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Why Maggie Anderson’s Year of Buying Black and Her Book ‘Our Black Year’ Are More Relevant Now Than Ever

Maggie Anderson: “I’m happy we are fighting systemic racism with our protests and politics, but we are still enabling it with our purchases and business practices.”

Maggie Anderson and her husband John have been “buying Black” for years.

In 2009, long before Black Lives Matter and when it was considered unthinkable, the corporate and highly educated suburban couple from the Chicago area decided to make their own protest against racism and inequality by buying Black for an entire year.

Their “empowerment experiment” earned press coverage and resulted in a landmark study conducted by the Kellogg Graduate School of Management at Northwestern University. The study, championed by The Empowerment Experiment Foundation, proved that close to 1 million new American jobs could result if middle-class Black families were to increase spending with Black businesses from 3% to 10%. The entire study is featured in Maggie’s book, Our Black Year — One Family’s Quest to Buy Black in America’s Racially Divided Economy.

Beyond a detailed account of their stand and study, Our Black Year is also a commentary on the history of Black businesses, the source of their demise, the economic injustice that results from that demise and a call to action to cure it. The book earned praise from Publishers Weekly, Book Today, Library Journal, and several iconic business and community leaders like Cathy Hughes, chairwoman and owner of the Urban One empire; Ron Busby, president and CEO of the U.S. Black Chamber; and Marc Morial, president and CEO of the National Urban League.

“The Anderson’s economic odyssey is nothing short of heroic!” raved Alfred Edmond, editor of Black Enterprise, in his review of the book.

As a former aide to Congressman John Lewis and former law student of President Obama, Maggie was proud of the book, the press and the study, yet was disappointed that the empowerment experiment failed to inspire Black economic solidarity, or a serious dialogue on and investment in Black businesses. Instead, she found that many Blacks were reluctant to or unable to support their own; and others condemned the empowerment experiment, calling her a racist and sending death threats.

So, Maggie made another pledge. She would not use her Juris doctorate and MBA from the University of Chicago to go back to corporate America or practice law. The daughter of working-class Cuban immigrants became a full-time activist, a thought leader in the Buy Black and economic justice movement, a forceful advocate for business diversity and inclusion and a sought-after speaker and lecturer.

“She inspires both with her words and her actions,” says Morton Schapiro, president of Northwestern University, after hosting her as the university’s MLK keynote speaker. Doyle Mitchell Jr., president and CEO of Industrial Bank, also praised Maggie’s sustained commitment, saying, “Our racial equity and economic parity depend on our dedication to the principles and dedication Maggie has written about in Our Black Year, spoken of in her speeches, and demonstrated in her everyday life.”

The activist says her commitment to Black businesses is a tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King, the Civil Rights movement and the Black entrepreneurs that funded it. “We can’t just fight like they fought. We have to buy like they bought,” she says. Now, Maggie views this new era of Black pride and sudden interest in “buying Black,” ushered in by the protests following George Floyd’s murder, with cautious optimism, saying, “I’m happy we are fighting systemic racism with our protests and politics, but we are still enabling it with our purchases and business practices.”   

Maggie has identified three sources of Black business failure and Black buying power’s ineffectiveness explaining, “One problem is that Black consumers — unlike consumers of other minority or marginalized groups — do not proactively support their own businesses,” she says. “At the same time, most of the businesses in our (Black) communities and those representing Black culture, like hair care and beauty supply stores, are owned by outsiders when they used to be owned by us. And there is inadequate representation of our businesses in corporate America’s supply chains and on the shelves.”

Maggie counters these problems with her speaking and her spending. From her coffee to her mortgage, all are Black-owned. “It’s not that hard. And it’s not too late,” she adds.

Maggie’s top five tips to empower black businesses and communities are:

  1. Open an account, get a mortgage or refi with a Black bank or credit union. 

2. Buy hair, skin, and beauty products from Black companies and beauty supply stores. 

3. Engage Black professionals, press and contractors for your personal and business needs.

4. Seek Black franchisees, agents of mainstream brands and Black-made products and Black designers at mainstream retailers.

5. Buy a membership, make a recurring donation to, or sponsor a Black business, empowerment, professional, civic or trade organization.

For more on Maggie’s book, speeches, foundation and her tips and resources, visit www.AuthorMaggieAnderson.com.