Buy Black Campaigns Resurge Amid Cultural Wars

by C.C. Campbell-Rock

In the age of Trumpism and culture wars, where White supremacists in high places are endeavoring to marginalize non-Whites, African-American community leaders, economists and organizations are dusting off the decades-old practice of ‘buying Black,’ as a way to address double-digit unemployment, low-incomes and controlling commerce in African-American communities across the nation.

The concept of buying Black dates as far back as Marcus Garvey’s Universal Negro Improvement Association’s (UNIA) manifesto during the dawning of the 20th century: “Be Black, Buy Black, Think Black, and all else will take care of itself!” Garvey built huge businesses, encouraged entrepreneurship, and got millions of people buying from Black-owned businesses.

Garvey’s businesses included a steam laundry, grocery stores, restaurants, reception halls, publishing and printing companies, tailoring and dressmaking businesses and a hotel and university, among others.

In the late 20th century, Maulana Ndabezitha Karenga, the creator of Kwanzaa, the African-American holiday, stressed cooperative work and unity. Of the seven principles of Kwanzaa, Ujamaa encourages cooperative economics: To build and maintain our own stores, shops, and other businesses and to profit from them together.”

By the 1980s, journalist and businessman Tony Brown’s “Buy Freedom” campaign once again echoed the need for Black Americans to support one another and use their economic power wisely.

Today, numerous organizations across the nation encourage African-American entrepreneurship and economic independence as an essential way to combat the social and political marginalization of Black Americans in order to not only strengthen their communities, but to create political and social capital as well—from the Black Dollars Matter movement to the #BankBlack challenge to Buy Black cash mobs that promote the support of local Black owned businesses. And locally, a number of astute African-American businesses and organizations are encouraging residents to buy Black.

The New Orleans Regional Black Chamber of Commerce operates a “Deliberate Spending 365 Program,” a buy Black program which encourages its 350-member businesses to buy internally. The program tracks members’ purchases monthly, as a way to promote spending within and foster the sustainability of member businesses.

“Our goal is to increase the growth of the middle class through training, networking, and spending internally,” says NORBCC Chairman David St. Etienne. “We can increase growth phenomenally through internal spending.”

Such practices can make a small business more competitive and position the entrepreneur to secure deep-pocket clients.

In April 2018, the group will host an event featuring Maggie Anderson, the co-author of “Our Black Year,” to speak about the importance of buying Black.

Maggie Anderson, her husband John and two daughters live in an upscale suburban Chicago neighborhood. Several years ago, the Andersons decided to create a Black year; and for 12 months, they bought from Black businesses. When they shopped “it was with a Black company, a product made from a Black company, and we were determined to use Black professionals and shop in Black communities.”

The commitment wasn’t easy. Sometimes they drove for miles to buy Black. As time passed, the Andersons realized that Black businesses were dying, partly because African American consumers don’t choose to invest or hire in the community. They see a direct connection to their experience and the high 14 percent African American unemployment rate.

They mention these findings, and chronicle their experience in their book, Our Black Year.

“Don’t just say that Black unemployment is four times that of Whites. Say that Black businesses only get 2 percent of the $1 trillion of Black buying power, and then say that Black businesses are the greatest private employer of Black people,” Maggie Anderson writes. “Then you might be able to say, wow, if there were more support of Black businesses, if maybe a little more of that $1 trillion got to those businesses, unemployment wouldn’t be so high.”

We Got the Power, Let’s Use It

Packaged Facts, a market research firm, reports an increase in spending by African Americans on dining out, home improvement, automobiles and financial services. Specifically, in its new report “African Americans: Demographic and Consumer Spending Trends”, the company found that between 2010 and 2015 African American spending power grew from $995 billion to $1.3 trillion for a cumulative growth rate of 27 percent. Packaged Facts forecasts cumulative buying power of African Americans at a growth of 16 percent between 2015 and 2020.

“The African-American community has one of the most powerful economies in the world with a combined Black gross domestic product (GDP) of $845 billion per year,” according to the Multicultural Economy Report from the University of Georgia’s Terry College of Business’ Selig Center for Economic Growth

The report forecasts that African-American buying power, estimated at $1.2 trillion in 2016, will grow to $1.5 trillion by 2021, making it the largest racial minority consumer market. Buying power is the total personal income of residents that is available for spending after taxes.
“As America grows more diverse, minority groups are reaping great economic dividends, and business owners would do well to pay attention,” said Jeff Humphreys, author of the report and director of the Selig Center. “Minority buying power is growing at a faster pace than the white consumer market for a number of reasons, such as demographics, increases in educational attainment and entrepreneurial activity.”

Black buying power increased 98 percent from 2000 to 2016 and will comprise 8.8 percent of the nation’s total buying power in 2021, according to the Selig Center.

“We’re seeing many more African-Americans starting and expanding their own businesses, with the number of Black-owned firms growing 34 percent between 2007 and 2012 alone,” Humphreys said. “African-Americans also continue to become more highly educated, which should allow proportionally more Blacks to enter occupations with higher salaries.”

But with all that buying power, Black businesses continue to compete for the African American dollar.

“Every dollar generated in the Black community only stays in that community for six hours,” says Etienne.

If more Black consumers were committed to buying from Black businesses that could change. The benefits of buying Black includes more jobs, more education, better pay and less incarceration, lower unemployment rates, and less recidivism,” Etienne explains.

To encourage New Orleanians to buy Black, in addition to publishing the monthly New Orleans Tribune, McKenna Publishing Company has produced The New Orleans BlackBook for nearly 20 years. The publication of the directory was briefly interrupted by Hurricane Katrina, but has since been revived. The latest edition of The New Orleans BlackBook, which highlights more than 800 Black-owned businesses, Black service-providers and professionals listed, is also online at and has a free app available on the IOS platform for iPhones and iPads. IOS users can download the app by searching for “The New Orleans BlackBook” in the App Store.

