“The other day, it was as cold as cold can be and I turned on my street on Austin Boulevard and there was a line down the street at the shoe store—the coldest day of the year. People were in line to buy the new gym shoes that came out. They’re $250 a pair and there were 50 people in the line,” said Malcolm Crawford, founder and proprietor of Sankofa Cultural Arts & Business Center in Austin.

“African Americans hold a trillion dollars of the Gross Domestic Product [GDP] [but] 97 percent of that goes to somebody else,” Crawford said, during a talk at the Afrikan Village Chicago Cultural Center, 5840 W. Madison Street, on Feb. 22. 

The conversation was part of the Center’s ongoing series of talks and lectures that it hosts. Every second and fourth Sunday. Crawford laid out his philosophy on black economic empowerment while recounting the history of, and motivation for, the Black Economic Empowerment Rally (B.E.E.R.) summits.

“We need to look at our money as a weapon and if you’re in a fight, would you give your weapon to your enemy?” Crawford asked the audience of about 35 serious listeners.

“Every time you go in your pocket, no matter who it is—the gas station, the grocery store, whoever it is—if there is no benefit for you, you shouldn’t be in there,” he said. 

Crawford’s strategic approach to consumption is behind his B.E.E.R. concept, which he said was spawned, ironically,  from inaction. He got tired of sitting in on meetings and listening to credentialed people lay beautifully conceived plans that never materialized.

Last year, during a meeting of the Austin African American Business Networking Association (AAABNA), of which he is executive director, Crawford said he gave the group an ultimatum. Either put actions behind their plans or go on without him.

“I told them, we’ve been talking too long and every time we get up we got a plan, but when we walk out the door, the plan stops,” he said. “We’ve got major groups, major people—people with more letters behind their names than anybody—doing a lot of talking, but then they’re asking me for $10 to get home. So, I said, we’re going to have to do something for real. I don’t want to participate in another meeting if we don’t find something we can do collectively.”

There was a black-owned Subway on Lake and Pulaski that was on Crawford’s mind at the time. He told his group that they needed to see what they could do to support it. The challenge, he recalled, was finding a way to record who kept their word and who didn’t.

“We came up with these tickets that say, ‘I am part of the black economic movement and I support black businesses.’ And on the back of them, we allowed people to put their names, organizations and emails. That was so everybody who was in that room at that [AAABNR meeting]—we could put on blast if they didn’t show up,” Crawford said.

“All of those who do all of that great speaking—if we don’t shop together, it doesn’t mean anything,” he said.

They planned the B.E.E.R. for a Saturday, the following week, but Crawford said he was skeptical that people might not show up. 

In the first two hours of that first B.E.E.R., the Subway generated $1,500 in revenue. By the end of the day, it had earned $2,600, with people like Congressman Danny K. Davis and state Rep. LaShawn K. Ford stopping by to spend money.

Word about the event had spread on social media sites and the old fashioned way, through word-of-mouth. Crawford said that, contrary to what might be assumed, when he took a look at the tickets and saw the top referrals—they weren’t prominent pastors, but small businesspeople. The observation confirmed his hunch that real power in the Austin community flows through businesses. 

Crawford said that the several rallies that AAABNR has hosted since that first one at Subway have generated at least $1,300 for each participating businesses—a figure Crawford said he wants to raise substantially.  

The next B.E.E.R. will take place at Second Times the Charm Boutique at 5303 W. Chicago Avenue on Saturday, Feb. 28 at 1 p.m. 

CONTACT: michael@austinweeklynews.com