Buying Black: The Empowerment Experiment
Black Enterprise Magazine September/October 2018 Issue

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The Andersons in front of the now-defunct Farmer's Best Market.

When you walk into a store you’re often preoccupied with whatever product you want to buy. Most times, the last person on your mind is the store owner. But for the past year, Maggie and John Anderson were not only concerned with the store owner, but with whether or not he or she was of African descent.

Their project, the Empowerment Experiment –formerly the Ebony Experiment — grew from their desire to spread awareness about black businesses that provided high quality, economical merchandise and to dispel the myth held in black communities that black products and services are inferior to those sold by other ethnicities.

You see, the Andersons made a public choice to spend all of their money with black business owners and professionals or black manufactured products throughout the entire year of 2009. They estimate that they spent about 70% of their income or about $70,000 on black businesses last year. They got the idea from similar projects like the “No Impact” family, who lived a year without electricity to reduce their carbon footprint.

They also wanted to draw a parallel between the lack of black businesses and the high rates of unemployment, recidivism, and chronic illness in black communities, says John Anderson, 38, a financial consultant with AXA Advisors, and president of In Sight Financial Management, his own consultancy firm.

Though the experiment is over, their cause is unfinished. The goal of EE was never to connect to the mainstream, but to encourage black people to support black-owned businesses, says Maggie, also 38 and a stay-at-home mother of two with a law degree and an MBA from the University of Chicago.

They plan to re-launch their Web site to include a directory of black businesses nationwide, a ticker that will track the money spent at black companies, and allow users to rate the products and services listed on their site. Researchers at Northwestern University’s Kellogg Graduate School of Management will release a study on the experiment this spring. Finally, by June the Andersons hope to publish a book chronicling their experience and the findings of the study.

Here, the Andersons discuss the successes that kept them empowered, the struggles that challenged them, and why they won’t be continuing the experiment. Do you consider the experiment successful?

Maggie Anderson: We do feel that we made history. Nothing like this has ever been done before and we actually did it. I think we were very successful in finding those diamond in the rough businesses like my alarm company, Foscett’s Communications & Alarm Co, and some of the products I encountered that are sold in mass retailers, like Reggio’s Pizza and my new toothpaste, Sudantha, an herbal toothpaste produced by Link Natural Products.

If spreading awareness was a measure of success, I think we were widely successful. My daughters’ pediatrician and her book club have all decided they are going to commit to spend 75% of their income with black businesses because of the Empowerment Experiment. I have at least 100 other instances like that of folks who are going to totally change their lives just because of our story.

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Marcia Wade Talbert

Marcia is a multimedia content producer focusing on technology at Black Enterprise Magazine. In this capacity she writes and assigns stories to educate readers about social media; digital integration; gadgets, apps, and software for business and professional development; minority tech startups; and careers in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics). In 2012, she received two Salute to Excellence Awards from the National Association of Black Journalists and was recognized by Blacks in Technology (BiT) as one of the Top 10 Black achievers in the tech arena for 2011 at SXSW in Austin, Texas. She has spoken about technology on panels for New York Social Media Week, at The 2012 Rainbow/PUSH Wall Street Summit, as well as at Black Enterprise’s Entrepreneurs Conference and Women of Power Summit. In 2011, chose her as one of 28 People of Color Impacting the Social Web, and through crowdsourcing she was listed as one of BlackWeb2.0's/HP's 50 Most Notable African American Tastemakers in Social Media and Technology for 2010. Since taking on the role of Tech editor in September 2010, she has conceived and produced five cover stories on Technology and/or STEM and countless articles, videos, and slideshows online. Before joining as an interactive general assignment reporter in 2008, she freelanced with Black Enterprise beginning in 2003 while working as the technical editor at Prepared Foods magazine. There she further honed her writing skills and became an authority on food ingredients, including ingredients used in food fortification and enrichment. Meanwhile, her freelancing with Black Enterprise and helped her stay current on issues pertaining to the financial and business welfare of African Americans. As a general reporter for Black Enterprise she attended and reported on the Democratic and Republican National Conventions, where she interviewed Valerie Jarrett, senior advisor and assistant to President Barack Obama and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder. Marcia has a Bachelor of Science degree in Agriculture with an emphasis in food science from the University of Minnesota, and a Master of Science degree in journalism from Roosevelt University in Chicago. En route to her secondary degree, she served as the editor-in-chief of the Roosevelt University Torch, a weekly, student-run newspaper. An avid photographer and videographer, Marcia is one of several employees at BLACK ENTERPRISE who interned for the publishing company as a college student. She lives in New Jersey with her husband, a food scientist; her seventeen-month-old daughter; and “The Cat”, but still considers Chicago home.