Maggie Anderson, her husband John and her two daughters live in an upscale suburban Chicago neighborhood in a nice house and live a nice life. Both Anderson and her husband hold MBAs from top notch schools and have successful careers. And yet as they tell PBS Newshour, they felt as if something was missing.
“We thought we should be doing more, and we thought we should be doing stuff with the money that we made,” Maggie said.
The Andersons decided to create a black year. For 12 months, they made sure no matter what they needed or did, “it was with a black company, a black family company, buy a product made from a black company, use black professionals, shop in black communities.”
It wasn’t easy. As they embarked on their black year, they found they had to drive a little farther to find black businesses, and when they did, sometimes the selection wasn’t as great and prices were higher.
“So we got gas, food, and a dry cleaner. Everything else, we were just desperate and hopeful that something would pop up,” Maggie said of her search in finding black owned businesses for her family’s needs. “And in the third month, we got a general merchandise outlet. And in the fourth month, we finally found a place to buy clothes and shoes for our daughters.”
Black businesses weren’t just far away, they also seemed to be disappearing. When searching for dry cleaners, they found only one about two and a half miles away in a African American West side.
“Well, years ago, it used to be a lot of black-owned businesses around,” James Forrest, the owner of the dry cleaner they found said. “And, you know, funding just went down and things just went kind of kaput after that. And it just — black-owned businesses just seemed to leave the area.”
The Andersons realized that black businesses were dying, partly because African American consumers don’t choose to invest or hire in the community. They see a direct connection to their experience and the high 14 percent African American unemployment rate.
They mention these findings, and chronicle their experience in their recently released book, “Our Black Year.”
“Don’t just say that black unemployment is four times that of whites. Say that black businesses only get 2 percent of the $1 trillion of black buying power, and then say that black businesses are the greatest private employer of black people,” Maggie said.
“Then you might be able to say, wow, if there were more support of black businesses, if maybe a little more of that $1 trillion got to those businesses, unemployment wouldn’t be so high.”
Through their experience, the Andersons sought to make a difference in the state of black businesses. Maggie helped raise awareness of one business in particular, Covenant Bank, a small black-owned bank that reinvests in the community.
Board Member Kim Jackson says that before Maggie stepped in the bank only saw about one percent of black business.
But now she reports, “I would say maybe 10 percent of my customers, you know, because of Maggie.”
The Anderson family was able to show that by stepping in to buy black and to assist black business growth, it’s possible to bring economic revitalization to the black community one business and one city at a time.
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