If Dr. King were here, I believe he’d want us to perfect our possibility by ensuring it and capturing it—owning it. He’d want us to just own what’s ours.
Dr. King says to me, “We either seize it or let it slip away.”
Dr. King asks me, “When have we ever answered injustice, exploitation and despair with ‘It’s too hard. I don’t know where to begin. I am just one person?’ Or ‘The success of a few is good enough.’?”
And now I ask all of you: Is this what you want? Is this really enough? Is this the plan? Is this what our ancestors and elders wanted for us? For this country?
Did they want us to fight for the vote, for equal rights, but then let poverty, crime and drugs, barred up businesses and boarded up homes become the new hallmarks of the black neighborhood?
Are we supposed to accept and overlook that we still have only one-tenth the transferable wealth of our white counterparts—a condition that has not changed since Reconstruction? Should we pay no heed to the fact that our businesses, in 1980, shortly after we became fully integrated into American society, lead the pack in terms of revenue growth and success rates, but now, 20-something years later our businesses are a very distant third behind Asians and Hispanics, and our community’s economic health continues to worsen at an even more accelerated rate.
Must we close our eyes to our reality (while the rest of the world depicts it) that, according to every measure of social and economic progress—incarceration rates, unemployment rates, graduation rates, incomes, home ownership, whatever—our numbers are the highest or lowest, whichever’s worse?
Now before y’all even start, no way am I comparing myself to Dr. King or any of those legends to whom I owe everything. But they all inspire me. Without him and all those who struggled with him, there is no EE. We are not them and can never be them. However, everyday we do this—stick to our pledge, go without things we like and need, drive for miles and miles, take the flack, avoid the pain, feel the love—we do it with them in our hearts and minds. Every day in The Empowerment Experiment we recall another time in our history when our people came together because one black woman decided to take a stand.
No, no. I am not Rosa Parks. And I won’t and wouldn’t insult her legacy my comparing my sacrifice to hers. But I will certainly dishonor it, if I don’t learn from her and her sacrifice. And we insult her—we all do—when we give up on her fight.
So I do this in her honor. And just like her, I seek and listen to Dr. King, and hope to make him proud.
Maggie Anderson, a business consultant, and her husband, John, a financial advisor, have been buying black made-products and services for all of 2009. They call their pledge The Empowerment Experiment (EE). Their experiment will serve as the foundation for a landmark study on self-help economics in the Black community. They live in Oak Park, Illinois, with their two daughters; Cori, age 2, and Cara, 4.