Thursday, November 18, 2010

Almighty Debt: A Black in America Special

Fighting debt from the pulpit?

October 22, 2010 11:15 a.m. EDT

From job fairs to seminars on credit counseling, many churches and religious institutions are not only caring for its congregation's spiritual life, but also taking an active role in its financial life, too.

In CNN's documentary "Almighty Debt: A Black in America Special," Soledad O'Brien explores how one church is helping its 7,000 parishioners survive the worst financial crisis for African-Americans since the Great Depression.

What do you think? Have you turned to the church or faith to help you through unemployment or homeownership struggles? Should churches play a role in helping its congregation through tough economic times?


Almighty Debt: A Black in America Special

"Debt is a bigger problem than racism." Those are pretty strong wordsThe documentary,  is part of the CNN's Black in America special series hosted by anchor and reporter Soledad O'Brien. It's followed by an engaging town hall meeting on the topic of debt in the Black community featuring Bishop T.D. Jakes, clinical social worker and public relations executive Terrie Williams, syndicated columnist Michelle Singletary, pollster Cornell Belcher and Rev. Soaries.

The harsh reality is that while a lot of Americans regardless of ethnic background are scrambling to get by today, Blacks have had it particularly bad in this our nation's biggest financial crisis since the Great Depression. CNN points out that in every leading indicator ---- unemployment, income, wealth, educational attainment, home ownership and foreclosures --- the African American financial situation is worse off than other segments of the U.S. population.

In exploring the issue of debt, Ms. O'Brien takes us to New Jersey's First Baptist Church of Lincoln Gardens, where Rev. Soaries preaches constantly and unswervingly about Black financial literacy and responsibility with the Bible as his backup. It's a compassionate yet no nonsense approach to spiritual uplift through self-empowerment. Stop buying what you can't afford! It puts you in bondage. That's Rev. Soaries's point. Hearing his unwavering philosophy about debt alone makes Almighty Debt worth watching.

Over the course of 90-minutes, Ms. O'Brien introduces us to three families ---- all members of First Baptist --- who are the cornerstones of the film. We meet the Jeffrieses, a luxury car salesman husband and his high-end real estate broker wife, who are on the brink of losing their 3,500 sq. ft. home. There's also Carl Fields, a former vice president at an insurance company who is desperately looking for work, and a Fred Philp, a high school student and aspiring actor who dreams of attending college, but lacks the finances and the grades to do so.

What's particularly compelling about this documentary is its discussion about the history of wealth distribution and the intersection of race in our country. "Wealth is a function of generational accumulation," is a point Julianne Malveaux, the economist and president of Bennett College, explains in Almighty Debt to give some perspective and context to why African Americans still trail in the wealth department. In other words, when you break it down, it's not surprising that descendants of former slaves would have less wealth than those who owned the slaves.

"This is the first time for any Black in America we've been able to sort of investigate the impact of these massive historical phenomena like slavery, Jim Crow, unfair labor practices in a documentary.Linking the issue of wealth today to slavery over a century ago may be difficult or less desirous for some to digest (and this piece only deals with the issue briefly).

George Alexander

Posted: October 21, 2010 09:05 AM