Flex Your Financial Muscle

Whether you're buying a new car or a tube of toothpaste, make sure you spend your hard-earned money with companies that invest in your community

to see who is at the cash register or on the showroom floor," Phillips advises. He also says you can tactfully direct specific questions to management-Who owns the business? Why aren’t African Americans more visible? Why are African Americans only represented in lower-level jobs rather than managerial spots?-before you spend a dime.

  • Make smaller firms accountable to the community. Since the majority of African American dollars are spent in mom-and-pop stores, it’s important that we monitor their practices as well. Haithcox says, "The operations of these stores should also reflect our best interests." That means we should expect our neighborhood outlets to employ African Americans and use them as vendors. If they’re not doing these things, you should ask questions. If you don’t like their response, withhold your support.
  • Consult black media. Read your local African American newspapers. Tune in to black television and radio stations. Determine which businesses are supporting these outlets. Haithcox says that this, in itself, "sends a clear message." She also advises consumers to take note of companies that only support the larger press because "a company that is serious about supporting the African American community will have local and national presence."
  • Get details on the financial institutions you support. Since 1977, the Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) requires each federal bank regulatory agency to assess how well federally insured institutions meet the needs of their community on the basis of financial conditions and business strategies, competition and community demographics. Visit www .fdic.gov/publish/comreac2.html for the ratings of each financial institution that has been evaluated.
  • Buy stock and become an active shareholder. As a shareholder, you can vote on various issues and express your concerns in the corporate boardroom (see "Make Your Money Talk," Moneywise, February 1999). Individuals or groups owning at least $1,000 worth of company stock can also submit a formal proposal or resolution for consideration. These shareholder meetings, which also include the board of directors, company executives and other interested parties, are held annually as required by the Securities and Exchange Commission. If you’re ready to wield your financial clout from the inside, contact the company’s investors’ relations department for more information.
  • Do your research. Aside from relying on your observations, get the facts. Call your local chamber of commerce to find out if there are any complaints against the firms you regularly support. In addition, obtain the NAACP’s Consumer Choice Guides from your local NAACP office or through the organization’s Website at www .NAACP.org. Also, search the Internet for positive or negative newspaper or magazine clippings relating to corporate diversity practices. "And don’t forget to direct your questions to the firm’s 800 number," advises Ken Smikle, president of Target Market News Inc., a Chicago-based research firm that tracks the spending habits of African American consumers. "People think the only reason to call a product’s 800 number is to air a co
    mment or complaint. But if you ask about the company’s internal policies-hiring practices and corporate contributions, for example-most firms will not ignore your

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