Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Can a Middle Class, Suburban Family Lead a Black Power Movement?

My family made a choice, publicly, to spend as much money as possible with Black business owners and professionals. We made this decision and make this sacrifice because we believe Black people have too much talent and spend too much money for their community to look the way it does and for its families to suffer the way they do. We urge our community to practice self-help economics. We want our people to unite, in this positive and peaceful way, to counter social ills that disproportionately impact our people (recidivism, unemployment, gang activity and drug abuse, lack of education), by infusing wealth into underserved neighborhoods, creating more jobs, and providing role models for the youth.

Sounds good…right?

Many people have violently criticized our pledge, our project, and our overall mission. Through hate-email, blogs, Facebook, letters to our home, we have been called racists and Nazis, and demeaning, malicious attacks have been lodged against us and our people.

There are those dismayed by EE’s call for Blacks to leverage and engender collective consumerism as a solution to our problems… threatened by EE’s blatant refusal to continue to wait and rely on the largesse of others or well-meaning government programs to trickle down… confused by our public and proud choice to support our own genius and products. Those people have been feeling that way about any call to ‘buy Black’ for a long time.

But they’re more fired up now because what really burns them about EE is us.

John, Maggie, Cara and Cori—the Anderson family of Oak Park, ‘Apple Pie’ USA. We scare and appall them.

That people like us could dream up something like this is what’s new and inspirational about our movement. And sadly, this is precisely what bothers so many about it. We aren’t poor and disenfranchised. We aren’t ex-offenders reformed in prison. We are not militant radicals. My Ivy League husband and I earned six-figure salaries working in corporate America. We went to white universities and studied with and about good white people.

We don’t fit the Black activist profile.

How dare I, a manifestation of the great American Dream, the product of many races and nationalities, preach self-help economics for Black people?

How dare John? John came from a ‘good’ home in a ‘good’ neighborhood. John’s father paid for his Harvard education. John even has White friends!

So we aren’t supposed to be offended and distressed. We shouldn’t be starting movements. They say we should be humble and grateful, doing everything we can to repay our country for the victory of our lives—not trying to improve America so that there can be more families like ours living that American Dream too.

We’re supposed to do what everyone else does. You know, shop with the big names and designers instead of with our conscience. Drive over and around the struggling Black parts of town. Ignore the plight of our people, the rights of our people, the power of our people—all in exchange for the welcome and cozy embrace of American middle-class life.

We are pretty confident that our girls will get good educations, wonderful opportunities, and grow up to be law-abiding, productive members of society. This is all that should matter to us.

“What else could they want?” They say. “Why are they trying to change things???!!!!”

Yes, we do have a wonderful life. But it’s not enough. And we’ll throw it all away if it means we could not keep fighting for what’s right.

You know what we really want? We want to live that wonderful life in a society where our beautiful people are not relegated to the bottom anymore. So we fight for that. That’s our fight. That’s our journey. That’s our movement and it’s just beginning.

(This blog was originally written by me, Maggie Anderson, for Black Enterprise.)

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Watch our new video. The best one yet. Be inspired. GET HYPE!

Please watch our new video. THEN support our movement. We cannot do this alone. We cannot fund this out of our own pockets anymore.
Please support the EE Foundation today!

How we came up with The Empowerment Experiment - my personal story

Last year, my life was great. Great family, career, healthy, financially blessed. But my blessings and my purpose were encompassed in what I had, not what I was or what I did. My life’s deeds were reckless and improvised, without purpose or commitment. I had developed a dangerous sense of gratification and entitlement at the risk losing my righteous sense of consciousness and connectedness.

Now, I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s suffered from these periods of silly shallowness. So you know - it’s a awful condition. It breeds laziness, renders you idle, and robs you of the hunger, passion, humility and creativity you need in order to make a difference in this world.

And then, my mother was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. She was given a month to live. All that was before The Empowerment Experiment.

Then, fortunately, God gave me a moment, an instance, a teeny-tiny, fleeting yet most remarkable moment. That moment knocked me over and lifted my high…

We had just spent hundreds of dollars on an anniversary dinner at a restaurant downtown. The whole time we were there, we talked about the social crises in our community, the poverty and recidivism. We talked about doing more mentoring… and that’s when the check came and we paid the bill. And that’s when we realized that we are a part of the problem we were talking about donating time to fix. Our people needed that money. Our businesses needed that money. And all our credentials and accomplishments mean nothing if we know that and do nothing about it.

It was in that moment I learned I don’t have the luxury of giving up, or giving in. I no longer had the right to live the empty and easy life. I could not choose between Living the Dream and Fighting for the Dream anymore.

So we decided to do something meaningful with our lives. We decided to do something about the crisis in our community. We made our pledge to completely live off of Black business and talent. We decided to ground the pledge in an academic study so that we could monitor the potential of buying Black and scientifically defy negative stereotypes about Black business. We called on some leading intellectuals on Black history, sociology, economics and business to join our team. We built a website and issued a press release to announce our plans. We did this all by ourselves, right out of our basement.

That press release did not have to picked up. No one had to come to that site. I mean, so what, who cares about where a Black family decides to buy their groceries and clothes?

Seven months later we are in the midst of a national movement where we have folks registering from all over the world to make pledges to buy Black. We have twelve new EE families from across the country, who are preparing to do The Empowerment Experiment together… just like we do, in front of the cameras, so we can make history together.

Our little bootleg website has well over a million hits. We’ve done MSNBC, BET, Fox News, CNN, CBS News, you name it. And a few weeks ago, the article done by the Associated Press, not submitted to them by us, “Couple’s buy black experiment becomes a national movement” is still being featured in every major news outlet. EE is discussed in over 1000 blogs.

And my mother, who according to the doctors, should have been dead three times over, is right here with us – cancer free.

So if you think EE is going anywhere - you got another thing coming!

That's the truth. That's why we are here. This is pure. This is real.

Thank you for your support.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Ain't no party like an EE party...

I have to keep writing or I will go insane. I really don't know what to say though because sometimes I don't even know who I am writing this for. Should I go on and on about why my family does The Empowerment Experiment? Should I give you more updates on how much bigger EE is than the last time we talked and how much more media attention its gained? I guess I should do that. After all, The Empowerment Experiment is about preaching - through creative activity and media - the necessity and power of self-help economics. So I'd better keep preaching. And of course I need to present media updates... otherwise most of you would not follow the project.

That's why I'm a little bewildered today. EE is supposed to be, was designed to be, is positioned to be, a social service initiative and an academic experiment. It is starting to feel like a well-attended, bumpin' party with awesome food, music and drinks, but no one really knows the host or what the hell they're celebrating.

