Some 50 black pastors from across the country gathered Thursday to bond, network and learn more about strategies to lead their congregations and communities to financial success during the 5th Annual Financial Freedom Conference hosted by Rev. Dr. DeForest “Buster” Soaries at the First Baptist Church of Lincoln Gardens. The pastors came from as far away as South Africa and many states including Alabama, Arizona, Connecticut, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Virginia.
After a day of activities, the conversation turned to the fear that many young people of color, in particular, are expressing now that Donald Trump is president-elect. Rev. Dr. Lee A. Earl, a retired pastor now in Maryland, told the group what he recently shared a young family member: “This is not the first time. If you think this is bad, you should have been here when Reagan was elected.” Earl went on to say all would be fine because “God always operates best in strange political climates.”
In the 1980s, the threat of Reaganomics encouraged local and then national black pastors to form partnerships in ways that moved their focus from preaching and the internal workings of the church to community development, Earl said. At the time, he was a preacher in Detroit and crack cocaine was devastating neighborhoods. He and other preachers formed REACH (Reach Everyone, Administer Care and Help) to reclaim the neighborhoods and succeeded with unexpected new partnerships, including one with black Muslims.
“The church has the only real response to the prevailing political climate,” Earl said, before recalling how Bob Woodson introduced him to Soaries at a conference in D.C. He credited Soaries with coining the phrase “faith-based” initiatives and credited John McNight, a professor at Northwestern at the time, for teaching them to focus on answers, not problems, and to focus on the assets of poor communities – like families and theology.
Eventually, Earl and others reduced crime in the area by 37% “without the use of a gun.” They used church assets to buy abandoned properties and trained neighbors and then employed them to renovate the properties. Soaries, also has had community development success in Franklin Township, ended the session by inviting pastors on a tour to see the health clinic, the senior citizen, veteran and other housing projects and businesses that his community development corporation has created.
“It’s all about community,” Earl said. “Every initiative of God’s is about bringing us back into harmony with the community God created in the first place.” Earl said one of the reasons he is so excited about the dfree® financial freedom movement is that it has the right theology.
“We don’t manage money,” Soaries said of dfree®. “We manage our lives, with the help of the Holy Spirit, and then we use money to help us achieve life goals.”
Soaries created dfree® in 2005 to combat the American consumer culture that encourages people to become fixated on materialism instead of true meaning and purpose. In particular, Soaries focuses on helping faith-based individuals, groups and organizations end the debilitating cycle of debt, delinquency and deficits and move to financial stability and freedom.
Earlier in the session, the pastors confronted other difficult issues including dealing with stress. Therman E. Evans, MD, PhD, senior pastor of Morning Star Community Christian Center in Linden, New Jersey, encouraged pastors to stay healthy so that they can better balance their sometimes all-consuming work.
Soaries noted that health is one of the many emotional, spiritual, psychological and physiological factors that often lead people to debt. Calling Evans “a national resource” he said healthy living is an important part of expanding the scope of dfree®.”It’s virtually meaningless to teach people about money if they are not healthy enough to use it,” Soaries said.
Evans noted that black communities in particular suffer more from preventable health diseases including diabetes, high blood pressure and cardiac arrest. He encouraged pastors to first ask what they can do about stress by facing what is under their control and acting. He then offered 10 more steps to fighting stress including: always be optimistic; learn and practice relaxation techniques; exercise; eat healthy, particularly cutting back on meat intake; learn to manage yourself/self-discipine; have a hobby; get sufficient sleep; never rely upon alcohol, cigarettes or any kind of drug; spend time with the people you love and don’t be afraid to ask for help or seek therapy.
“We are fearfully and wonderfully made,” Evans said when talking about how the body and how it copes with stress, “and yet we treat it like an ugly pair of sox given to us by an ugly in-law.”
The “Say Yes to the Next Level” conference, Nov. 10-12, 2016, was intended to motivate existing dfree® participants to accomplish their goals and to attract new audiences. The conference encouraged participants to reevaluate personal values, habits, attitudes and relationships in order to prepare themselves to move toward financial wholeness.
The conference also featured a power-packed lineup of speakers and performers, including:
- Erica Campbell, the Grammy Award-winning recording artist & singer who formed gospel duo “Mary Mary”
- Michelle Duffie, the CEO of D3 Entertainment who promoted blockbusters such as “War Room” and “Risen”
- Kevin Johnson, Sacramento mayor and former NBA player
- Lynette Khalfani-Cox, the Money Coach
- Navarrow Wright, president of Maximum Leverage Solutions
- Hip Hop Artist DEE-1 and AllHipHop.com Founder Chuck Creekmur
The dfree® Financial Freedom Movement is a practical yet holistic approach to financial security that exposes root causes of negative financial habits and provides financial literacy, faith-based methods and community support to help individuals achieve and maintain financial success. The informative, uplifting and celebratory financial freedom conference was held at FBCLG, 771 Somerset Street, Somerset, New Jersey 08873. The conference included concerts, networking, youth activities and dfree® training and support. Sessions are available for beginners through seasoned dfree® participants.
The title sponsor for the conference was Prudential Financial, with Wells Fargo, Chase Bank, City National Bank, Mazda Motor Corporation, Lyft, Stand Together, Griffin Capital Funding, Independence Realty Trust, Federal Home Loan Bank of NY, Merrill Lynch, Think Finance and others also participating as sponsors.