As part of Belmont’s celebration of Martin Luther King, Jr. week, Maggie Anderson, co-founder of the Empowerment Experiment, spoke to students at a convo on Wednesday. The Empowerment Experiment was Anderson’s attempt to “buy black” for one year, only supporting African American-owned businesses. On the Empowerment Experiment Web site, Anderson wrote, “Our goal is to trigger a smart movement where Americans of all backgrounds will unite to support quality minority businesses and ensure that the American Dream truly applies to all. In EE, we focus on uplifting Black businesses and empowering the Black community, as this community suffers disproportionately economically because it does not engage in self-help economics – like everyone else.”
At her lecture, Anderson described the obstacles facing the black community. African Americans have one-tenth the wealth of their white counterparts, a statistic that has not changed since Reconstruction. She said black communities are in shambles, partly because black-owned businesses are disappearing. African Americans represent 37 percent of the minority population, but only 30 percent of minority-owned businesses. Worst of all, black businesses only earn 13 percent of the money spent in minority-owned businesses.
“God gave me a moment, and it was in that moment that I learned that I don’t have the luxury of giving up on my people,” Anderson said. “Good intentions and spirited conversations weren’t going to cut it—we had to act.”
Anderson described the Empowerment Experiment as an “everyday movement.” The EE aimed to defy stereotypes about black businesses, counter unemployment and underdevelopment in black communities, set an example for future generations and showcase the power of a good idea. Anderson said, “We started EE to show this generation… that we have a duty to make things right—to end the neglect and the exploitation.”
As a result of the Empowerment Experiment, Anderson said African Americans who had previously given up hope and those who were “too good to buy black” have joined the movement. Anderson and her husband spent more than $90,000 with black businesses in 2009, and more than 90 percent of that money went directly into underserved black communities.
Anderson concluded her lecture by reading Belmont University’s mission statement, challenging students to change the world. “Just care about justice. Just believe in something and give a better legacy to future generations. It doesn’t take much to be a revolutionary,” she said. “Unless we all become everyday revolutionaries, these people—the people of North Nashville—will become a permanent underclass, and it will be our fault.”
Anderson has set up the EE Foundation to keep the movement alive with ongoing research, education, events and programs to promote self-help economics in minority communities.