So last week, Reads and Reels along with TEO hosted an advance screening of CNN’s Black in America: Almighty Debt, which is airing in full tomorrow night. The event was well-attended, and people definitely had lots to say about the segment. Here are some highlights.
- Many people in the group, while they appreciated the topics touched on in Almighty Debt, felt that there should have been an added focus on those who have triumphed over debt. They expressed that instead of showing all our problems, showing people who have overcome debt issues would have provided some hope to the watchers. Some people thought the segment was realistic, and some thought it didn’t represent enough of the black diaspora.
- In the piece, Pastor Soaries said that debt is a bigger problem than racism. Some agreed, but others did not. One attendee said that this debt problem is a byproduct of racism, and that there are still systems that encourage a disproportionate affect on our community in comparison to others. She even made reference to a quote from the first Black in America: “When America has a cold, Black America has the flu.” In essence, financial issues affect us greater–as Julianne Malveaux said during her interview, many of us are middle class by income, not by wealth. So when stuff happens, we don’t have as much cushion, and we’re more easily knocked out of middle class. It’s troubling that the wealth gap between whites and blacks is $75,000.
- One point that was made over and over again in the segment as well as in our discussion is that we get emotionally attached to our stuff. Due to a long history of not having much, it was said that we spend a lot of our money trying to catch up and show that we’re worthy of having stuff — stuff, as in houses, cars, clothes, designer purses, etc., that we can’t or won’t let go of when times get tough. I shared with the group that in 2007, black buying power was $845 billion and was expected to top $1.1 trillion by 2012. What are we doing with this money? Why aren’t we leveraging it? Why are we buying tons of stuff instead of investing in our communities, in black businesses, in our education systems, in programs that will help us?
- One very important topic of this new segment of Black in America is the church’s role. Should the church be focused on salvation–getting people to heaven–or should it also be teaching and advocating for our communities–helping people on earth? (Y’all know I think it should be doing both.) The church, which used to be the single most important institution in our communities, should be investing in building up our communities. I am in support of those churches, including the one in the documentary, who have community foundations that buy property and help people find jobs and teach financial literacy and help people get out of debt and hold entrepreneurship workshops and the like. We need to think beyond our individual selves and get back to thinking long-term for our community. We know what many of our problems are–so let’s get to fixing them.
There was so much more that was said, and there is so much to be said–and to be done. Overall, I think the screening, and I’m sure the complete show tomorrow, fulfilled an imperative purpose: to get us talking about what we need to do become better financially. It’s a personal and community problem–we each have a responsibility to get our own lives in order and make better decisions; and we all need to chip in and do something to position future generations to be better stewards of money and to understand how to build wealth, not just increase income, or as one participant said: “make money while we sleep.”
One thing that I’d like to see expanded and implemented to a wider audience is our ESP Kids Club, where members of TEO along with some brothers of Alpha Phi Alpha teach middle school kids on Saturdays about financial literacy. The program is so enriching that some parents have asked to sit in because their kids were going home sharing information that the parents didn’t know!
There’s an information gap from which our community suffers gravely. We need to fill it in order to empower the black community economically. We have to have the foresight to ensure that our $1.1 trillion will be spent creating products, innovating, and growing assets, not just being consumers.