The point is that you all should be paying attention to this regardless of the media's coverage and in spite of it's lack of coverage. You should be the lifeblood of EE, not BET or The Chicago Tribune. I am finding myself measuring the success of this project by website hits and media inquiries. I want to hear from you. I want to know that you care about this. I want to feel your passion about energizing our collective sense of worth, and about what you are willing do to activate and demonstrate that passion. I want to discover your potential - not Brian Williams' or Anderson Cooper's or even Oprah Winfrey's - to make a difference in our community's economic future and sociological outlook. I live, EE lives, through your undying hope in the possibility of a new reality for us... one where we don't feel broken, beat up, angry and ashamed when we walk or drive through a Black neighborhood in America. I crave your, YOUR sincere belief that our businesses and talents will be respected, valued and sought after in this country, and that OUR people will soon represent the American Dream through high quality standards of living.

This is why we are here. But you don't see that. And if you do, I don't feel it.

I am wholly beholden to the media. That's pathetic. If they leave me, EE is nothing.

But that's just me. And fortunately, I am not EE.

I don't think you got that. Yep, you heard me right. I am not EE.

You are The Empowerment Experiment. You are EE. Black people. Black culture. America's promise to Black people. America's pledge to the world. All that's EE.

But for now, EE still needs me. The Empowerment Experiment needs me to stay strong and smile pretty... to buy Black and be proud. I gotta be a smart, tough soldier. Because soldiers do their duty. Soldiers represent their nation.

EE. EE. The EE nation. That's you AND me.

So I will wait. I'll keep waiting for the EE nation to stand up with me and show me something worth defending, fuel the fight worth fighting. I want to fight for a cause and a culture, not headlines and press inquiries.

Will you be there? Will you stand up with me even after the media has moved on? Will you support Black business and talent, and honor and love your people because it's righteous and makes sense - and not because some celebrity or media-magnet family tells you to? Will you refute, will all your heart, mind and money, the notion that your people are destined to be at the bottom of the socioeconomic totem pole forever? Will you work and sacrifice so that our people can sincerely, finally, and with good reason, feel included in the American mainstream? Will you show our children that, somewhere in this world, even if it is just on your block, people who look like them are not always just the workers and consumers whose money and labor strengthens other communities and fulfills everyone else's dreams... but that many of those people who look like them are successful, prominent professionals, tradespeople, and entrepreneurs? Will you also prove to them that those who are don't have to be exceptions - that soon, if we come together, they can become a standard? Will you teach them and anyone else who wants to listen that EE, that the goal of more successful Black-owned businesses and professionals being proudly supported by Blacks, and blindly, yet steadily supported by all people, is the goal that all of America should want and the story that this country should want to tell the world about the people it once enslaved?

Will you do that for me? Oh, I'm sorry. Not me. No,no, no. Not me.

Will you do that for EE?

Now if you did... that would be something worth partying about.

Friday, May 29, 2009

It's official...if the AP and MSNBC say you have a movement, then I guess you do!

see the story here: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/30707142/

I didn't know this was a movement!

and we are not radical! proactive and progressive - but not radical!

My French Connection

I must first apologize for being away for so long. Everyday I think about all of you, thank God for you, miss you and promise myself that I’m gonna talk to you the next day. Been too many days of that. Please know that I have been really busy living life in the EE Zone. I’ve been maintaining my pledge to find, support and uplift quality Black businesses. I’ve been trying to uphold my pledge to inspire my community to use the love and pride we have to finally do something about our problems.

Much easier written than done! Trust me folks, that’s a lot of work. And never forget that I have a family to take care of …I am still Mommy, Wifey, Head of Household, Auntie and Daughter of a sick woman.

But since we had this new media push (see next post), I am expected to take on this new role. Teacher. Yes teacher. Here’s what happened between the French journalist with the Black husband (she had to make sure she advised me of that as she admitted she thought my family’s project is racist.) and me.

A large French cable network came to Chicago to do a documentary on the city. They wanted to focus on some of the city’s problematic stereotypes, like political corruption and racial segregation. They had heard about EE and asked could they spend an hour with me shopping and to do an interview. I’ve done a few of these now, and I figured the French are progressive enough to understand what we are doing, cover us fairly, and help us generate some exposure overseas.

During our time together, she asked the question every White journalist asks, “Isn’t this racist?” I’m OK with answering the question. What bothers me is when they ask it. (more on that later) They always start off the interview with “How did you come up with this?” … “Why are you doing this?”… “What do you hope to accomplish?” … “How is it going so far?” So I answer all those questions. You all know what I say, because you understand why I do this. But just in case you need a refresher, here’s what I say. Here’s what I feel. Here’s what in our hearts.

Here are the ABCs of EE:

How did you come up with this?
The concept of Buying Black is not new. We did not "come up" with this. We decided to do create The Empowerment Experiment because, like millions of other middle-class Black people in America, we wanted to do something about the problems disproportionately impacting our kids and neighborhoods. We want to give back. And although we are not millionaires, celebrities, or politicians, we can do something with what we do have. We can invest the money we earn and spend everyday into those communities we care about, go to bed crying about. We came up with a year-long commitment because we wanted to see whether prolonged, targeted investment could actually make a difference. We made the pledge public because we hoped that, through this journey, we could also dispel some of the negative stereotypes about Black business. We could finally prove, scientifically, that the talent, services and products coming from Black Americans are just as good as anyone else’s. We are sick of the asymmetry between Black talent and resources and what’s actually represented and reinvested in the Black community.

Why are you doing this?
We do this because we care about what’s going on in Gary, Benton Harbor, Detroit and the West Side of Chicago. These communities are all Black. We care about the kids there. We are tired of crying every night because we heard of another kid getting shot in those neighborhoods because those kids don’t have role models, their parents are unemployed, and their communities are dirty and ravaged by gangs, drugs and crime. I care about that. I’m tired of crying about that, shaking my head, and waking up and living my great life in Oak Park, having my great education and my great job Downtown, and driving right over and around all those places where Black kids are suffering from lack of good schools, parks, clean streets, because their town does not have the tax-base that mine has. I could have just kept living my life. I decided to act. I decided to take a stand and say that this... THIS IS NOT the end of the road for my people in America. I do this because I believe that if our community was economically empowered, if our people started believing in and investing in our own talent and businesses, most of other problems would just dissolve away.

What do you hope to accomplish?
I hope that our experiment puts the issues facing Black businesses and our communities back into the national dialogue. I hope that we can raise awareness about the disparities in those markets and industries where Black people represent such a significant portion of the consumer base, but have no business owners. I want to show people how important it is for Black American children to feel like someone who looks like them has more choices in America than being a ball player, rapper or a gangbanger. They need to see more success stories in their own community from the business and professional sectors. I do this because right now, for the average Black kid in America it is absolutely inconceivable that a successful grocery store, drug store, hotel or restaurant could be owned by a Black person… or that someone Black could produce and distribute toys, beds, software or cheese… or that a Black person can be successful just by being an entrepreneur. And finally, I hope that other Black middle class families, with the time and wherewithal to make some small changes and sacrifices, would consider making the effort to find and support Black business.

