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Social media, purchasing decisions put power in the hands of African-Americans age 18 to 34, says NCCU’s Martin Luther King Jr. Convocation speaker

Published: Thursday, January 22, 2015

African-Americans are responsible for $1.1 trillion in consumer spending annually, creating a powerful economic force that cannot be ignored, a Nielson executive said during her speech Tuesday at North Carolina Central University.

Cheryl Pearson-McNeil, senior vice president for strategic alliances and community engagement at the multinational consumer ratings firm, spoke Jan. 20, 2015, at the university’s Martin Luther King Jr. Convocation. She urged the students, faculty and staff gathered to become more “conscious consumers.”

“As African-Americans, we don’t tend to believe in our individual power and sometimes not even our collective power,” Pearson-McNeil said. “We tend to take what we do for granted. But that’s a lot of power, and it’s something that can’t be ignored and shouldn’t be given away.”

Social media is another area where African-Americans have a growing influence, especially among the coveted consumer demographic – ages 18 to 34.

“Black Twitter is so powerful right now,” Pearson-McNeil said, referring to now-iconic hashtags, such as #blacklivesmatter and #icantbreathe.

“Can you imagine if Rosa Parks had had access to Twitter that day on the bus when she just didn’t feel like moving the to the back? She could have had a couple of thousand people waiting for her at the courthouse.”

She urged students and others to shop at businesses that employ people from diverse ethnic and minority backgrounds, as well as those that include individuals of color in leadership positions. Knowing a company’s policies, ethics standards or investment trends can also allow consumers to ake shopping decisions that better align with their values, Pearson-McNeil said.

“Every single choice you make adds up; think about that as you celebrate the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King,” she said.

Also during Tuesday’s convocation, NCCU President Debra Saunders-White spoke to the audience of approximately 600 in B.N. Duke Auditorium. She also pointed out that more faces of color are needed in boardrooms and executive offices – especially at tech firms such as Twitter and Instagram, where minorities are well represented as consumers.

Still, she acknowledged that much progress has been made thanks to King’s work, quoting: “Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.”

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