Sunday, March 29, 2009

EE does not stand for Embarassing Entertainment

We know that what we are doing is different, intriguing, provocative, controversial even. We banked on the notion that an average American family embarking on a not-so-average journey to live off of Black businesses would make it to water-cooler-talk one Monday after a slow news weekend... and probably give a few members of 'urban' news media something to talk about in between the Jay-Z/Beyonce and 'Making the Band' updates or the who-was-wearing-what-at-the-BET-Awards commentary or the latest report on how Black unemployment is double that of Whites. We never dreamed that our pledge to give back to our community by using the money we spend everyday would make it to the front page of the Chicago Tribune or that Wolf Blitzer would be talking about us on The Situation Room on CNN. We never conceived of actually discussing the possibility of leveling the playing field for Black businesses with Neil Cavuto on Fox Business!

But here we are and yes we did. And it hasn't stopped. The media is all over this!

Isn't this what I wanted? Look at the phenomenal platform we have now to push the EE message of taking ownership of our problems and uniting the struggling to the successful so we can solve them. People from all over the world can actually tune in as we proclaim that we have to believe in and support our own if we are ever going to change our status in America.

That's nice. I guess.

What I really wanted was a chance to unite all the John and Maggie Andersons out there who take the problems of the Black community home with them at night. I wanted to speak to all those folks like us who cringe every time they hear about another child dying at the hands of gang violence, because they just KNOW that as soon as they look at the TV to see who it is, another Black child holding a baseball, or donning a graduation cap or military uniform is going to be plastered across the screen. I wanted to reach out to those folks out there mentoring our at-risk youth after working all day at their corporate gig... those who wonder why they even try because their mentee had to drop out of the program due to his father's unjust incarceration and now has to stay home and take care of his siblings. I wanted to connect to all those folks who have started to believe that nothing is going to change for us here, that this is the best we are going to get... that the only hope is that sooner or later enough of us would get out of the ghetto so we would not have to pay attention to it anymore... that this situation where a whole group's sense of advancement and pride comes in the form of the 11 or 12 successful entertainers and athletes is actually acceptable.

'Hey, we made it! We have overcome - look at Kobe Bryant and Oprah Winfrey! See?!'

That's what I wanted to talk about. That's why John wants to sit down with CNN and BET.

But is that what they want from EE? Do those media giants really want to talk about Empowerment for the once enslaved? Do they really want to discuss the possibility of true equality - where former master and former slave are now living together harmoniously (not begrudgingly), and their mutual respect and civility is represented by their common, unified progress and similar quality of life?

What do you think?

Do you really believe that's why they invited us to talk on MSNBC?

Before you answer that question, let me drop another one on ya. Do you really think I cared why they wanted us on there?

Yeah, they tried to make us out to be some militant, fringe, new-miliennium racists on a mission to do something that's not gonna make a difference anywhere. You know the story was much less about a creative social experiment that touches some Black Americans at their core, an initiative that for some of us, could represent all we are and all we'll ever be, a pledge that means so much more than buying groceries or finding a mechanic... the STORY was 'Meet the crazy lady driving 18 miles to buy eggs. OR 'Introducing the Ivy league coo-coo cult starting up in Chicago that is setting out to destroy Walmart.'

I always tell you the truth, my EE family. I'll tell you when I'm scared, sad, angry, worried. And I am being totally honest when I say that I was completely fearless. Of course, I was nervous as I had never been on national TV before... but I was not afraid of what they would say or ask. I know my heart. I know why we do this. I know I am no racist. I know Black people, and no one else for that matter, have not done enough to support the economic possibilities from the most economically exploited and neglected constituency of America. I know that the head of the Entrepreneurship Center at Northwestern University's Graduate School of Management, business icon and esteemed Professor Steven Rogers would not have signed onto this if it was silly or inconsequential. I know Dr. Michael Dyson of Georgetown would not put his name and face on this project if it was a racist undertaking, or some covert plot to dismantle the White business regime. That knowledge, your support, and my husband's undying love render me fearless. These truths make this project unassailable by the media, the racist whackos, and the idiots who equate Black empowerment with White weakness or loss.

So guess what happened. The more interviews we did, the more the validity and purity of this endeavor came through. The more press we got, the more we presented ourselves as the intelligent, honest, honorable, compassionate Americans that we are... and the more the dialogue became about the rancid inequalities in American business; the utter injustice of the asymmetry between Black buying power and Black economic health; the fact that other ethnic groups practice self-help economics and thereby drive, realize and contain their economic development; and the pathetic and poisonous premise of self-loathing that Black people have fostered and enabled to erode our economic potential.

That's what happened. We spoke the truth. We stuck to our positive message. We were not baffoons. We did not embarass our families or our cause. We gave 'them' no fuel for their antagonism or ridicule.

So will you still listen? Will they continue to cover EE? As Russell Crowe said in Gladiator, "Are you not entertained?!"

Who will follow and report on this journey? Will they hang around even if we don't offer the embarassing gaffe or the entertaining faux-pas?

EE is not about entertainment. EE will never embarass you.

The Andersons won't dance.

So stay tuned to the Empowerment channel. Check your local listings for a Black business near you.

I'm out.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

EE on MSNBC - the revolution can be televised...

