A good friend of mine, Mitch Melson, made the above statement when we worked at Special Market Services in Chicago during the mid-1980s. It is so appropriate as we continue our four-part series on how to make black history in addition to just celebrating it. During that same period the reality of product distribution became even clearer with the development of P.O.W.E.R. (People Organized and Working for Economic Rebirth), a sales/distribution partnership between The Nation of Islam and Johnson Products in Chicago.
Another point of clarity for me back then was the American Health and Beauty Aids Institute that featured “The Proud Lady” logo on its product labels to denote they were made by black people. Those efforts, along with Dick Gregory’s Bahamian Diet Drink and its difficulty in getting shelf space in major stores, highlighted the need and advantages of having our own distribution network.
Then in 1999, I met Ken Bridges who, along with Al Wellington, founded the MATAH Network, in an effort to assure that black-manufactured products did not become scrap, but would instead be distributed throughout the United States via what they called “The Black Channel.” MATAH was a “people, a movement, and a business” — a new paradigm in the distribution of black-made products. At its zenith MATAH carried some 300 different products. MATAH helped get my first two books in distribution with its monthly “auto-ship” program, a consciousness-raising component dedicated to sending out books, tapes and products to those who signed up for this special value.
When Ken Bridges was killed by the D.C. sniper — the morning after he and other black business partners and supporters had consummated a multimillion-dollar deal to advance the MATAH Network — the reality of having a black-owned distribution channel was stymied and began to fade into a fond memory.
Now, during this Black History Month, as we reflect on MATAH, P.O.W.E.R., and AHBAI, we see those “pyramids” that were built by our contemporaries, and we see how they “made” black history. The same issues apply regarding our current willingness to make black history in addition to just celebrating it, which is a great segue into what Ashiki Taylor and Franklin Mayfield are doing with their effort called “BAM!”
As former MATAH associates, Taylor, a regional supervisor, and Mayfield, the website developer and host for the site, got back together and created a means to connect black manufacturers of products with consumers throughout this country. Their overall objective is to give greater visibility to black manufacturers, and to get black consumers to pledge to spend incremental amounts each month on products made by black people, thus, redirecting a significantly higher amount of our money toward one another.
To paraphrase Amos Wilson, during Black History Month, black folks celebrate the inventions of our ancestors who actually “made history.” We remember George Washington Carver, Jan Matzeliger, Elijah McCoy, Granville T. Woods and others, but what will our history-making legacy be today? Make history by highlighting and purchasing the black-manufactured products of our contemporaries. BAM brings that opportunity, only this time by using technology to get the word out and to rally black consumers and producers. In essence, BAM is an online black channel of distribution that keeps your products from becoming scrap.
One principle of Ma’at is Reciprocity, so this is also a call for black manufacturers to spend some money as well. As we purchase your products, you should purchase advertising on the BAM website, black radio and black print media. Be willing to sponsor events in some form or another, and buy other black products yourself. A reciprocal mindset is a conscious mindset, and creates a multiplier effect where one dollar spent has the effect of three dollars spent.
This is a way to make our own history in 2017. It is easy and pain-free. Stop celebrating so-called black “spending power” of $1.2 trillion and start using it to create wealth for black people. Redirect more of your consumption dollars to products made by black people. Make your pledge, and keep it. And for all of you black producers out there, list your companies on the BAM website and let us know what retail outlets carry your products, thus, making it easier for us to keep our pledges. Go to www.blackamericanmade.com and sign up.
BAM has created a no-excuses way for us to put our money where our mouths are by adding more black-made products to our household product mix. Hot sauce, barbecue sauce, diapers, sneakers, paper products, laundry detergent, baby food, ice cream, beer and thousands of other products are made by black people. Make black history by purchasing as many as you can. Clingman Out. BAM!