How is it going so far?
It feels great living like this. It feels wonderful to know that I am serving my community by doing something as simple as buying bananas. But it is a huge sacrifice because there are not enough Black-owned businesses. There should be more. Most of the businesses in the Black communities I want to invest my money in are not Black-owned.

So after all that… after I just talked about the kids I am trying to help, the communities suffering with no hope in sight, the Americans who live in second- and third-world conditions that no one seems to care about… after all that, she has the nerve to ask me, “Isn’t this racism?”

As I said before, I’m OK with the question. Most interviewers ask it. I accept the question because I assume the interviewer has not been exposed to places like Gary, has never heard the term ‘buy Black’ and only focuses on the snippets and sound bites that portray me as an advocate of buying based on race - and that’s it. I usually don’t give credence to the idiotic question and I just restate what my intentions and hopes are:
I want to promote entrepreneurship in the Black community. I want more role models for Black kids in underserved communities to come from the business world. I want more Americans, of all races, to become aware of and have more access to the wonderful talent and businesses coming out of the Black community.

This time, I was upset when the racism question popped up. This woman had spent two whole hours with me, had heard the ABCs of EE, and was still thinking me a kooky racist.

She needed to be educated. And I needed to be her teacher. She could not believe that there could be neighborhoods that were totally Black, but overwhelmed by non-Black businesses. She was baffled to learn that there was only one Black-owned grocery store in the entire great state of Illinois. She could not understand.

So we went for a drive through the West Side. As we drove, class was in session. No more ABCs. She needed EE 301. Take notes pupils:

As a race, Black people suffer disproportionately in every measure of social and economic progress - highest incarceration rates, highest dropout rates, highest unemployment rates, highest rates of gang, drug, and AIDS penetration. EE has never said and will never say that those horrible facts are racist or due to racism. It would be very easy to do that. Instead of crying racism, we cry for self-help economics.

As painful as it may be for some to accept and admit, self-help economics is a practice of economic empowerment where consumers of a certain group try to support and invest in businesses from the same group. We hope that instead of crying racism, waiting for a hand-out, or ignoring and accepting the status quo, we can rally people to start investing in long-term solutions that can mitigate the causes and effects of the problems affecting our race. Self-help economics enhances the collective self-esteem, provides more role models... while creating jobs, promoting entrepreneurship, and converting tax-burdens into tax-payers.

Our race is suffering and we cannot depend on the government or lofty statements and ideals like “There is no Black America. There is no White America. There is only the United States of America.” to fix that. Those pronouncements and virtues need to be backed up with action and answers. We owe the student who has to join a gang to stay alive, or sell drugs to keep his lights on much more than that. We say that maybe one answer lies in the consumers and businesses allocating their resources and talent to fix the problems our race faces - since many of those problems stem from black neighborhoods being economically deprived.

Is it ok for the problems to be associated with this race, but not the solutions?

Just as the problems and crises that disproportionately impact our race and have to do with our history, our environment, and our culture, maybe some of the solutions have do with our race not coming together enough to solve them.

We do not advocate NOT shopping at a business owned by a White person or an Asian person because you do not like people of other races. We do advocate looking for and shopping at a business that it is owned by a Black person because it might lead to increasing wealth in communities that are economically deprived and increasing the chances of more Black role models for at-risk youth. Our whole focus is the economically deprived communities where Black kids are killing each other and are more likely to go to jail than college. Our whole focus is finally doing something about the children who have no role models besides gangsters, rappers, and ball players.

I wish all I had to do was shop in those underserved communities to help the kids who live in them. That doesn’t work because the Asian, White, Hispanic, and Middle-Eastern business owners there, who represent the majority of the businesses in those underserved communities, take the money out and back to their own neighborhoods. And because most of the businesses in the Black community are not owned by Black people, for every dollar earned and spent in the Black community, five dollars leave. We can call that racism, but we don’t. Instead, we just want to find a strategic and creative way to keep some of that money there so it can start working against the social crises killing our families.

After she rode with me through the West Side, and I showed her how these good people were being neglected and rejected, and were made to feel that even in their own neighborhoods (much less anywhere else in America) they were not good enough to own the businesses that could drive and provide the vitality the community so desperately needed. I looked at her and said, “What can I do?” She said, “I understand now.”

I hope so. Because what we do is no more racist than buying American, or LGBTs buying from gay business owners to support them, or women seeking women-owned businesses.

This French woman got it in under three hours. How long will it take some of you?

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Luisa's daughter came home to Atlanta.

In any given year, we spend most of our 'vacation' time with family. Unfortunately, most of our family is far away... in Washington, DC, Detroit, and Atlanta. Fortunately, for The Empowerment Experiment, most of our family is in Washington, DC, Detroit, and Atlanta - three of the most powerful Black business centers in America. What a coincidence! The year we dedicate to buying Black and trying to elevate the issues facing Black business; the economic, corporate, and commercial disparities we accept as a community; the stereotypes and systems that keep all that going... the year we commit to creating an honest and empowering dialogue between ourselves, the struggling and the successful, the rich and the poor, the hoodie and the suburbanite... that's the year my mother decides to beat pancreatic cancer.

She and my Papa live in Austell, a suburb of Atlanta. Everything I am or ever will be springs from her wisdom, guidance, courage and indominatable character and dignity. All those degrees don't mean a damn thang! I am Luisa's daughter. That's who I am. That's where EE comes from. Luisa, my mother, was supposed to die many times last year. She hangs on for us. She hangs on for EE. She knows we need her. And this is her dream too.

So as you can imagine, this year, the year of EE, I am spending a lot more time in Atlanta. It's my second home. And that means it's EE's second home.

My trips to Atlanta are very emotional now. Mima is frail. It saddens me. Mima is still here. That makes me happy and grateful. But now the trips are even more emotional because I've been talking to Atlanta about EE. I've been on the radio there, done some interviews, and met hundreds. EE hosted events at two Black-owned wine shoppes. People from all over the city came, just to meet me, just to talk about EE. All they know is that I am a woman who has pledged to support Black businesses. That's all. But you know what? For some folks, those who are starving for change, who are suffocated by the status quo, who are stifled and stranded by the hopelessness they fear is infinite... those folks think that anyone who would make that kind of commitment must be a superstar.

Who is this hero? Who is this brave soldier who would dare make small efforts to find and support quality Black businesses and then go out of her way to promote them? Is she a politician, a radical? Who is this heaven-sent champion spending her time, money, heart and mind on trying to prove and tell anyone who would listen that it is beautiful to buy Black? Who is paying her? Why would she do this? "Will you come back to Atlanta and run for Mayor or Governor of Georgia?" asked Frank of the famous "Frank and Wanda Morning Show."

