It is no surprise that throughout the past century debt in America has reached an unprecedented rate. Specifically, within the African-American community, debt and poverty are arguably synonymous with the Black experience in the U.S. Yet, none of this is to say that people are not willing to overcome their financial struggles in the hopes of providing a better life for themselves and future generations, or that there are no organizations willing to help people achieve their economic goals.
Non-profit organizations such as dfree® Financial Freedom Movement, are taking on the initiative of lending a helping hand toward the Americans ambitiously searching for financial stability. In an interview with Tamika N. Stembridge, executive director of dfree®, we spoke about dfree®'s ultimate mission, objectives in terms of helping others become financially stable, and keeping it fun for the kids.
"dfree® is a movement that was started by Dr. DeForest B. Soaries Jr., who is the Senior Pastor at First Baptist Church of Lincoln Gardens. It is designed specifically for the African-American community," begins Stembridge. "From a mission standpoint, we are a transformational lifestyle movement that uses values-based principles and the basics of financial literacy to help people transform their lives."
Founded in 2005 by Dr. DeForest B. Soaries Jr., he started the organization when the original church's location was within a compact building on a street corner. Eventually, the entire ministry was upgraded to a multi-million dollar facility. As only a religious association, the costs corresponding with paying off the newly-erected property became burdensome. Dr. Soaries Jr. realized that this was because his congregation could not support the costs due to their own financial struggles with debt.
Rather than redirect the focus of his sermons on the power of giving, he saw that those who attended his congregation were giving as much as they were financially capable. So he went with another approach: help people get their money together so that they would find themselves in a better pecuniary position.
In the program's first year, First Baptist Church's revenue increased by a million dollars.
"That's the first way we knew how it worked. I've been with the organization since 2014, and during that time we've trained over 1,000 churches and community organizations on how to use the curriculum to help people get out of debt," Stembridge confirms with pride, as it is due to the ever-present need for help and the team's marketing efforts and strategies that the company continues to grow so rapidly.
The program, although is religiously affiliated and directly catered toward Black Americans, is not to say that it's overall curriculum and research on debt and finances aren't information that cannot be beneficial toward anyone.
"We help people through a 12-step curriculum to really unpack their money story and shift their money habits in order to improve them. Also, understanding your value as a person," explains Stembridge. "You aren't your earning capacity, nor are you the car that you drive, the clothes that you wear, or the house that you live in. Once people are able to detach who they are from the images that these things allow them to present to the world, then they can start to understand, well, maybe I don't need to borrow or overspend."
These are the exact words millions of Americans are now in need of hearing. You. Are. Not. Your. Money. Money is an asset in itself, another physical possession, not some type of superpower that's going to give you everything you want (well maybe, but that's if you actually have it!)
In terms of their future, dfree®'s is looking very bright and uplifting.
They will be working on their billion-dollar challenge for the next year and a half, a goal that is meant to illustrate that the organization will have assisted in paying down a billion dollars in consumer debt by 2020.
They recently launched their dfree® Young Money initiative, a program catered to those at the cusp of Generation X, Millennials, and those of Generation Z. The primary focus of this dfree® branch is to provide members expertise through digital content so that dfree® mentors are able to reach their audience virtually anywhere. It also engages influencers such as Angela Yee and rapper Dee-1 to directly mentor the dfree® Young Money community.
dfree® may soon become a part of on-campus culture, too. They have already hosted events at Rutgers University-New Brunswick, Spelman College, Atlanta University, Clark University, and Morehouse College. (Your campus may actually be next, too!)
"Hopefully, we'll be piloting our first club either from the Atlanta University center or here at Rutgers, whoever comes first. We're ready to do it," she says.