Approximately 100 community leaders, entrepreneurs, and financial experts convened at The State of the Black Press Luncheon March 21 at the National Press Club in D.C. The primary purpose of the luncheon was discussing the economic disparities affecting Black-owned businesses and the national concern of income inequalities among people of color.

Sponsored by the National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA), the discussion dubbed “Access to Economic Opportunity” featured NNPA’s editor-in-chief, George Curry as the moderator of the panel. Panelist were Maggie Anderson, the Empowerment Experiment co-founder; Dr. Valerie Ralston Wilson, director of the Program on Race, Ethnicity, and the Economy at the Economic Policy Institute in D.C.; and Dr. William Spriggs, chairman and professor of Howard University’s Department of Economics.

“I think that the fact that we even have the words “income inequality ” as a part of our national dialogue today suggests there are more people speaking on it” said Wilson. “The fact that they are really having a real conversation about increasing the minimum wage to me suggests that there are more people waking up.”

Wilson said issues afflicting Black-owned businesses are the based on the misconception that its quality is inferior to that of other businesses. She mentioned that more conversations on why Black consumers should support their Black business should be introduced. “A lot of it starts with communication,” she said. “It starts with really building a movement because that’s what it has to be if it is going to be a sustainable and viable type of conversation.”

Anderson and her family played an integral role in highlighting Black entrepreneurs and businesses in Chicago. Anderson made national headlines when she, her husband and two daughters decided to support and live off Black business services for an entire year. Her book, “Our Black Year” chronicles her family’s quest to “buy Black.” Anderson said the purpose for embarking on this quest was to inspire and educate her African-American friends and the community on the major economical inequalities Black businesses face.

“We wanted to connect those economical inequalities, our racially-divided economy, systemic situations that racially thrive on the lack of support for those businesses,” she said. “We wanted to make a direct correlation through science and data between those economic problems and social problems that disproportionally affect us.”

Making a yearlong pledge to “buy Black” was not an easy task. Anderson said finding Black-owned business in the suburban part of Chicago was not easy. “We thought it would be easy. We thought it would make sense, and once we showed all of our bourgeois friends how easy it is it wouldn’t be a problem,” she said.

The only Black-owned grocery store in her area closed eight months after she began shopping there. Through research, she found a Black-owned CITGO gas station forty miles from her home. For five months, Anderson shopped and bought gas at the gas station. She later discovered a Black farmers market through the help of her local Urban League organization.

Ron Busby, president of the U.S. Black Chambers Inc., shed some light on Anderson’s trouble finding the businesses. He said Black-owned businesses do not classify themselves as “Black businesses” because they believe there is a stigma around the term. “In Arizona, one of the things that we found that was really refreshing is that when we put “Black-owned” on it, people supported it,” said Busby.

 

Maria Adebola

Special to the AFRO