They flooded our events contemplating these questions. They stood in line and on tippy-toes just to hear me speak or shake my hand or hug my neck. One man was ready to fight another man just for thinking he could disagree with the words coming out of my mouth. "We love you." "We got your back." "Thank you." "Thank you for doing this." "Thank you for standing up." Can you help me?" Could you talk to my son?" "Will you speak at my church?" "Keep going sister. We will help you." "Thank you."

Thank you.

Who me?

What are you thanking me for? I'm just visiting my Mima! I'm just buying bananas and coffee. I'm just going out to eat. I'm just getting my nails done! I'm just talking about how proud I am to be Black and be able to support the wonderful talent coming out of my community. What the hell are you standing in line to talk to me for?!! I'm no hero.


Look, I'm just like all of you. I am a mother who worries about her babies, looking for more chances and ways to protect and love them. I am a wifey who takes good care of her husband, is proud when I look good for him, and lives for his smiles and kisses. I am a daughter who strives to represent all the strength, principles and wisdom my parents instilled in me. That's all I am.

I'm you. Just as you are me.

I went to Atlanta to see Mima. Before I left we had started our first EE affiliate chapter - The Empowerment Experiment of Atlanta. I went to sip on some fine African wines and I left with a movement at my back.

But I aint nobody special. You may feel that way. That's only because I got you thinking about a new kind of future for us. That's what's special. That's what's powerful. Those possibilities, that chance to taste the apple-pie, picket-fence dreams that so many Americans take for granted. That's the feel-good stuff that has your eyes welling...that new quality of life for a people that has suffered so much and given so much to America. And in return we ask for pies and fences. Pies and fences. PIES AND FENCES!!

So think about that. Not me. I'm just Luisa's daughter. Luisa. The Cuban immigrant who, regardless of her virtually white-skin, never abandoned, diminished, or negated her Blackness, her Africanness. The mother of three, who gave up everything she had, including the wedding ring she refuses to replace, so her family can have a better life in the land of opportunity. The laborer whose vacations were defined by her children's and grandchildren's weddings and graduations... who managed to send all of her children from the gang-infested streets of Liberty City to college and their individual success stories. That's me. I'm her daughter. That's all I ever will or ever want to be.

So think about the pies and fences. Think about all the Luisas who fight for us.

And don't think about me. I'm just Luisa's daughter.

Think about us. Think about what we all can do together.

Then who will the real hero be?

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

To be or not to be...

I bet you all think I spend my days shopping, taking care of my family and doing interviews all day. Not true. EE is tougher than that, better than that, realer than that.

You need to know that while I enjoy doing this... love doing this... could not breathe without doing this, I endure some very painful moments along this journey. The pain comes from talking to entrepreneurs and discovering that in many ways, my people, Black people, business people - the ones who believe in the American ideal of hard work paying off, and who thus actually try to succeed as entrepreneurs - are helplessly stuck in a Jim Crow version of the business world.

More pain comes from then having to accept that some of us are stuck with Jim Crow minds. That hurt comes from listening to my people bash our businesses, even as they realize that not supporting them sends a chilling effect throughout our community... that not even trying to find a Black business to meet our needs tells our children that we are not good enough to create, distribute and sell quality goods... that it makes the world believe that that kind of thing, you know, having a successful business, should be left to Whites and other ethnic groups, and we should stick to hooping and rapping... that their negative impression came from an isolated experience and had that same kind of incident happened with a White business they would not even consider castigating that damaging view upon all White businesses. The torture stems from walking around the South Side of Chicago and asking a kid whether they knew if a certain business I was considering going into was Black-owned, and seeing in his face a look of heart-attack surprise, immediately followed by a sigh and low-hanging, slow head shake. I know that look. It's the "Are you insane? Black-owned?" face, followed by the "We'll never own anything like that," sadness.

That's a lot of pain.

Now, you should also know that I am free to use that pain as an excuse to cut 'n' run, or violate our pledge, or give up on all of you and shut this down... no website, no blog, no foundation trying to raise money for a national campaign where all of us our doing a little bit everyday and posting/showcasing to the world our Black dollars online. I could easily do that.

Fortunately, in a weird, twisted, wicked way, those anguish-filled episodes are the essence of my enlightenment, the source of my strength, and the fuel for my fire.

John and I received a note from John Clark, the owner of Reggio's Pizza. His enterprise is extremely successful. His brand is a household name in the Black community. He has been recognized time and time again for his leadership in the industry and the excellence his operation demonstrates. He is a role model, a true pillar of hope and integrity in Chicago for all people, regardless of color... for anyone who believes that hard work, education, and principles are the keys to success in America.

So why is it that I can only find his pizza in the Black Walgreens? Are Black people the only people who like pizza? I understand certain 'ethnic' hair care products - we use products that most others do not. But why is it that he has to beg, blackmail, bully and bribe to get a major retailer to carry his product, and then when he lands the deal, they relegate him to 'urban' markets? Would that happen if it was the same pizza, been around for the same 35 years, had the same tens of millions in annual revenue, but was owned by a White family instead?

Don't waste your time on that one. We already know the answer. Now here's a real tough question for you. Would he have made it that far if he hadn't announced and proclaimed his minority-ness? I wish I could say yes. I want to boast, as I chomp on this unbelievably scrumptious pizza, made with that awesome, one-of-a-kind butter crust, "Of course! John Clark is an extraordinary man, with an extraordinary plan, who has the work ethic and quality product required to guarantee success!" Y'all know I want to shout that from the mountain top!


wait a minute. I just have to finish this slice. Damn, it's good!

OK. I'm back.

But I really don't know. I don't know how it happened for him. Half the time, I hear successful entrepreneurs say they had to, or chose to, hide that the business is Black-owned. They knew the product and everything else was tight. They knew they had a shot at the American Dream. Why ruin it by letting your customers know you are Black? Why risk losing customers who have never dealt with a Black business, and 1) fear that you don't have the skills and resources to last over the longterm, 2) just don't really like Black people, unless they are on TV singing, dancing, or throwing a ball? Why risk losing Black customers who will intentionally pass you by just because they accept and hold dear negative stereotypes about Black business OR the ones who prove they've 'made it' by relishing in the fact that they don't have to live off of Black businesses because their lush suburb does not have any? Why would you do that? Are you stupid??!!

But then if you don't wear that big, Black "B" on your chest, you might be missing out on those precious 'Minority Set-Asides' or 'Diversity Allocations' or 'Diversity Targets'... or possibly forego taking up a big chunk of the laudable 'Social Responsibility' or 'Corporate Citizenship' budget. How dare you miss out on that chance to show up at the press conference and be on the website to represent all 38 million of us? Seriously though, you are new, small, and Black? Why should you even try to compete based on merit? Brotha, you better get that certification. Sistah, you better show them that you are the gateway to the growing Black market. You better smile, be humble, be grateful, beg, settle and take whatever scraps they give you, because one contract is better than none. And you better hurry up because they have only set aside .08 percent of their budget for all minorities, and no way is it even conceivable that they might exceed that??!!

