Why Buying Black Will Save Your Community

Consumers may have spent $5.7 billion with independent merchants last Saturday, according to research published this week by American Express, the company which launched the Small Business Saturday initiative in 2010. That’s $200 million more or 4% higher than what shoppers spent in 2012 on the day after Black Friday. If you went shopping last week, did you spend any money in your neighborhood? If not, you might be a part of the unemployment problem that plagues 12.5% of the Black community.

This year, leaders and activists like Marc Morial of the National Urban League, Ron Busby of the US Black Chamber, and Maggie Anderson, co-founder of the Empowerment Experiment have tried to bring Small Business Saturday to life in the Black Community.

Anderson says that every Saturday should be Small Business Saturday in the Black community. Although the number of Black-owned businesses had increased 60.5 percent from 2002 to 2007, in 2007, 94 percent of Black-owned businesses had no employees, according to Census Bureau data. What does this mean? It means fewer jobs for African Americans.

Anderson’s book “Our Black Year” tells the story of how she and her husband, John, took their family on a yearlong journey in 2009 with the quest to only shop with Black-owned entrepreneurs. They called it their Empowerment Experiment. While struggling to find grocery stores and gas stations they also encountered many community gems including amazing shops, restaurants, hotels, and wineries, who were unfortunately struggling to keep their doors open. JET Magazine spoke with Anderson about why Blacks should shop black every day, not just holidays, and how it will hurt our communities if we don’t.

JET Magazine: Why should black people make a commitment to shop with black-owned retailers?

Maggie Anderson: The Blackest thing you can do is be Black with your money. In Chinese, Korean and Vietnamese communities the dollar is recycled for up to 28 days via their retailers, banks, professionals, and shopkeepers. The dollar only survives six hours in the black community. In other words, more than 95 percent of our $1 trillion in buying power is reinvested outside of black neighborhoods.

It’s disappointing that the question merits asking.  Chinese people don’t ask themselves why they should support each other. Women don’t ask themselves why they should support each other. No one asks why we should all “Buy American.” But for whatever reason we have to create a justification for the “burden” of buying Black and supporting our own.

We should make a commitment to shop with Black-owned retailers because we are accountable for the problems our communities face and the dismal future our children will inherit. Most of all, we should make a commitment to support the quality businesses we do have. Black businesses are the greatest private employer of Black people and our people suffer from 50% joblessness in most predominantly Black locales.¬

JET: What happens when we ignore black businesses?

Anderson: Black businesses can’t grow and expand. They can’t employ hundreds of folks who cannot get jobs otherwise; They can’t support our churches, schools, political candidates; create scholarships to send our kids to college; and pass on the entrepreneurial dream and intergenerational wealth through strong Black families.

Dr. King asked us the day before he was killed to support our banks. He said,

“I call upon you to take your money out of the banks downtown and deposit your money in Tri-State Bank – we want a ‘bank-in’ movement in Memphis.  We’re just telling you to follow what we’re doing. Put your money there.  You have six or seven Black insurance companies in Memphis.  Take out your insurance there.  We want to have an insurance-in.”

We didn’t. Those banks and insurance companies died and are dying. They were the backbone of our community – like Banco Popular is for Hispanic people now. Those banks and insurance companies could have been great American institutions by now. They can be again.  That’s why we all should commit to supporting Black financial institutions. All of us should have an account, even if it is a small one, in a Black bank or credit union… even if you still have some or most of your money in a mainstream bank.

How can I find reputable black-owned businesses in my city?

You can start by visiting my website, You will see the ‘How to EE” tab. My lists and resources are by no means comprehensive, but it will get you started. We have many Black-owned cosmetics companies, florists, home security firms, hair care companies, website designers, health care providers, gourmet coffee companies, veterinarians, daycares and all of us should have a subscription to Black-owned magazines and newspapers.

The best resource for me in different cities has been the Black Chambers and the Urban League affiliates.  They are usually connected to quality business owners. Sometimes, just Googling “Black-owned” and the item or service you are looking for works. Then you can check for ratings or referrals.

Once you do that, you can be empowered knowing that you are supporting your community, creating jobs, and enabling role models everyday.  It is not as hard as you think.  And it is so rewarding once you have brought a few Black entrepreneurs into your life and let your children and friends see the essence of our unity and culture again.

JET: What are some of the myths that Black people assume about Black businesses?

Anderson: Many Blacks believe that Black-owned businesses are more expensive than other businesses and provide inferior services and products. That is simply not true. It is much easier to assume it is, than to actually take some time to see that it is isn’t and make a change in your life to shop there.  My dry cleaner, that is located four miles away, offers the same prices as the Korean owned cleaners located at the end of my block. And the service and selection I receive from Forest Cleaners on the West Side of Chicago and Kimbark Liquors on the South Side are beyond reproach. Just perfect! Plus, I know the owners are community stewards who are role models for our youth.

The “Black businesses are more expensive” notion is a stereotype and an excuse for us to not support each other. The bottom line is that Black people often happily over-pay for goods and services if they feel like it.

It’s true that all small businesses–regardless of ethnicity—struggle to compete price-wise with national retailers. But other races get support because their families are comfortable and proud to shop with their own. It’s theirs and it represents the community. That’s what is most important to the other groups that practice and realize the benefits of self-help economics. Then, the more the small businesses get supported, the more they are enabled to offer greater selection and more competitive prices. Small Black businesses hardly get the chance to cross that threshold because they do not have enough support and die within a year.

JET: If there are no black-owned businesses in my community what are my alternatives?

Anderson:First of all, there are. The main point of The Empowerment Experiment was to defy these stereotypes that make us complacent and get us to start looking for the businesses. No one knows how many businesses are in their community because they don’t look and we don’t talk about supporting each other when we get together.

If you truly can NOT find ONE business, it does not stop you from doing more. There are no excuses, regardless of where you live. They do not have to be local. You can do this by patronizing black-owned franchises of national companies. Eat at a Black-owned McDonald’s. Engage a Black-owned New York Life insurance agent. New York Life has 1,100 Black agents; many more than any other insurance company. You can buy Sean John and Ciroc. P-Diddy just gave another $250,000 to Howard’s Business School.  Does Polo do that?

JET: How will it benefit me to shop at a black-owned business?

Anderson:For me, it just feels good to be a part of the solution and not a part of the problem. It is no different than that feeling a lot of us got when we voted for the first Black President. I didn’t get the chance to march during the civil rights movement, but I do get to fight for powerless and disenfranchised people with the power of my dollar. I am benefitted knowing that I empower the dream for that small black child who may want to open a pet store one day…That’s what prevents me from ever, ever giving up on Black businesses.

Read “Our Black Year” to learn about the yearlong journey that Maggie and Husband John Anderson made on a quest to only buy black.