By Vikram Pursnani 14C
In 2009, Margaret Waite Anderson 93C, of Oak Park, Illinois, decided to undertake an experiment: could her own African American family—husband, John, and their two children—patronize only black-owned businesses and exclusively support black professionals for a year?
“Two weeks before the launch, we researched business directories and collected phone numbers of organizations and individuals who could help us find black-owned businesses,” Anderson wrote.
But the “empowerment experiment,” as it came to be called, evolved into much more than simply buying from black businesses, as recounted in Anderson’s recently published book Our Black Year: One Family’s Quest to Buy Black in America’s Racially Divided Economy (cowritten with Pulitzer Prize―winning Chicago Tribune reporter Ted Gregory).
In an interview with fellow Emory alumnus Kai Ryssdal 85C on NPR’s “Marketplace,” Anderson said, “Of course you want everybody to support the mom-and-pops. You should have a black dry cleaner. You should try to go to black restaurants twice a week. But we need the corporations to do a lot better with doing business with our businesses. That’s the bigger part of the story. And think about the fact that in the top 500 privately held companies, none of those are black.”
Anderson, a consultant, and her husband, a financial planner, thought of the experiment as they paid for an expensive anniversary dinner in a Chicago restaurant, feeling guilty that they weren’t spending more of their dollars in their local community.
Even in Chicago, finding a black-owned, full-service grocery store was difficult: there was exactly one within driving distance. Discouragingly, the majority of the businesses they found in black neighborhoods with all-black customers were not black-owned or even locally owned.
“We were naïve,” says Anderson. “How were we supposed to shop at black-owned businesses when next to none exist?”
After the year of the experiment was over, Anderson, who majored in political science at Emory and went on to get a law degree, set off on a book tour to share the message.
“The civil rights movement is not dead,” she says, “because we realize that our liberty and political equality are moot if our economic power is disregarded and delegitimized.”—Mary Loftus
How To Reclaim Health: “The state of health in America is abysmal,” says Jonathan Fleece 90C, coauthor of the book The New Health Age: The Future of Health Care in America (Sourcebooks, 2011). “It will take a shock to the system to inspire and instigate change.” Fleece and coauthor David Houle encourage individuals to take action—any action—from yoga to cycling. “The New Health Age offers a succinct primer on how we got here and where we should be taking the health of our nation,” says Mehmet Oz, host of The Dr. Oz Show.
Swim at Own Risk: Birmingham attorney Barry Marks 74C reflects on life’s minor footnotes, such as returning to the dating scene after years of marriage, and major transitions, including the death of a loved one, in his collection of poetry, Possible Crocodiles (Brick Road Poetry Press, 2010). Named Alabama State Poetry Society’s 2010 Book of the Year, Crocodiles features observations by the former Alabama Poet of the Year, who unearths universal truths in simple daily routines and showcases a self-skewering sense of humor: I need to go/on a diet/and lose twenty years.
What Jesus Wouldn’t Do: In The Jesus Book: Who He Really Was, What He Really Said (Renaissance Institute Press, 2012), theologian Britt Minshall 84T suggests the real Jesus would be mortified by what is done in his name today, from wars to looting to gluttony. “Jesus’s words, many of which were hidden for centuries, condemn pretend houses of worship that praise warrior empire-building gods and ignore the trashing of our beautiful planet for cheap goods and big profits,” Minshall says.
No Cinderella Story: Political economist Paul Meinhardt 58C advocates addressing the economic crisis from the family first in Cinderella’s Housework: Families in Crisis, Households at the Edge of Chaos. “We talk about the value of money, and family values, but real value begins in the family,” says Meinhardt. Cinderella represents the power of women, mothers, and households throughout the ages, he says, and by providing proper support to house workers and families as a society, we will be well paid in return.