I know it kinda sucks. That's the new millennium Jim Crow paradox. But don't worry. I know you just want a chance to demonstrate your value based on your brains, plans, goods and services. I know, I know. I know and you know your heart. So it's alright. You gotta do whatcha gotta do... right?

To be to not to be?

To be Black or not to be Black?

John Clark, self-made millionaire, entrepreneur extraordinaire, proud Black man, and patriotic American did a little of both. His plan was to travel down set-aside street for a while, and then take that to allocation alley... then maybe, just maybe he could one day step out onto justice junction and cruise down the fairness fairway.

Didn't work out that way. We spent a day with John Clark at his production facility. It was amazing. Huge. State of the art everything. Friendly, knowledgeable, loyal employees all over the place. And y'all know how I feel about the end product. He talked about how difficult it is to just get the chance to make it. He has already proven himself. The pizza speaks for itself. So why does his race even matter? Why is placement of his product based on the race? But here's the problem, he has to play up his race, or he won't even get in the door. They are gonna notice. And when they do, he'll be reduced to what he is. A Black pizza man. Black pizza man. Pizza for Black people. Pizza in Black stores. Doesn't matter that he is the largest Black-owned frozen pizza company in the world.

But John Clark did not complain about that. His problem is that WE know that this is happening and WE do nothing about it. We demand nothing of these retailers and distributors. We don't even know or care about how many Black vendors they do business with or whether they even care about that sort of thing. We give them all our money and allegiance, and for all we know, they have never even considered giving a Black company a contract. That was his pain.

Now it's mine. That's my pain this week. That's the pain that will take me into another week of EE. EE is committed to advocating the issues of the Black manufacturers and distributors. They have the plants. They have the multi-location operations. That means they have the jobs. You know I have love for the three-man dry cleaning operation, or the mom-and-pop coffee shop. But EE is about us being smart and seeing the big picture. We have to think about the John Clark's and the Reggio's Pizzas out there.

We don't think about them. And that's why things don't change for us. That's why we are stuck in the Jim Crow business world. It's due to our Jim Crow minds. Imagine if we started paying attention. What if we started spending our money only with those retailers and distributors who respected our talent and businesses?

Do you see?

Do you want to see?

To see or not to see? That is a painful question.

To be or not to be? That is a difficult question.

To EE or not to EE? That is the question.

And the answer.

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

Saturday, February 28, 2009

I forgot it was Black History Month!

I didn't receive much feedback for my last post. Was I too brute? Too honest? I pray I did not offend anyone. That was not the intent. Besides hoping I would encourage folks out there (with means) to contribute to the Foundation, I wrote all that to show that EE is not just love and dreamy days and power-pushing all the time! It's a beautiful thang though.

So I guess I should say something special and deep because today is the last day of Black History Month. Hmmmm...

I'm kinda sad because I had hoped our national campaign could have started by now. And then I remembered that there is no special, designated, pre-ordained, scheduled point in time and life for change to come and for movements to begin. It hit me that for all my planning and pitching and so called movement-making... the revolution, the empowerment, the increased ownership of and respect for Black businesses, Black entrepreneurs being able to claim a halfway decent share of the Black consumer and investor dollar, the growing sense of love and pride for ourselves... all that is going to happen when we make it happen. That's why we have the 'What if?' motto on the website.

What if Karriem Beyah, the corporate executive turned grocer, the owner of the store where I get almost everything I need for my family, Farmers Best (http://www.farmersbestchicago.com/), whose store actually feels fresh... suffocating with gorgeous produce, best quality, unblemished and beautifully displayed... brimming with quality meats and fish, that don't smell or look funny, with perfect prices... employing at-risk youth, ex-offenders, young mothers from the struggling community the store is situated in and mentoring them, caring for them, helping them turn their lives and encouraging them to pursue a higher education... symbolizing a new way of doing business in da hood because he actually spends time in the store getting to know his customers and showing them the respect... What if Karriem owned a chain of stores? What if, after being here for 400 years, we finally had that choice in America? What if there came a time when we couldn't name all of the Black success stories or count them with our fingers? What if we were that much closer to proving that our inalienable right to "the pursuit of happiness" is more than our country's catchy mission statement?

We have to start claiming that vision of America where the thought of being able to buy an air-conditioner from a department store owned by a Black family is not insane. We need to start envisioning, believing, asserting and proving another reality.

Almost every person, young or old, who walks into Karriems's wonderful store (Farmers Best, 1424 West 47th Street, http://www.farmersbestchicago.com/) looking for a job or career opportunity, who sees him emerge from the back office in a tailored blazer and button down shirt, walks up to him and says, "Do you know where the owner is?"

I AM THE OWNER! I OWN THIS STORE! I employ and care about these people. I respect, serve and offer this community the best there is and the best I can give, and at a fair price.


Can you see it?

Do you see?

I am the O-W-N-E-R. I am the ow-to-da-ner! Yeah. I am the Black Future. And that's why I am the new Black History Month.

Yes you are, Karriem. I won't let them forget you either. We're gonna remember you all year.

So yeah, the all-powerful, all-exciting all-educating (and oftentimes, all-erasing) Black History Month came and went and we aint all come together yet to infuse millions into our own community by just trying a little harder to find and support the millions of quality Black businesses and professionals out there. Boo-hoo.

C'mon now. Y'all should know me better than that!

It's February 28th and I'm soooo hopeful and empowered. You know why? Because we made our own history. Karriem, my grocer, is making history at Farmers Best (http://www.farmersbestchicago.com/). And that's a fact, even if you didn't see it on the TV! That store has changed my life and is changing lives everyday by giving people jobs and providing healthy, quality foods to a community where the concept of fresh, clean produce is the essence of whimsy.

All of us made history because this thing is still alive, still real and still meaningful.

March is coming. Happy Black Future Month to all of you.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Assumptions to Angels...

Hello family,

I apologize for being out of touch. I know that you all know I have been busy living The Ebony Experiment. It has really been challenging. I bet you are thinking the challenge involves finding and dealing with Black businesses to meet my family's needs. Some of you believe the sacrifices include not being able to go to those restaurants, stores, and websites I've been going to all my life. Others are just wondering how tough it must be having to plan my life around the few Black businesses in my community or the others I can find via word of mouth or online research. You might be saying... What a crazy way to live!

I've never been so happy. My life is full of joy. Everyday is a victory. I love meeting new Black business owners and professionals. I love telling them what I'm doing and why I'm doing it. I love the love I receive from all kinds of people who see this project for what it is - a learning experience, a creative way to promote entrepreneurship, and a self-help economics exercise.

You know where my pain comes from? You wanna know why I really cry about this every night? OK. Sometimes I feel like I have to beg my own people to get engaged and understand the vision of EE. The larger community's perspective and opinions have been easiest to comprehend and manage. But I gotta be honest, when it comes to really just "getting it"(regardless of whether or not they support it), other folks seem to have us beat.