Copies of the annual directory are available across the city and can be ordered online or picked up from McKenna Publishing’s offices at 2317 Esplanade Avenue.

As a part of its BlackBook promotion, McKenna Publishing will also host a series of Cash Mobs at Black-owned businesses throughout New Orleans.

The cash mobs, which will take place over the next several months and in conjunction with community and business partners, will identify specific businesses and encourage consumers to patronize those businesses on targeted dates.

Saving Ourselves

In the latest edition The New Orleans BlackBook: Saving Ourselves, publisher Beverly McKenna advises, “The way in which we spend our money ultimately defines our communities; and we can both enrich and empower ourselves or we can continue to enrich and empower others. The choice is ours.”

Burnell Cotlon, the owner of the Lower 9th Ward Market, a laundromat, a sweet shop, barber shop, hair salon, and a soon-to-open Internet Café., says he started his businesses because there was a need for them.

“There were no grocery stores in the neighborhood. You should not have to catch three buses to get a loaf of bread,” he says of Lower 9th Ward residents riding public transit to Wal-Mart in Gentilly. “I did it to help my community out.”

Cotlon started by selling groceries out of a window in 2012. He saved money for nearly four years before he got the doors opened. The entrepreneur served in the Army as a military policeman for ten years, then managed a Family Dollar and Burger King before striking out on his own.

“Some parts of the city bounced back, but when you get to the Lower 9th Ward, you can still see Katrina,” explains Cotlon, a husband and father of three, who financed his business out of his own pockets. “I spent my life’s savings to do this.”

Today Cotlon has six employees. He bought a house behind his strip mall to house the Internet Café. “Kids come in after school and sit on the floor in the laundromat because it has Wi-Fi,” he says. Cotlon believes buying Black is important because it allows small Black businesses to thrive, provide jobs, and build communities. He expects the Internet Café to generate at least five jobs.

LaShield Irvin is the owner of Raymond Brown Dry Cleaners, a five-star business; Attitudes of Beauty, a hair salon; and Palaire’s Paris, an events venue.

Irvin became an entrepreneur right out of high school, when she opened her beauty salon. After a conversation with her ex-husband, Raymond Brown, whose parents owned a dry cleaners, Irvin first said no to his suggestion of opening a dry cleaning business. She changed her mind eventually because “the Lord said, ‘do it’. It’s your children’s inheritance.”

Irvin resides in eastern New Orleans but her businesses are in the Lower 9th Ward. She grew up in the Desire Housing neighborhood. A staunch Christian, Irvin attributes her business acumen and locality decisions to God’s word.

“I believe the Lord put me here to be a beacon, a light,” she says. Irvin wants to show others that it’s important “to possess the land, own your own businesses, build communities and to create your own jobs.”

Irvin says having Black-owned businesses in Black neighborhoods and buying Black is necessary.

“You can’t let every other ethnicity come into your neighbor and earn all the money. It’s important to buy Black from Black-owned businesses because together we can build a community. We have neighborhoods; but a community is when you control commerce. Black people build neighborhoods; but we don’t control commerce. Maybe 10 percent of the businesses in the Black community are Black owned.”

She gives credit to Wendell Pierce and Troy Henry who tried to put a grocery store in the ninth ward.

“But Black people blocked them,” Irvin says.

“Why buy Black?” she asks rhetorically. “Because I want to tell the next generation you can be something. You don’t have to be Beyoncé or an athlete to be somebody.”

Cupcake Fairies is a family-owned business. Located in a pink building at 2511 Bayou Rd. The confectionary is owned by sisters Michele Burton-Oatis and Melissa B. Woods.

“We sell jumbo cupcakes,” says Burton-Oatis, who explained that the duo began baking in 2008 to relieve stress.

Prior to starting the cupcake business, the women worked day jobs and ran a non-profit called New Orleans Video Voices.

“After Katrina, people weren’t listening to our voices. We wanted to make documentaries to speak our truth,” Burton-Oatis says.

The sisters taught people to use cell phones to create, edit and post short films. They continued baking and would give the cupcakes to their clients. One day, a client asked them to bake cupcakes for an event.

Burton-Oatis says they agreed before they knew how many were needed.

“The order was for 300 cupcakes and we only had two pans. We stayed up all night.” When people asked who helped them bake the large order, Burton-Oatis, a pre-K and special needs teacher said, “Fairies.” Not expecting to be paid, the sisters received a check for the order; and Cupcake Fairies was born.

“She’s good with numbers and I’m the dreamer,” says Burton-Oatis of her sister, Melissa, who holds an MBA and is a teacher with the Too Good for Drugs program.

They started Cupcake Fairies with their savings, small loans from family, and a lot of spiritual guidance and prayers. Since then, the sisters have appeared on Cupcake Wars and networked their way into a thriving family business. When they are not in the shop, their mother and cousin run the business.

The sisters are committed to supporting other African-American owned businesses and buying Black. “We’re babies of the (civil rights) movement,” says Burton-Oatis. “Our parents were very involved. I’m woke and I’ve made a conscious choice to support our people. It’s important to buy Black because it creates generational wealth, a sense of community and it shows our children that, no matter what you’re told that you can’t do, yes you can.”

Burton-Oatis says she patronizes fellow businesses on Bayou Road, which she calls the Black Wall Street of New Orleans. The Black businesses there, she says, gives her a sense of pride and tells customers, “This is your space and you’re welcomed to shop, talk and connect. It’s just a sense of community.”

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