The Andersons' Ebony Experiment

Oak Park family plans to support only black-owned businesses in 2009

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By TERRY DEAN

Maggie and John Anderson have made a major change in their family's shopping habits this year.

The Oak Park couple decided last year to do all their purchasing in 2009 from black-owned businesses and professionals. Their project, The Ebony Experiment, grew out of discussions they've had as a couple and with friends about how to support black businesses.

Both grew up in poor black communities-in Miami, where Maggie is from, and John's native Detroit. They already support black businesses but not this extent, they said. But the couple's goal is more than personal-the Andersons say they want to do more to help the black community.

"We talked about this all the time," said Maggie, a lawyer and legal consultant. "We've had these major discussions and finally we said, 'We're doing a whole lot of talking, let's do something about it.' So we just made this pledge that we're going do our best to support black businesses and black professionals. Buy more black-created products because we believe in the cycle. These are the companies that create black jobs and more jobs will improve the quality of life in black neighborhoods."

They started their project Jan. 1 and so far have spent more than $5,000. They moved their checking account to Covenant Bank, a black-owned bank in Chicago's North Lawndale neighborhood. They've bought hair products for Maggie and the girls and found a black-owned, full-service grocery store, Farmer's Best, at 47th and Ashland on Chicago's South Side.

Finding a black-owned grocery store and gas stations in the Oak Park area were the biggest challenges, the Anderson's said. To keep to their pledge, they've purchased gas cards from black-owned stations to use locally. The Andersons don't eat out much, but when they do, it will be in black-owned restaurants. They were already customers of Robinson's Ribs in Oak Park. They've been to the Jamaican Grill at 10 W. Chicago Ave. and also dined at a black-owned Burger King and KFC in neighboring Austin.

John, a financial planner, has an office in Oak Brook and when not in the field, eats lunch occasionally at the black-owned McDonald's there. The couple keeps a daily log on their website, ebonyexperiment.com, of where they shop and how much they've spent. They'll also post blogs and videos of their experience. The project will be tracked by researchers at Northwestern University for a larger study on the spending habits of black Americans.

Through their project, the Andersons also wanted to address the negative stereotypes people have about shopping at black establishments.

"In chronicling and highlighting this experience we can dispel the myths around the inconvenience or lack of service in utilizing our own," said John. "A lot of the criticism that we hear about utilizing black-owned businesses comes from other African-Americans, and that's a problem. We just can't continue to accept that because that's not the case. We cannot project the experiences of a few onto the whole."

The Andersons researched black-owned businesses and products online before launching the project. They're looking for more establishments and items, including exercise equipment and toys for the girls. The Andersons estimate they will spend $10,000 a month, but also want to attract other families to their website.

"We hope our story will inspire similar, like-minded families to make small sacrifices and start thinking about how to invest more," said Maggie.

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