Permanent Black Man
Their year of buying black
Family's commitment could hold key to community prosperity
BY CHERYL V. JACKSON
Consumers worldwide might be tightening their belts, but Maggie Anderson's mind is black with plots to spend. Her Oak Park family is publicly committing to a year of buying from black-owned business and supporting black professionals exclusively, starting Jan. 1.
These days, she’s searching frantically for black-owned firms for staple items and services, until she and her husband, John, can broaden their awareness of businesses and professionals. That means she’s got to find a new dry cleaner. She’s looking for a place to gas up the family’s two cars. And locating black McDonald’s franchises is a must. “My girls love the fries,” she said of her two daughters.
Her family’s efforts will be followed by a team of college researchers as part of a project called the Ebony Experiment to determine the impact of the Andersons’ spending if extrapolated to a larger portion of black America.
Proponents of buy-black initiatives say they are key to community prosperity, as studies indicate black-owned enterprises are more likely to hire black employees. Those firms are likely to sponsor community programs and their owners participate in institutions such as churches that provide community services, said Steven Rogers, director of the Kellogg Entrepreneurial Practice Center at Northeastern University’s Graduate School of Management. “It’s not just a simple effort for the sake of show and a superficial statement about racial pride,” said Rogers, a project adviser. “It comes from the desperate need for us to have a role in our own economic destiny.”
The Andersons, who plan to spend about $10,000 a month next year, will move their checking account to and refinance home and car loans with black organizations. They’ll seek black-owned firms to do home improvement projects and handle vacations they’ve put off until next year. And they want black America to watch as they discover companies with which to do business.
The couple—she’s a lawyer; he’s a financial adviser—will blog and post videos at EbonyExperiment.com to document their spending, and invite people to offer their own accounts of shopping black. “If we can get 3 percent of us to commit to doing this, that will translate into millions and millions of dollars going into our community,” Maggie Anderson said.
Coming out of the project will be a database of black-owned businesses and professionals and a university-based study. Social commentator Michael Eric Dyson is on the team and will pen the foreword for a book detailing the experience. “They have decided to put their money where their mouth is and forge connections within their own community to strengthen economic and social networks and ties that bind us together,” said Dyson, a Georgetown University professor. “Hopefully, this will inspire others to take up the call.” ‘It takes some effort’
The couple is prepared to potentially pay more for services and put more miles on their cars to patronize the businesses. “I’m ready to buy $300 worth of groceries at a time,” Maggie said.
Michael Bennett, director of DePaul University’s Egan Urban Center and a researcher helping to measure the Anderson impact, said this effort stands out from the loads of buy-black initiatives he has seen over his 64 years. “What’s different about this one is you have a family with an income level that will allow them to search out goods and services to be extremely intentional about doing the research about following up,” Bennett said.
There’ll be challenges, he noted. Finding a black barber is easy enough, and there are plenty of black medical professionals to choose from in Chicago. But finding a black-owned utility provider? That’s tougher, he said.
Even a black-owner auto repair shop might prove difficult, Bennett said, as today’s computerized vehicles call for more capital-intensive operations. “It takes some effort. And that’s what I like about the Andersons. They want to make the effort to see,” Bennett said. “They don’t know yet how difficult it’s going to be.”