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When you walk into a store you’re often preoccupied with whatever product you want to buy. Most times, the last person on your mind is the store owner. But for the past year, Maggie and John Anderson were not only concerned with the store owner, but with whether or not he or she was of African descent.
Their project, the Empowerment Experiment –formerly the Ebony Experiment — grew from their desire to spread awareness about black businesses that provided high quality, economical merchandise and to dispel the myth held in black communities that black products and services are inferior to those sold by other ethnicities.
You see, the Andersons made a public choice to spend all of their money with black business owners and professionals or black manufactured products throughout the entire year of 2009. They estimate that they spent about 70% of their income or about $70,000 on black businesses last year. They got the idea from similar projects like the “No Impact” family, who lived a year without electricity to reduce their carbon footprint.
They also wanted to draw a parallel between the lack of black businesses and the high rates of unemployment, recidivism, and chronic illness in black communities, says John Anderson, 38, a financial consultant with AXA Advisors, and president of In Sight Financial Management, his own consultancy firm.
Though the experiment is over, their cause is unfinished. The goal of EE was never to connect to the mainstream, but to encourage black people to support black-owned businesses, says Maggie, also 38 and a stay-at-home mother of two with a law degree and an MBA from the University of Chicago.
They plan to re-launch their Web site to include a directory of black businesses nationwide, a ticker that will track the money spent at black companies, and allow users to rate the products and services listed on their site. Researchers at Northwestern University’s Kellogg Graduate School of Management will release a study on the experiment this spring. Finally, by June the Andersons hope to publish a book chronicling their experience and the findings of the study.
Here, the Andersons discuss the successes that kept them empowered, the struggles that challenged them, and why they won’t be continuing the experiment.
BlackEnterprise.com: Do you consider the experiment successful?
Maggie Anderson: We do feel that we made history. Nothing like this has ever been done before and we actually did it. I think we were very successful in finding those diamond in the rough businesses like my alarm company, Foscett’s Communications & Alarm Co, and some of the products I encountered that are sold in mass retailers, like Reggio’s Pizza and my new toothpaste, Sudantha, an herbal toothpaste produced by Link Natural Products.
If spreading awareness was a measure of success, I think we were widely successful. My daughters’ pediatrician and her book club have all decided they are going to commit to spend 75% of their income with black businesses because of the Empowerment Experiment. I have at least 100 other instances like that of folks who are going to totally change their lives just because of our story.