We went into this assuming that since our community was so engaged and alive with pride and hope, we were prime for making some special achievements happen for ourselves. We make this journey public because we want you to do it too! We want you to feel it too! We assumed you would love the idea, be excited and anxious to do your part, be obsessed with maximizing its potential, and be united about the possibility of enhancing our quality of life and showing the world how fantastic we are when we come together.

Assumptions. BIG assumptions.

I've spent most of the past two weeks traveling to promote EE. I've been fortunate enough to encounter dozens of wonderful entrepreneurs, activists, students, educators, and everyday folk. I introduce them to EE. I tell them about our vision and plan to have that Ticker on the website, growing minute by minute, showcasing all the money and love we are pouring back into Black households and businesses, empowering the entire Black business community so that they create more jobs, scholarships, and role models in underserved Black neighborhoods... I showed them all that. Some people cried. Some people hugged me.

So then I asked them to work... to connect me to the people who can really make this happen... to contribute to the Foundation so we can raise the money we need to build the database, hire the staff, plan the events, and buy the technology we need to start this national campaign. We have the media attention. The time is right. We are right there...but we need a lot of help!

That's when the hugs turned to shrugs. That's when the passion waned. Those tears dried up real quick!

I cannot do this alone. I am a mother and a wife. I am daughter, sister and auntie. I am a proud Black American woman, ready to give all I have to improve my community and thereby make my country better for everyone. And that's all I am.

I have been spending too much time beggin' Black, when I'm supposed to be out there buying Black!!

Of course, there's a happy ending. Hold on...

I woke up today sad. I woke up thinking I should give up - not on buying Black - but on using our journey to inspire millions of others to try to find and support Black businesses, professionals, and products too. I was gonna give up on the Ticker. I prayed for understanding and wisdom. I've been spending all our money trying to make this happen (printing, traveling, taking folks out to lunch and dinner, paying attorneys and other vendors...), and maybe it's time to call it quits. I prayed to make the right decision for EE.

Then a woman I met in Atlanta sent me a note. She told me she loves me. She told me, "Stay determined and focused - it is all going to work out right!...We will work hard to make this happen because it is right and it is the time! God's hand is definitely in it! " She then told me that she is going to write a check.

She's not one of the multi-millionaires I met. She isn't a bigtime politician. She doesn't own a business that will be served by EE. She is a hard-working woman who has family problems of her own, whose family has been hit hard by this economy and recent job loss. She's just another strong, proud Black American woman, trying to do what she can to help her community.

I barely know this person. I have never seen her. I talked to her yesterday for the first time, on the phone. I wanted to treat her to breakfast yesterday to present EE to her. I was going to ask her to help me meet some wealthy people who could help us raise the money the Foundation needs to start the campaign. I couldn't take her to breakfast because I needed to be with my mother (she's sick with pancreatic cancer). I called her instead, just as a courtesy. We had a nice conversation. She promised she would connect me to some people. My husband is meeting with one of them in two hours.

She is an angel. She is an angel God sent my way because He knew I needed some encouragement. She isn't going to give us much, but that she is giving is enough to keep me focused on The Ebony Experiment vision, that Ticker.

I guess my assumptions were not that far off. They were just misplaced. I now assume that God is with me, with us, and that we are doing His work through the EE Foundation.

Thank you, Angel. Thanks to all my EE angels.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Windows and Corridors.

Last time we talked I was pretty upset because I couldn't find one Black-owned general merchandise store or discount outlet, even though there were so many of them in Black America, and these stores were so ridiculously successful. I also told you I would keep looking and hoping. I told you I could not accept that although we've been here for 400 years and we have significant buying power in this $30 billion industry, we have not been able to acquire and organize the resources and capabilities to open and sustain a general merchandise store chain, or at least heavily represent the franchisees in the industry.

Well, I am delighted to report I found my new general merchandise outlet. It's wonderful too. Quaint, clean, and chock full of cool stuff that I need for my family. It is owned by a friendly, hard-working couple who live in an underserved Black community, and whose personal and business expenditures as well as their business revenues contribute to the local economy there. I bought some household goods, cleaning supplies, toiletries, treats for the girls, plastic cups and plates for the girls, dry and canned goods, batteries, diapers, and some extra virgin olive oil (you all know how expensive good olive oil is... well not for me!)

Great. Another Ebony Experiment milestone. I felt good about that. But then I completely broke down. I was simply overcome by joy and sadness, pride and humility, triumph and helplessness... (you know how sometimes you can get all those emotions going at the same time?) Would you want to know why, after a routine shopping trip, I flooded my sweater with tears? Good. Because that's the subject of today's post.


As I was being helped with my bags and joking with the merchant over how I bought more sweets for myself than my daughters, the tears welled because I saw that Michelle and David, the owners of God First, God Last, God Always Dollar and Up General Store (http://www.findmechicago.com/shopping-retail/god-first-god-last-god-always-dollar-and-up-general/) had posted pictures of my family on the windows and doors of their business. They had also printed copies of our website to distribute as flyers they were placing in every bag. I did not ask them to do that. They did not know whether I was ever coming back after my first brief visit the week before. So I asked her why she did this. She said, "I want the community to know we are behind you. You came out here for us. You are here because of us. And we are here because of you." Hence, the puffy eyes.

So we started chatting about our families. Turns out both our husbands were members of 100 Black Men of Chicago, and we knew a lot of the same people. She said she could introduce me to other merchants in the area. She mentioned a couple of restaurants, a health and wellness store, art galleries, etc. I was so amazed. All the entrepreneurs knew and supported one another. They all existed along the same half-mile corridor.

Jackpot! I had no idea this Black business haven existed! But apparently, they all knew about me because Michelle and David had told them about The Ebony Experiment. More tears.

When was the last time you cried after shopping at Family Dollar or Kmart? When was the last time the owners of those stores took the time to get to know your family and talk to you about the issues that matter to you and your community? When was the last time they hugged you after you made your purchase, and threw in a bag of Vitamin C drops because you mentioned you needed some Vitamin C for your husband but they did not have any?

Before I close, let me talk a little bit about the pride. I don't want anyone assuming the proud sentiment came from my being proud of myself because I did the right thing and I contributed to an underserved community's economic development. The pride came from my observing how fantastic the store is. It is the same pride I feel with my new grocer (Farmers Best, http://www.farmersbestchicago.com/) everytime I go in there and see the miles and miles of fresh produce, breads, meats and fish... and at such competitive prices!

I'm sorry. I digressed. This is just such a thrill, such a revolutionary period in my life... It's tough to contain the joy and stay coherent!

I feel pride because these entrepreneurs stepped out on faith... utterly undaunted by the failure rates for Black businesses and the ongoing, insurmountable threat of the big discount chains... completely unphased by the fact that the people who can support them the most, simply won't... absolutely undeterred by the virtual certainty that they'll never get rich doing this, even though other folk with half their drive and smarts, who work half as hard will be able to pass millions on to their great-grandchildren... driven solely by the simple truth that if they don't try, nothing will change and our communities will never reflect the pride, power and perserverence of the people who live there. That's where the pride came from. Not the pictures of me in the window.

