It’s been a year since
They’ve learned a few things, not the least of which was that they were a little naive.
“It was more difficult, to be honest,”
As with most wisdom, the more meaningful lessons emerge from the more demanding struggles. So it was with the “Empowerment Experiment,” said the Andersons, of
“There were certainly some challenges,”
The most discouraging challenge came in August, when the black-owned, full-service grocery store they would drive 14 miles to patronize closed. The couple also had to face jaded perspectives from other African-Americans who told the Andersons that black-owned businesses were inferior to white-owned enterprises and that the couple’s over-arching goal of creating robust black businesses would never work.
And facing them at almost every turn was the insistence from some whites that the Andersons’ experiment was an exercise in racism, a charge they reject.
The effort, particularly in the last three months, generated a great deal of momentum, the Andersons said.
A week later, she spoke at the
“There was a feeling that now we have really created a vehicle to force ourselves to look into the mirror and address some of the issues we don’t want to talk about,”
“We’re having those discussions much more often now,” he said.
The Andersons — he’s a financial adviser with degrees from
They note that African-Americans carry nearly
After their story in the
One of those who jumped onboard the movement after seeing the
“I thought, ‘Wow, this is great,’ ” said Robinson, adding that she began making a conscious effort to support more black-owned businesses. “This is something I was already interested in anyway.”
She said, however, that she found it “sometimes challenging” to find black-owned companies that provided goods she needed.
“I know that there’s a lot of economic power behind the African-American dollar,” she said. “If more of us thought about doing this, it could create a real spark.”
Then and now, the Andersons ask critics to look beyond racist implications. In March, they changed the name of their project, originally called the “Ebony Experiment,” to “better articulate what’s in our heart and what our end game is,”
They contend that robust, black-owned businesses help restore impoverished African-American neighborhoods, which yield less crime, more jobs, less drug abuse, stronger families and better schools.
“This is really about African-Americans taking ownership of a problem,”
But it’s complicated.
First, the Andersons said, it was difficult to find black-owned businesses that met their standards. Apart from the long drive for groceries, they purchased gift cards from black-owned gas stations in
And, in August,
“That was probably the worst day of the experiment,”
They were able to shop for food at several black-owned outlets until November, the Andersons said, when difficulties finding fresh produce and meat prompted them to begin shopping at mainstream grocery stores.
Beyah, 47, is ambivalent about the “Empowerment Experiment.” The awareness and enthusiasm the Andersons created was important, he said. But Beyah added that his business may have suffered from being highlighted as an enterprise owned by an African-American.
“If you’re under the radar, then maybe you won’t get that belief from customers that the other guy’s ice is colder than yours,” he said. But, “I’m not giving up.”
Beyah added, “It’s one of those things that makes you stronger.” He plans on opening another store in a few months.
The Andersons estimated that they spent about 70 percent of their dollars, or slightly less than
She will become the face of a national campaign to gain commitments from many African-Americans to support black-owned businesses and forward their spending records to researchers who will gauge the impact and extrapolate what it would mean on a larger scale.
For inspiration, they may recall the response she received from the church in
“Those people were in tears, standing on their feet,”
SOURCE: Chicago Tribune, Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services (c) 2010.