Activist and author Maggie Anderson delivered a keynote address on Monday night at Pick-Staiger Concert Hall, where she honored Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and discussed the importance of supporting black-owned businesses. The speech, which was prefaced and followed with performances from Northwestern student music groups, discussed themes of empowerment and desire for change.
Anderson is the CEO and founder of the Empowerment Experiment Foundation, a non-profit organization that aids and promotes economic development in underserved African American communities. Anderson is also the author of the book “Our Black Year,” which tells the story of the Anderson family’s journey as they spent a whole year buying from exclusively black-owned businesses.
Anderson said that the results of her choice to buy only from black-owned businesses were extremely distressing, as she was often unable to find a sufficient amount or acceptable quality of goods, leaving her two daughters with clothes that did not fit and Fritos for dinner. Anderson said that while these types of experiences were disheartening, she would not let them discourage her from her cause: to create positive economic change for black Americans.
“In this movement, sometimes you have to lift up those who need it,” Anderson said. “Even when you need to be lifted up yourself."
Several of the black business owners that Anderson supported through the Empowerment Experiment attended the keynote, one of whom traveled to Northwestern from the south side of Chicago. Another man, Danny Hunt, said he had come to see Anderson speak because he was a black entrepreneur himself, and because he wanted to “soak up the knowledge.”
Before she started the Empowerment Experiment and wrote her book, Anderson received a Bachelor’s degree in political science from Emory University and a Juris Doctor and MBA from the University of Chicago, but she wore Northwestern purple for her address. Anderson has also been an aid to civil rights icon Congressman John Lewis, the speechwriter for the mayor of Atlanta, strategy executive at McDonald’s corporation and mentee of former President Barack Obama.
Throughout her address, Anderson created an atmosphere of urgency, speaking to the audience in a personal and emotional way. Before the speech, attendees were asked to move from the back of the hall down closer to the stage so that Anderson’s words could feel more more intimate. Anderson even had the audience interact with her by asking them to speak powerful statements back to her.
“Repeat after me,” Anderson said about making real changes in the economic world of black Americans. “It’s not that hard, and it’s not too late.”
Anderson also spoke on Northwestern’s own contributions to her cause. Inspired by Anderson’s book, Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management conducted a study showing that an increase in black-owned businesses would lead to an increase in jobs that would benefit the economy. Anderson said the study greatly increased the media exposure of her work and shed new light on the issue.
At the end of the address, Anderson said that what she wanted to express most to the audience was that no real positive change will occur unless knowledge about the injustices that black-owned businesses in America face is transformed into real action. Before closing the speech, Anderson left the audience with a question that her “mima” used to ask her as a young girl.
“I’m going to go out fighting,” Anderson said. “Are you?”