By Ameera Steward
For The Birmingham Times
Maggie Anderson, activist, author and CEO on Tuesday challenged everyone attending the 16th Annual A.G. Gaston Conference at the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex to make black-owned businesses successful.
Anderson, co-founder of the Empowerment Experiment, which focuses on purchasing goods from black-owned businesses, was keynote speaker and said there was a time when black dollars circulated in communities like Birmingham and became the foundation for stores, schools, banks and churches.
“This is what [iconic Birmingham businessman] A.G. Gaston and [Civil Rights giant Dr. Martin Luther] King saw growing up, hundreds of millions created and recycled,” Anderson said. “These businesses enabled the creation of organizations [like the NAACP] and they funded the Civil Rights Movement; [and] businesses that funded our freedom.”
Anderson was one of several national and local business leaders during the two-day conference at the BJCC that included forums and panel discussions. The conference is named in honor of Gaston; and Anderson referenced the noted businessman several times in her speech.
Her challenge was for consumers to spend money with black businesses in mind.
She pointed to a Kellogg Business School study that showed out of $1 trillion in black buying power, two to three percent goes to black owned businesses. “But then the study showed that if middle class consumers…would [increase that number] to 10 percent…we could create 1 million new jobs in America” that benefit the black community, she said.
“Let’s make every minute, every conversation, every move…at the 2020 A.G. Gaston Conference with Booker T. [Washington] in mind, with Dr. King in mind, with A.G. Gaston, and Rosa Parks in mind, with those kids out there, who go their whole young lives and never encounter a black business owner, in mind, with a sincere belief that Birmingham was, should and therefore can be once again different when it comes to our businesses and our neighborhoods,” she said.
“So, what are you going to do…are you ready for the work…are you ready to step in and be a part of the solution?” Anderson asked. “I’ve shown you my strength now show me yours.”
In 2008, with the economy in the middle of the worst downturn since the 1930s, Anderson enlisted her husband and two daughters in a yearlong plan to consume goods and services exclusively from black-owned businesses. The journey became a basis for her 2012 book, “Our Black Year,” the subject of several TED talks about how to increase wealth in the African-American community.
During that year she and her family spent and invested over $94,000, and over 90 percent of their spending went directly to under-served predominantly black areas, she said.
Anderson said she experienced a lot and was disappointed by the number of markets and industries “where we still suffer from a complete lack of representation . . .our hearts ached seeing what our people, my people have to go through in these food deserts…forced to settle for inferior goods and services…”.
It was hurtful to see her children “crying for healthy food, and because their shoes were too tight all because it took us five months to find one black-owned shop that offered…clothing and shoes,” she said.
Before the year of buying black, she said her family supported black, voted black, donated to black organizations – “we were black, just not buying black.”
Anderson wrote a book about her experiences EE, Our Black Year, and she is a sought after speaker by conferences, corporations, government entities and businesses. She also appears on national television and radio shows.