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.