Sunday, March 22, 2009

The Good Kind of Fear

Since the last time we talked, EE went national. Our little social experiment has now been seen on CNN, MSNBC, and will be on Fox Business next week. We have a lot of folks talking now. "Can you do it?" "Is this racist?" "Will it make a difference?" "Why buy Black?" "Why is it so hard for Black people to support their own?"

EE To Do list.
1. Put our economic and empowerment issues back into the national dialogue. CHECK!

More and more people have started visiting our grocer, Farmers Best, our dry cleaner, Evans Cleaners, and my shoe store, Sensual Steps. You cannot imagine how empowering and inspiring knowing that is. So if you think criticism from a few cynics, racists, and the fringe types who won't even take the time to see that this about love, pride, and unity, and learning about how we can improve our communities for future generations - is gonna have me hesitate, rethink, stutter, hold back - then you have another thing coming.

You know what's coming? More and more folks thinking about the possibility of a new America. More and more Black people believing in the possibility that some of those big American brands that have come to symbolize the American Dream in action... just maybe one or two of those can be Black one day. We've been here just as long as everyone else (except for the Native Americans), so why can't one of those stories start with a Black family? The Sears story. The McDonald's miracle. The Hilton legacy. The Ford phenomenon. The Walmart success story. These are all entrepreneurs or families. These are wonderful American institutions, awesome businesses, pillars of strength and hope for the American economy and workforce. But what I want us to remember is that those businesses exist simply because of good ol' entrepreneurship. JCPenney began with James Cash Penney. Hilton is the story of Conrad Hilton. Walgreen's is the legacy of Charles Walgreen. The Ford empire is an American family's tale of triumph. We need to view these business giants as individuals and families who simply started a business and worked hard. EE asks us to start considering that the time has come that one of these entrepreneurs, one of these families can be Black. This country has been integrated for a while now. We've been here 400 years now. We have a Black President now. Why can't one of those department store chains come from a Black entrepreneur's success?

EE To Do List (continued).

2.Showcase those businesses we encounter that defy negative stereotypes about Black businesses (poor quality, poor service, high prices, no selection). CHECK!!

3. Inspire Black people to start believing in Black business, and thinking that supporting them could lead to improvements in our communities. IN PROGRESS.

4. Prove to ourselves that there can be a different economic reality for us, where our businesses and our local economies can thrive as well as, and are as great and successful as anyone else's. PENDING.

Alright, been a nice, productive couple of weeks for EE. So why am I calling this week's message "The Good Kind of Fear"?

Cuz I'm scared!

Can this really be it? Could we really have beautiful communities, with thriving businesses, lush parks, grocery stores with fresh produce, kids playing, well-funded schools, low unemployment, high esteem? Is this where this "little" project is taking us? What if I'm right?

What if this is the beginning of that? What if all it took is more and more of you showing and proving your love for, faith in, and support of your own people? Wasn't it that kind of love and unity that got us out of slavery, Jim Crow, and got us the right to vote?

What if all of us came together, made little sacrifices, and insodoing, we made America a better place for all of us?

What if there came a day when Americans of all races were shopping at one of hundreds and thousands of Jacksons department stores, Evans Cleaners, Hightower drug stores and Karriem's grocery stores? What would that do for the Black child in America? Wouldn't that be a wonderful time for America?

What if?!!!

Wow. That is scary. I'm scared to even think of what we could accomplish if we used, strategically and proactively, all the passion, talent, history, and resources we have to make things better.

OK Maggie. Take a chill pill girl. Slow down now. You're really dreaming.

Yep. I am dreaming. And what's wrong with that? I'm American too! That's what I'm supposed to do.

That's my American Dream. And that's a good kind of fear.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

My friend Scott

Hello EE family! This has been a big week for us. Our little project just went national. I am ready to make this real, to take our message all over the world. Did you EE today? We're gonna talk more about that later. Right now, I want to introduce you to my new friend. Peep our exchange:
i've been teaching in south-central LA for about seven years now. even though i'm white, i try to support the community i work in by doing as much shopping as possible there.

keep it up, i hope you see the results you want to achieve.


hello scott, i am maggie anderson, the founder of the ebony experiment. i have received hundreds of calls and emails of support over the past 24 hours. this one means the most to me.

i am glad you understand that all we want to do is start getting black people to believe in a different reality for themselves. this had NOTHING to do with hurting, punishing, or excluding white people. we do this because we know our own people don't even believe that things could be better. that places where black people live can thrive economically and be beautiful and vibrant. this is reality that should be possible in america, for everyone. in this reality, those names that you see controlling business and the economy in america... walgreen's, penney's, walmart, hilton, merrill lynch, etc... just maybe some of them could be black, hispanic, whatever.

that this is about black america versus white america. i am saying "we are america too!" black people will never realize the economic empowerment absolutely necessary to improve their communities unless they start believing that their own people, talents, and resources are good enough to fix their own problems. we're not there. we don't have the love, pride, and belief in ourselves and what we can do. my journey this year is simple. i am telling the world that i do believe that black people, black entrepreneurs are just as good as anyone else. and i am going to show that i believe in them by living off their goods and services for a year. somewhere along the way, my biggest hopeis that the kids you are teaching start looking at their community and their people in a different way. i want them to really believe that they ARE america too. they are equal too. that it is not totally insane to believe that one day they can buy a toaster from a department store created by someone who looks like them. what a beautiful, empowering reality that would be for a black kid in south central LA.

Margarita Anderson
CEO and Founder
The Ebony Experiment