‘Buy Black’ no longer a cry in the wilderness

City’s Buy Black campaign is the answer to a tireless activist’s prayer; but like other Black businesses, Black ad agencies are overlooked too.

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Milton Latrell, left, and Christopher Brackenridge, right, help fit a blazer for AJ Rosser on Wednesday at Agriculture, a custom clothier in the Near North neighborhood. The retailer will be among the Black-owned businesses showcased in the city of Chicago’s Black Shop Friday effort this year.

Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times

After decades of a community activist’s pleas for Black folks to buy from Black-owned stores, “Buy Black” has gone vogue.

Facebook is celebrating #BuyBlackFriday every Friday in November by highlighting Black-owned businesses eager to fill your Christmas wish list.

“We’ll be buying from Black-owned businesses. We invite you to join us and encourage your communities to do the same,” Facebook urged its subscribers.

And the City of Chicago has partnered with O’Keefe Reinhard & Paul, a Chicago ad agency, and the Chicago Urban League to launch “Black Shop Friday”— the day after Thanksgiving.

“This inspiring partnership allows Chicagoans to discover the hundreds of Black-owned businesses in our city, driving the investment dollars that are needed now more than ever, and giving everyone a chance to make this new shopping holiday a huge success” Mayor Lori Lightfoot said in a press release.

The old timers knew decades ago that the only thing that would change the dire economic conditions in Black communities was for Black people to “buy Black.”

As Dr. Webb Evans, who was affectionately known as “Mr. Buy Black,” told the Jackson Advocate in 2010: “We must march with our dollars to each other in order to accomplish what we were not able to accomplish with our civil rights marches.” Evans passed away in 2015 at age 101.

He would have loved the city’s new economic empowerment movement, except, maybe for one thing: The “Black Shop Friday” campaign is being run by two white-owned ad agencies even though there are highly successful Black-owned ad agencies in the city.

Like other Black businesses, Black ad agencies are overlooked — so much so, that the Illinois State Black Chamber of Commerce recently launched an initiative to get the state to spend a larger share of its advertising dollars on Black-owned media.

“If you are telling people to buy Black—if you are going to do it the right way—we would have preferred to have seen a Black advertising agency play a role in that,” said Larry Ivory, president of the Illinois State Black Chamber of Commerce.

Toni Lee, a spokesman for O’Keefe Reinhard & Paul, pointed out that a Black man actually came up with the “Black Shop Friday” idea.

“It was developed by an internal team…led by the agency’s Executive Creative Director, Aubrey Walker, who is African American,” said Lee in an email.

She sent the following quotes from an interview Walker had with Ad Age:

“Black Shop Friday came to be, quite frankly, because the agency was pissed off about George Floyd. The day after Floyd’s murder OKRP held an agency-wide call to discuss opportunities to respond, and the idea that would become Black Shop Friday stuck,” he told Ad Age.

“We felt there was an opportunity for us…to bring some attention to Black businesses in Chicago. This is our home front,” Walker added.

It is a campaign that is long overdue.

Still, buying Black means also understanding the economics of Black buying power.

For instance, City Sports, a popular sports fashion chain that has stores all over the Black community, recently agreed to pay $420,000 to settle an EEOC discrimination lawsuit.

The suit alleged the stores refused to hire and promote African Americans and Hispanics into management positions.

Instead, of hiring from within the company, stores looked externally to fill management slots with Koreans.

Mark Hall, 53, a Black man, has worked at City Sports for over 20 years and says the issue of discriminatory practices was more common in the past than it is now, but the practices were a disinvestment in the communities they serve because “they weren’t allowing people to move up in these positions.”

Walter Chalco, 55, a Latino, was promoted to a managerial position three years ago—after 27 years of working in building maintenance.

“Before it [the managers] were Korean people. But now, it’s mixed with everybody—Spanish, Black and Korean,” Chalco said.

“I’ve worked for City Sports for 30 years. I cleaned the windows, cleaned the floors, washrooms, and staff rooms. Now I’m the manager,” he said.

His story would have brought “Mr. Buy Black” to tears.

The full list of shops participating in Black Shop Friday will be found Tuesday at the website www.BlackShopFriday.com.

Grace Asiegbu, a Journalism Resident at the Chicago Sun-Times, contributed to this column.

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