Emory alum, author, attorney and activist Maggie Anderson (93C) closed out the University’s 2021 King Week celebration on Jan. 28 with a keynote address on the benefits of buying Black and the power of Black economic unity.
Anderson studied constitutional law under former U.S. President Barack Obama at the University of Chicago (Ill.) and served as an aide to the late Congressman and civil rights icon John Lewis. In 2012, Anderson published “Our Black Year: One Family’s Quest to Buy Black in America’s Racially Divided Economy” detailing her family’s experience of exclusively buying from Black-owned businesses, what she called the Empowerment Experiment.
At the event, Anderson discussed the history of businesses and industries forged by African Americans, noting that Martin Luther King Jr. grew up during a time of Black economic prosperity. In the early 1900s, Black entrepreneurs “took care of the community” and demonstrated economic unity, an action Anderson dubbed the “most powerful protest against racism.”
“Economic solidarity is our most peaceful, most powerful protest against racism and inequality,” Anderson said. “We couldn’t win then without the businesses and we can’t win now without strong Black-owned businesses.”
In describing her decision to begin the Empowerment Experiment, Anderson noted that systemic racism and the discrimination against Black Americans across businesses nationwide influenced her.
“We were disheartened by our own people’s lack of pride and solidarity,” Anderson said. “It hurts to see up close Black people enduring disrespect from shop owners who don’t look like them … and [white people] building up their local tax basis and school system with poor Black people’s hard earned wealth.”
Anderson cited that in Asian American and Jewish neighborhoods, one dollar spent at an ethnic-owned business circulates within the community for about 19 to 26 days, contributing to lower unemployment and incarceration rates and higher income and education levels. In Black communities, the same dollar that used to circulate for up to three years now circulates for just six hours.
“We gotta stop fighting racism with our protests while enabling racism with our purchases,” Anderson said.
During her year of buying Black, Anderson’s family invested over $94,000 in Black-owned businesses and 90% of that spending transferred directly to underserved, predominantly Black communities.
The Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University (Ill.) found in a study that a 7% increase in support for Black-owned businesses, such as the consequential movement inspired by the Empowerment Experiment, could generate up to one million jobs.
Anderson also encouraged the audience to take real action rather than ceremonial recognition.
“I don’t just want to hear about how you were using a Black caterer for the next community breakfast. I’m not asking for more Black Lives Matter spams on your website,” Anderson said. “All that’s nice and necessary, but at the same time, it’s ceremonial. It whiffs of charity, not change. Pats on the back, not progress.”
Anderson emphasized that honoring her ancestors and creating a more just future for her children motivated her to spend a year buying Black.
“We did it for King, who fought for us and died for us, taught us to peacefully protest and that without protest, there is no progress,” Anderson said. “We always have more power than pain.”
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