CNN Special Focuses on Blacks’ Struggle With Debt

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Blacks across America are drowning in debt and, unless they start putting finances in better perspective, their future freedom is at stake.

Those were the sentiments expressed by the Rev. DeForest Soaries, pastor of First Baptist Church of Lincoln Gardens in Somerset, N.J. during a segment of “Almighty Debt,” a special which aired Oct. 21 as part of CNN’s “Black in America” series.

Hosted by Soledad O’Brien, the 90-minute documentary focused on financial challenges facing the African-American community and, according to Soaries, debt is a bigger threat to African-Americans than racial issues.

“Debt is slavery,” he said, adding that while racism often comes from the outside, “debt is something that people generally bring upon themselves.”

“People are driving luxury cars and don’t know the interest rate,” Soaries said. “This level of ignorance undermines a very significant part of our freedom.”

But according to a statement issued this weekend by Rozanne Andersen, executive director of the American Association of Credit and Collections, like debt, debt collection is color-blind.

“Tens of millions of hardworking Americans from all races and socio-economic backgrounds have been hard hit by the economic downturn and face the prospect of being contacted by a debt collector to resolved an outstanding obligation,” said Andersen.

Nevertheless, the online publication New America Media, collaborative entity of 2,000 ethnic news organizations (NAM), reported that Soaries, who cites Scripture throughout the documentary, admonishes his 7,000-member congregation to live within their means and to realize that pursuing lavish lifestyles means “living in financial bondage.”

NAM was one of two minority media outlets that participated in an advance screening and panel discussion of the documentary. The show was conducted in Washington, D.C., before a predominantly Black audience. The panel included O’Brien and dealt with how debt, foreclosure and joblessness are impacting the Black community.

O’Brien, who has narrated other documentaries that detail the struggle of Black America, said that in attempting to understand the community’s struggle with debt, insight from the Black church was required. She said Soaries was chosen for commentary because of his passionate feelings about debt.

Bennett College President Julianne Malveaux is among other Black leaders in the film who offer commentary.

She said that most middle-class Blacks achieve their financial status because of personal income rather than family or inherited wealth. But Malveaux said that real wealth, typically accrued over generations, can enable a family to weather a few economic storms.

Otherwise, in instances where families have only a middle-class income to rely on, she said disruptive events or unforeseen financial emergencies can “knock you over.”