businesses. That included buying many household goods from a black-owned Dollar Store, buying groceries 20 miles from her home, putting money in a black-owned bank and using a black-owned dry cleaners. This quest also led to her small children often going without clothes, shoes and toys.

The Andersons were targeted with lots of hate mail by various racial groups who said they were racists. Why is it called racism when a black family decides to buy goods from black-owned businesses? The answer is because in big corporations, it’s the universal and accepted idea that African Americans are always the loyal consumers, loyal to certain brands, and corporations don’t have to do anything in return for our community to earn our dollar.

As a resident of Oak Park, a suburb of Chicago, Anderson, the mother of 2 girls, knew she had to do something different for her girls – show them something different. “Our girls need to know not only can they buy at Sears, that was the ‘50s and ‘60s or work at Sears; we’ve gotten a lot better there, we fought for that. Our girls need to know that they can own Sears!”

Thus, in 2009 The Empowerment Experiment (EE) was born and resulted in a ground-breaking study conducted by Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Business. The study showed that out of the African-American community’s 1-trillion dollars in buying power, maybe 3 percent of that goes back into black-owned businesses. If we increase that 3 percent to 10 percent, we could create close to one million jobs in our communities.

The Empowerment Experiment examines how all African Americans can do just a little bit more to support black-owned businesses in their community, to recycle black wealth, to ease the unemployment rate in underserved neighborhoods, and provide youth with entrepreneurs as role models. In the black community, we have to inspire a spirit of legacy in our children – that same fight from the civil rights marches, the same fight that elected our first black President.

“In Racine, our neighbors to the south, you have S.C. Johnson, makers of various household products, but why can’t that Johnson and that son – be black?

It’s not right to tell them [our children] how it used to be. Baby, we used to have hotel chains, and international design houses, stock brokerages, insurance companies, hospital systems, steel mills, and entire industrial manufacturing regions in Birmingham and Baltimore, it’s not right to keep telling these kids to look backwards for inspiration.” Anderson pleaded passionately to the crowd.

It’s not Anderson’s idea to have everyone try to buy black for a year. She doesn’t suggest that. “I don’t want to guilt people into this, but what I’m saying is that we can all do a little bit more. Stop saying, there isn’t a black-owned dry cleaners – well, did you look?” There is a lack of awareness in our community and there are other problems that plague black businesses as well. Black business owners oftentimes lack financing and funding, proper business training and education, employees and customer service skills. But once we overcome the lack of awareness we can do bit by bit to support their businesses so that they can hire more employees, get better funding or go back to school to get more training so that our children can go into shops and see owners that look like them.