From Black Voices — Soledad O’Brien tackles the issue of African American debt in her latest documentary on black culture, ‘Almighty Debt: A Black In America Special,’ which airs on Thursday, October 21 at 9pm on CNN. At a time when black wealth is rapidly deteriorating, the award-winning journalist explores the financial problems of her subjects through the black church as a supporting institution. O’Brien follows the lives of two couples and a teen who attend services and programs at the First Baptist Church of Lincoln Gardens, located in New Jersey, chronicling their trials in the troubled financial waters the church helps them to navigate. The leader of this 7,000-strong congregation, Rev. Dr. DeForest Soaries, preaches to his flock that ‘debt is the new slavery’ while fighting this modern day bondage by providing a host of personal finance services.

Through his church, Pastor Soaries ministers to the financial needs of his spiritual aspirants with as much care as he gives to their souls. Pastor Soaries is fierce in his efforts to turn back the tide of African American debt, which he thinks is worse than racism today. ‘Almighty Debt: A Black In America Special’ makes this case while touching the heart with the personal stories of the people in his church, living the struggle that has become Pastor Soaries’ mission.

Ms. O’Brien took a few minutes out of her busy schedule, which has included hosting live discussions in major cities about African American debt, to talk with Black Voices about this amazing enterprise.

What inspired you to tackle the issue of debt in black America and tie it to the ways in which black churches address both the material and spiritual needs of their members?
We were very interested in looking at the black church for our third ‘Black in America,’ because it’s such an important and huge institution in the black community, so that made sense. It wasn’t until we really narrowed it down and found the pastor and the church we would focus on, Pastor Buster Soaries and his church in central New Jersey, that we knew that our topic would be debt. He was just so obsessed, frankly, he was so focused on talking about the gap between black wealth and white wealth. So it seemed to be an important and relevant topic at a time when we are in a terrible recession that is terrible for everybody, but devastating for African Americans. Plus, I think for Pastor Soaries, it was a real extension of the work that he had done on the civil rights agenda since he was a teenager. That for us was a real metaphor for how black churches not only continue to stay relevant but are also moving out of the civil rights agenda of the past and moving into a new agenda in terms of figuring out how to navigate finances for black people.

(Continue Reading @ Black Voices…)

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  • Bayyina B.

    I had the opportunity to see an early screening of Almighty Debt last week and let me tell you! It’s all that annnnnnnd some! Everyone should and needs to watch it! I don’t want to spoil it, so I’ll leave my real comments until tomorrow. Enjoy! I know I did!

  • WoW

    I love that it was said that debt is the new slavery. Experience is the best teacher. While working as a receptionist back in the early 90s, I learned about A, B,C and D paper loans. (A) paper loans were typically older retirees, with solid investments either on their own our from government jobs. I won’t say they were all white but the majority were. At that time the lowest interest rate was 8%…yeah….that was considered a low rate. By the time I transfered to loan doc’s, the loan landscape began to change; banks were offering more exotic loans with higher interest rates (cause b4 the 80s if you didn’t have 10-15% down on your home loan….buh bye!) and no VOE’s, no proof of income and basically no proof that you could make the loan payment. These F paper re-finance loan seekers were not the average postal worker willing to pay higher interest rates because they hit hard times, NO these people were the usual suspects; doctors, actors, lawyers and everyone else in between. Now I know poor blacks get all the jacked up food, and poor education while middle class blacks are working like the dickens to keep what they got. But bad credit is a national crisis.