They have a wonderful general merchandise store - my new store. But it's only one store. And it's a marvellous corridor of small businesses - my new business corridor. But it's a tiny business corridor.

We will change that. We WILL change that.

Saturday, January 31, 2009


How many of you have seen at least ten 'dollar stores' in the average Black neighborhood? Wow, look at all the hands go up! How many of you have shopped at one? Whoooah, a buncha hands again! Boy, lots of dollar stores, lots of consumers, lots of revenue and sales. [Average Family Dollar store brings in 1.1 million] Next question. How much of that money contributes to the local economy, the economic stability and growth of that Black neighborhood? Yeah, I see more hands - and shoulders too - because most of you are like me. You are shrugging because, like me, you don't know. Well, I know now, and that's the subject of today's blog entry.

I thought finding a low-price general merchandise/ household goods outlet would be easy. Last year, I'd go to Walmart or a dollar store to fulfill those basic needs. Real hard to substitute Walmart's selection, but I figured I could get some of those items at a Black-owned dollar store, and I assumed there were tons of Black-owned dollar stores. I have been doing this for a month and have not been able to find one in all of metropolitan Chicago. I used all the Black business directories online - "No results found". I called around to local Chambers of Commerce - nothing. I actually spent 10 hours going through 12 different phone books and called each one individually. Many were Hispanic-owned and owned by folks of Middle-eastern descent. Many times, I actually asked for the owners' names. Then I would Google them. None. None lived in those Black communities where their stores were located. And since these businesses were family-owned and operated, that meant that most of the money generated left the Black neighborhood it did business in.

Now, here's the real sad part. When I found a dollar store situated at an address in a part of town that I was certain was 100% Black, I thought I might get lucky. But most of the time, the number was disconnected. Disconnected. So it might have been Black-owned but it had gone out of business. I heard that deafening disconnected beep at least 25 times.

So those are the results of my month-long research endeavor. Most of the big dollar store chains don't even franchise! [Dollar Tree, Family Dollar, Dollar General do not. They are the big 3. MyDollar Store, Inc. does. My Dollar Store has only 100 stores though, only 50 franchises, and is privately held. It is owned by an Indian businessman.] And while we are grateful for the jobs they create, and the benefits the few salaried employees get, the dollar store phenomenon is the most blatant example of the 'leakage' you'll hear me lament about all the time.

For every $100 dollar that comes into an underserved Black community, $84 dollars leave. Our community suffers from this alarming ratio, which happens to be the most accepted indicator of economic health. That leakage is the dollar store money, and unless they proactively re-invest it, it's gone. Disconnected.

So the real money goes back to corporate, the original owners, and the bonuses that go to the corporate employees. [Dollar General made $9.5 billion in 2007. Average store brings in $1.2 million a year. They do not franchise, so all that money goes to corporate.] Secondly, they were not contributing those hundreds and hundreds of millions in profits to charities and programs that serve those communities that keep them in business. [From the Family Dollar corporate website's "Giving Back" page: "We believe our contributions should be consistent with both our commitment to our communities and our commitment to our shareholders. Consequently, our budget for charitable contributions is reallocated each fiscal year and will be reviewed quarterly against the Company’s financial performance. While we encourage organizations to submit a request based on their needs, our typical grant is $250 or less. This enables us to maximize our support of local programs in the neighborhoods in which we operate...To maximize the impact of our charitable giving within our budgetary limits, we will limit our contributions to one grant per organization per fiscal year (September - August), and we will not provide repetitive annual grants or continuing support for organizations or programs...Our contribution efforts will be focused in the neighborhoods in which we operate. Consequently, Family Dollar will limit our support of national organizations (e.g. United Way, March of Dimes, Alzheimer’s Association) to chapters within the Charlotte, NC, area and to chapters that operate in areas supported by one of our nine distribution centers."] And thirdly, none of their top executives were Black.


I am going to keep looking. I am going to keep hoping that these thriving multi-billon companies dollar re-invest more in underserved minority communities than their websites indicate. I'm going to pray that there are some Black entrepreneurs who own dollar stores that have not been run out of business because we are not supporting them.

I know there are some Black-owned web-based outlets that sell general merchandise. Gonna check them out. I'll let you know how that goes. In the meantime, if any of you know of ANY Black-owned dollar stores ANYWHERE, go back to website at http://www.ebonyexperiment.com/joinus.html and register them.

One thing is for certain. This will change. It just has to. While I am flattered that so many groups and corporate enterprises have seen and cherish the value of the Black consumer dollar, and I would never denigrate their success, since as a daughter of Cuban immigrants, I celebrate all manifestations of The American Dream... I am frustrated that all this Black buying power has rendered us utterly powerless. We need a more respectable share of the Black consumer dollar. That's all I'm saying. But for now, there is no connection between Black buying power and Black economic health. At least not in this industry. Disconnected.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Been a month now. Time to get excited and get busy! What are you gonna do?

Hello All,

I appreciate all of you contributing to the discussion about The Ebony Experiment. I don't expect all of you to have wonderful things to say about what my family is doing, but I do hope we can just keep talking and that you'd check in with us from time to time. And for those of you who do “get it” and see the potential for positive change we can stimulate in our community by making little sacrifices, please read on.

Even if you don't "get it", just keep reading. Maybe you'll change your view!

Let me just take a second to share what The Ebony Experiment has been like. I am the new authority on Buying Black. Trust me. We’ve been doing this for almost a month now. Our lives have changed forever; and I have compromised NOTHING in terms of quality of goods and services for my family. If anything, it’s been a blessing, because I’ve encountered so many wonderful entrepreneurs and their families. They have been so grateful and willing to listen to my criticisms and earn my support. Best part of this is that I am confident that my money is going towards resolving the problems my community faces (by creating Black jobs, improving the economy in poverty-stricken neighborhoods, converting tax-burdens into tax-payers, etc.). You just can’t get that feeling shopping at Walmart all the time, even though they may do a lot of wonderful things for minority communities. It is not enough. We have not done our part. You cannot get that feeling when you keep putting your money in a large bank conglomerate, that has no minority owners. There are many Black-owned community banks. As long as they are FDIC insured, and they ALL are, why not at least have a checking account with them? You can do virtually all your banking online. They are part of large ATM networks. What’s the excuse? Why isn’t this the norm for us by now? Why are we making sure our money goes toward giving another banking executive a six-figure bonus, so he can buy his own jet and send his great-grand kids to fancy boarding schools? Chances are that executive is not contributing millions to UNCF or building schools in South Africa. What about gas stations? There are many black-owned gas stations. Not enough, but some. Why not buy gas cards from them? That’s what we did. We can get our gas wherever we want with the gas cards, but most of the money went to that Black owner. Why isn’t this our standard practice as a community?

