The challenge came as no surprise to Vernard Alexander, who created the Minority Networking Exchange in 2006 to connect Black and minority-owned businesses in the Pittsburgh region.
Known among peers as the “Connecting King,” Alexander has spearheaded more than five cash mobs over the past three years for Black-owned businesses such as Carmi's Family Restaurant and the African American Music Institute.
But when he decided to spend his own money exclusively in Black-owned businesses for a month, a lack of choices impeded the effort. Finding a good restaurant or barber was no problem, but when it came time to buy gasoline he hit a roadblock.
He played with the idea of buying gas cards at a Black-owned supermarket but eventually gave up and moved on to a financial fast that limited spending to all businesses.
“I wanted to try to spend 100 percent of my disposable income with Black businesses, but with our current makeup I don't know if I could legitimately do it for a whole month or even a whole week because of the type of businesses we have,” he said.
Eugene Thomas, a Black man who owns Pittsburgh's Quick-It Chicken franchise, said two years ago he leased the convenience store and gas pumps attached to one of his business's locations.
In his view, the region has been losing a variety of Black-owned businesses since the early 1990s due to economic and social problems.
“If you go back 15 years, there was a lot of violence — there's still neighborhood violence, but there was a lot of gang violence — in the city's Black neighborhoods,” he said. “Throughout that period, our neighborhood stores were almost nonexistent.”