Maggie Anderson took a public stand in 2009 in support of the Black community. She called it The Empowerment Experiment. Anderson and her family lived off only Black-owned brands/businesses for one year. The Empowerment Experiment brings the importance of economics in the Black community. To commemorate National Black Business Month. Anderson, the honoree of BET’s “Most Fascinating Women of 2016”, discusses The Empowerment Experiment with the Chicago Defender.
AB: How difficult was it to replace the corporate brands with Blacked-owned brands?
MA: I don’t like to focus on how hard it was. We need to talk about how important it is. It’s essential to support these businesses. We cannot keep pushing this notion that it is “hard” to support these American businesses. The Empowerment Experiment was a tremendous sacrifice. We thought we’d find almost everything, and it was a matter of awareness. We assumed there would be Black-owned groceries and department stores. We couldn’t find a place that sold children’s clothes until the fifth month! So yes, we did not buy our growing girl’s clothes or shoes for those five months. We wanted to give up all the time. But somehow, the worse it got. The more we wanted to finish out the year.
The biggest challenge was how the stores we needed were miles away. So, we had to be strategic with our shopping. I would make a day of it every two weeks. I would get everything I need for the girls, stop at the liquor store and then the grocery store. My Jewish friends say they don’t have to look hard to find businesses. Because they engage with the professionals and firms from their community. So, we called on local Black institutions, like the Urban League. That’s how we found our bank, restaurants, fast-food franchises, and our grocery store.
AB: How important is it to buy and support Black-owned brands/businesses?
MA: Supporting Black-owned businesses creates a revolutionary impact for the Black community. It improves the success of existing businesses. It raises the quality and the delivery of goods and services. We know that Black businesses will create more Black jobs. Black-owned businesses are the largest private employer of Black people in this country. Yet, the unemployment rate among Black people is twice the national average.
Northwestern University’s Kellogg Graduate School of Management produced a landmark study. If Black households increased spending from 3% to 10%, it could create up to 1 million jobs in the community. Having more Black businesses improves the climate of the Black community. Black children would inherit generational wealth. There will be more available money to improve the Black community infrastructure. As a result, the entire atmosphere for everyday life in the Black community will improve.
Maggie Anderson shared her family’s empowerment journey in her book, Our Black Year. Our Black Year offers a detailed account of the powerful and painful year. Anderson said she’d had the idea of The Empowerment Experiment for a few years but it wasn’t until her mother’s Pancreatic cancer diagnosis that gave her the courage to do it.
“They gave my mother one month to live after her diagnosis,” says Anderson. “She told me that my experiment to live off Black businesses and take on these important issues as a family. Not knowing how hard it would be was the most important thing I could ever do. I didn’t want to do it. I wanted to spend every second I could with her. Mima told me that if I expected her to fight pancreatic cancer, then she was within her right to insist that I do my experiment.”
Anderson’s mother lived longer than the doctors projected. She lived for another fourteen months. Long enough to see her only daughter complete The Empowerment Experiment. “She died, in my arms one month after we finished. The Empowerment Experiment is not this cool thing to get our Black card. It’s my life’s work, my tribute to my mother. Our Black Year is not limited to the economic problems the experiment sought to examine. It touches anyone who has lost a loved one to cancer. The Empowerment Experiment would become who I am and why I live. My mother raised a warrior, a leader, a revolutionary.”
For more information on Maggie Anderson, The Empowerment Experiment or to purchase Our Black Year click here
Ali Bouldin is a freelance writer and journalist focusing on Black and Hip-Hop culture with featured articles in multiple publications. Follow his Instagram @Ali.Bouldin.