Empowerment Experiment Shines Light on Black Business Blight

John and Maggie Anderson are spearheading the Empowerment Experiment to support black-owned businesses. (Source: Maggie and John Anderson)

Like many other blacks in Illinois who live in areas where mainstream grocery stores are absent or distant, Maggie Anderson travels quite a distance to find a grocery store that sells fresh food. The difference is Anderson doesn’t live in a food desert.  She travels 14 miles into Chicago’s inner city to Farmers Best Market because it is black-owned.

Maggie and her husband, John, a Harvard graduate with an MBA from Northwestern University, made a pledge that for a full calendar year, starting Jan. 1, they would only “buy black.” This means the money they spend for food, gas, vacations, and all other purchases will be limited to purchasing products and services of black-owned companies. The couple has switched to Covenant Bank, a black-owned institution, and they even hope to have their debt from student loans transferred to a black creditor.

“The whole purpose of taking the pledge is to demonstrate that I believe in black businesses so much so that I want to live off them for a year,” Maggie explains. “We want to see if there is a possibility years from now if all of the names that we hear, the Walgreens, the Hiltons, the Walmarts … We want one day for those families to be of different races,” Maggie says.

Many people, white and black, have applauded the Andersons’ endeavor, which was originally called the Ebony Experiment. The duo changed the name to the Empowerment Experiment in an effort to refocus the discussion away from race and toward economic empowerment. “It was a strategic decision,” says Maggie Anderson. “This new name better communicates what the experiment is really about. Also, we want to clear up any confusion in the public’s mind about our personal reason for making the pledge.” They are documenting their challenges and triumphs via their blog.