So sorry for digressing/ ranting. Let me get practical for a second. It is indeed almost impossible to find the businesses. That has been the worst, most disappointing part of our journey so far. We hope, through The Ebony Experiment, to create, finally, the largest, national, most credible database of Black businesses, professionals and manufacturers ever. Because of the project’s appeal to the media and that it lasts a whole year, we hope to create enough buzz and hope that millions of businesses and professionals, and consumers and investors will register here at the website, www.ebonyexperiment.com. The Ebony Experiment Foundation, supported by other nonprofit business groups, will help us manage and populate the directory and accommodate the pledges by individuals who believe in this. If you cannot find a business, product or professional in our database, we will do the research for you and keep in touch. We will work with you. Then, all of you can post your stories and dollars spent. We will keep track, as a community, of all the money we spent Black over the year. That number will be on the website and updated hourly. Can you imagine how big that number will be if we just start making small changes now?

Yep, this all takes money and work. We are finding the resources to make this happen. We have enough talent, smarts, and products out there. We have enough consumers and investors eager to buy Black. We just have to get organized. The Ebony Experiment Foundation is working on that now. After we get enough sponsors, the website, www.ebonyexperiment.com, will be revamped. Please go there now and register. That way, when everything is set, we can contact you.

I want all of us to learn and grow from this as a community. So I'm asking you guys to go back to the website, the home of The Ebony Experiment, and just make sure you register. That way, I can email you all directly about how we're doing and how much we've spent, send you details about the Victory Celebrations we are planning, and if you want to try this yourself, accommodate your inclination to make small Buy Black commitments of your own.

You can also make the website one of your Favorites!

Peace and love,
Maggie Anderson, CoFounder, The Ebony Experiment

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

The Ebony Experiment - the first days

Hello all,
I've been getting emails from folks asking about our first few days. I'll tell you now that they've been great. I cannot express how fulfilling it's been! I know now - mark these words - that a revolution is coming. Once you start doing The Ebony Experiment, you can't stop. Once you Buy Black, it's real hard to go back! I've met so many awesome entrepreneurs, good folks trying to get their piece of the American Dream. They've been so grateful, so pleased to know we care about them. We need to show them that there are millions of Andersons out there, just dying to support Black business and promote Black entrepreneurship.

My life has changed forever. Yep, just from shopping and taking care of my family like I always have. We are changed. The Ebony Experiment changed us.

In a few minutes, I'll come back and offer a more detailed account of the experience (where we shopped, how we found the businesses, the sacrifice, the joy, the service and quality compared to a 'typical' expenditure, etc). Really fascinating stuff. Stay tuned!

Friday, January 2, 2009

Middle Class Chicago Family Commits to Buy Black for all of 2009

My name is Maggie Anderson. My husband John and I are the founders of The Ebony Experiment. It is a year-long study and campaign about economic empowerment and Black entrepreneurship grounded in my family's pledge to try to exclusively support Black-owned businesses and professionals for an entire year. The project officially launched yesterday, January 1, 2009.

I created this blog to keep my community informed of our progress, the ups and downs of our commitment, and maintain a dialogue about the plight and potential of Black business.

For more about The Ebony Experiment, visit http://www.ebonyexperiment.com/. You should also read the article in the Chicago Sun Times (http://www.suntimes.com/business/1341775,CST-FIN-buyblack21.article?plckCurrentPage=18&sid=sitelife.suntimes.com) that presented our story to the world. I also copied our national press release below. You can also find it on Forbes, Reuters, Yahoo! Finance, Hoovers, and several other local, national, and international media outlets. Our little project has created quite a stir! Join the conversation. Join the movement.

Black Family Pledges to Solely Support Black Owned Businesses For One Year
CHICAGO (December 22, 2008) – John C. and Maggie Anderson are ready to engage in an experiment that will change their lives. On January 1, 2009, the Andersons will launch “The Ebony Experiment,” a year-long effort to generate significant economic growth within the Black community. During this time, the Andersons will only support Black owned businesses and professionals in efforts to motivate other Black consumers to do the same. With a concerted national push, the Andersons look to prove that Black communities can be improved when Black consumers and investors support their own.
Tracking Every Penny Spent
For the Andersons, the Ebony Experiment will be no small undertaking as they will transition their standing contracts and household expenditures which include loans, utility bills, credit cards, etc., to truly execute their initiative. The Andersons will track their progress on the experiment’s website, http://www.ebonyexperiment.com/. The website will feature a ticker that tracks the Anderson’s expenditures in real time with a national goal of one million dollars by 2010. “During the coming months, we want The Ebony Experiment to become a national movement connecting Black consumers and investors to Black businesses and professionals,” said Maggie Anderson, president of The Ebony Experiment Group. Anderson continued, “Ultimately, this will unify the struggling and successful sectors of the Black community so we can determine and improve our standing together.”

An Effort Worth Supporting
The practice of supporting your own community is not new and is often exercised by many races in the United States. However, The Ebony Experiment will be the first time that a Black couple steps outside of their daily conveniences in order to help build their community. There are nearly 2.5 million Black households with incomes over $100,000. The Ebony Experiment targets these middle-class and upper middle-class families and asks them to make commitments to buy Black. “The Black community is energized and engaged as we look to 2009. This is the perfect time to leverage that excitement by maximizing the potential of our business community and the bargaining power of Black consumers and investors,” said John C. Anderson, co-founder of the Ebony Experiment.

An effort of this magnitude has drawn the attention and support of esteemed Black scholars and leaders including world-renowned author Dr. Michael Eric Dyson and Steven Rogers, the director of the Levy Institute of Entrepreneurial Practice at Northwestern University’s Kellogg Graduate School of Management. At the end of the experiment, a comprehensive and revealing study will be published by Dr. Michael Bennett, the executive director of the Egan Urban Economic Center at DePaul University. Dr. Dyson will also co-author “The Ebony Experiment,” a book that will chronicle the Anderson’s journey and how their efforts impacted the Black community.

About The Andersons
John C. Anderson is a Harvard graduate with a MBA from Northwestern University’s Kellogg Graduate School of Management and is a native of Detroit. Maggie Anderson is a first-generation Cuban American, reared in a drug-infested area of Miami, and has a JD and MBA from the University of Chicago. The Andersons live in Oak Park, Ill., with their daughters Cori and Cara, who are ages two and three respectively.

About The Ebony Experiment Group, LLC
The Ebony Experiment Group, LLC, was created by John C. and Maggie Anderson of Oak Park, Ill, and is a community service oriented project that is seeking sponsors to support the experiment and maintain the website. The purpose of The Ebony Experiment is to infuse long-term wealth into the Black community by galvanizing and uniting Black consumers, investors, businesses and professionals.

Media Contact: Courtney Quaye or
Carla V. Oglesby
CGC Communications LLC